Royal Academy of Engineering names outstanding Young Engineers of the Year

Five young engineers have each won a prestigious award and a £3,000 prize from the Royal Academy of Engineering to recognise their incredible contributions to their respective fields of the profession. They are all winners of the RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year competition, awarded by the Academy with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers, and will receive their prizes at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Tuesday 9 July.

The 2024 Young Engineers of the Year are:

  • Dr Alalea Kia, Advanced Research Fellow, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Royal Academy of Engineering Associate Research Fellow, Imperial College London
  • Dr Ruben Doyle, CEO at Additive Instruments Ltd
  • Dr Ishara Dharmasena, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at Loughborough University
  • Jamie Serjeant, Senior Design Engineer at Occuity
  • Nikhila Ravi, Research Engineering Manager at Meta

The overall winner, Imperial College researcher Dr Alalea Kia, will also receive the Sir George Macfarlane Medal for developing a permeable concrete pavement that can help soak up flood water.

Luke Logan FREng, Chair of the Academy’s Awards Committee, said: “I congratulate the worthy winners of this year’s Young Engineers of the Year. From developing a permeable concrete that mitigates flooding risk through to a surgical device that enables safer hip replacements, these engineers are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Their groundbreaking innovations demonstrate the vital role engineers play in addressing some of society’s most pressing challenges.”

Dr Alalea Kia, Advanced Research Fellow, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow and Royal Academy of Engineering Associate Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Alalea has developed a patented concrete pavement called Kiacrete. This permeable solution will help to alleviate climate change and urbanisation challenges by absorbing stormwater, mitigating the devastating impact of urban flooding. Her new climate change resilient permeable pavement has an engineered pore structure that significantly reduces the amount of cementitious material used in concrete pavements, which along with its recycled material use, results in a saving of at least 23 tonnes of CO2 per km for a single carriageway road.

Alalea has developed her research idea into a real-world, proven system, and demonstrated its excellent long-term drainage and durability in a field site at Imperial’s White City Deep Tech Campus, part of the Imperial West Tech Corridor.

Kiacrete has the potential to be used across the built environment, from footpaths to airports, to reduce standing water, improve transport safety and to help achieve net zero carbon emissions. Alalea has secured in excess of £3 million in funding to further develop her pavement technology, and infrastructure operators, engineering consultancies, contractors and suppliers are actively exploring the adoption of her pavement technology.

In addition to her academic research outputs, Alalea has a significant track record in the professional and personal development of colleagues and students through outreach and mentoring.

Dr Ruben Doyle, CEO of Additive Instruments Ltd

Ruben invented and commercialised a surgical impactor device designed for use in orthopaedic surgery. By ensuring appropriate bone preparation and implant seating, Ruben’s patented device minimises the risk of bone fracture during hip replacements, speeds up surgeries and reduces the incidence of repetitive strain injury for surgeons.

During his PhD research at Imperial College, Ruben studied patient dynamics during impaction testing, which he later used to create a patented electronic solenoid-based surgical impactor. The device delivers a pre-set impact energy to seat the implant into a  bone, eliminating surgical variability and fracture risk caused by manual mallets.

After patenting his invention, Ruben founded Additive Instruments Ltd and became its CEO, raising funding to grow the company and developing a fully functional verification prototype – a handheld, battery-powered impactor tool that benefits patients by reducing fracture risk, and benefits surgeons by reducing risk of injury and increasing career longevity.

Dr Ishara Dharmasena, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at Loughborough University

Ishara is a world-leading theorist in the field of nanogenerators whose ‘distance-dependent electric field’ theory has revolutionised practices in the development of triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG). His work has been pivotal in bringing nanogenerators from a theoretical to a practical state.

His latest research is focused on ‘super-smart textiles’ that use TENG technology to convert body movements into electrical signals. These self-powered sensors will be able to monitor body movements and physiological parameters, providing a low-cost at-home solution that addresses the urgent global need for remote rehabilitation care.

Ishara has demonstrated the potential of this technology with recent prototypes, and is currently working with the UK National Rehabilitation Centre and the textile industry to scale up and expand his work.

He has 25 publications in the top five ranked journals and over 1,000 citations. He holds two patents and has had significant success with research grants and fellowships, having secured over £1 million in research funding.

Jamie Serjeant, Senior Design Engineer at Occuity

Jamie led the development of Occuity’s AX1 axial length meter, which has the potential to transform the way we manage myopia, a leading cause of vision loss. The AX1 enables quick, non-invasive measurement of eyeball length, providing accurate, quantitative monitoring of myopia, which is key to effective clinical intervention.

Jamie’s strong design work and leadership skills enabled him to successfully steer a diverse group of engineers working to bring the AX1 to market rapidly and within tight product specifications.

Jamie has a proven track record of turning early-stage prototypes into impactful commercial products. In a previous role at Occuity, he led the mechanical development of the PM1, a handheld non-contacting pachymeter that was developed to diagnose glaucoma without using ultrasound methods that require physical contact with the eye. Earlier in his career at Dyson, Jamie developed the user interface of Dyson Zone, a personal purifier integrated into noise-cancelling headphones, overcoming numerous engineering challenges while developing the technology.

Nikhila Ravi, Research Engineering Manager at Meta

Nikhila leads an AI Research Engineering team focused on computer vision research in Meta’s Fundamental AI Research group (FAIR). She co-led the open source Segment Anything project, including the Segment Anything Model (SAM), a universal segmentation model with zero shot generalisation to unseen objects and images, and the Segment Anything 1 Billion dataset (SA-1B), the largest of its kind.

Segmentation is the ability to identify the pixels within an image that belong to a specific object of interest, and is an important task in many real-world applications, from photo editing to radiology scans. Previously, building AI segmentation systems required the creation of custom datasets and training models with them, which was costly and required AI expertise. SAM can be applied to a wide variety of use cases out of the box via prompting, similar to the way that large language models like ChatGPT can perform a range of tasks without requiring custom data or expensive adaptations.

SAM’s commercial use licence has enabled extensive industry wide impact including powering features in Meta’s products, and upleveling workflows in biology and medicine which previously relied on time-intensive manual segmentation.

In her ~7 year tenure at Meta, Nikhila has co-authored 10 publications, garnering over 5300 citations, earning her worldwide recognition as a top researcher.