Oration for Professor Dame Ann Dowling

By Dr Paul Jenkins

Engineering has an impact on all our lives.  Every engineering project is about making something that someone wants.  It is a very creative subject and Professor Dame Ann Dowling is a world leading engineer.

Ann Dowling went to Ursuline Convent School, Westgate, Kent.  She went on to study mathematics as a member of Girton College, Cambridge.  Following a summer job at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Ann became interested in applying her mathematical skills to engineering problems.  Ann was awarded a PhD from the University of Cambridge on the subject of aeroacoustics related to the Concorde noise problem.  Continuing her studies on a research fellowship, Ann moved through the ranks becoming the first female engineering Professor in 1993, serving as head of engineering from 2009 to 2014 and she is now a Deputy Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University.    Professor Dowling has also been a visiting Professor at the Massachusetts and California Institutes of Technology. In 2014 she became the first female president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The process of fuel combustion is fundamental to the generation of energy throughout our fast moving world and Ann Dowling works on reducing the pollutants from combustion for power generation and transport.  She led the University of Cambridge Gas Turbine partnership with Rolls-Royce from 2001 to 2014.

Aircraft noise is also a major problem.  The International Civil Aviation Authority has estimated that global air transportation will double over the next twenty years.  It is clear that the negative social and environmental impacts of noise emission will increase.   Ann Dowling is an acknowledged world authority on aircraft noise research.

Probably the best known research of Professor Dowling is on the Silent Aircraft Initiative which was a joint project between Cambridge and MIT.  The aim of this research was to reduce aircraft noise so that it is imperceptible outside the airfield.  This was accomplished by a design which involved a blended wing-body to produce a higher ratio of lift to drag, and a new more efficient engine design with multiple fans.  The research demonstrated that the objective could be achieved and it is now all down to the aircraft companies to produce a prototype.

Ann Dowling was elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1996 and in 2002, she was awarded a CBE for services to Mechanical Engineering.  She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003 for her work on the control of combustion in aeronautics and power generation.  In 2007 Professor Dowling was made a Dame of the British Empire and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2015.  The Order of Merit is the highest honour of the Commonwealth as there are only 24 living members of the order and they are chosen by the Queen.  Dame Ann Dowling joins Sir Michael Atiyah, former Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Simon Rattle as other members of the Order.

It has been said; ‘If you want something done, ask a busy woman.’  Ann Dowling is living proof of this statement.

She was chair of the steering committee for the Global Challenge Summit. She started the Energy Efficient Cities initiative at the University of Cambridge – a cross-disciplinary research project addressing urban energy demand reduction by design and the development of novel technologies.

Nano technology is a currently fashionable subject, and in 2004 at the request of the Science Minister, Professor Dowling produced a report on the opportunities and risks of this emerging area.  A further report was requested concerning breaking down the barriers to University-Business research collaboration to benefit the UK economy.  Perhaps most important for University departments, Professor Dowling is one of the four main panel chairs for the Research Excellence Framework, the REF!

Despite the enormous importance of engineering to our present way of life, there is a shortage of engineers. Ann Dowling still finds time to give talks in schools on engineering as a creative career.  To see a successful woman engineer is clearly very inspiring, and although Ann does not claim credit for it, the percentage of female undergraduates in the Engineering department at Cambridge is the highest in the UK.  However, this statement has been vigorously contested by Professor Helen Atkinson of the department of engineering at the University of Leicester!

In 2015 we welcomed Professor Dowling to the University of Leicester when she gave the Annual Industry Lecture.  The lecture was highly successful, and is still remembered by the students who were present.  Ann made time to meet research groups in the department and she had an inspirational discussion with a group of female engineering undergraduates.

Mr Chancellor on the authority of the Senate and Council, I present Ann Patricia Dowling so that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Science.

Delivered by Dr Paul Jenkins on 13 July 2016

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