Hedy’s Highlights of 2016


As 2016 takes its closing breaths, we learn of the passing of yet another icon, Carrie Fisher.  My Facebook feed is full of pleas to keep David Attenborough safe lest we lose yet another national treasure.  We’ve seen terror attacks, ongoing conflict in Syria, the rise of the political far right, Britain vote to leave the EU and, personally most concerning, the election of Donald Trump as next ruler of the free world.  All is not doom and gloom however and as the world ticks over there has been plenty of good news from the world of women in STEM.  I’ve put together my highlights of the year below, covering both personal and industry arenas.

January – For the first time, NASA’s class of astronauts are 50% female

February – Female engineering entrepreneurs featured by CNN 

March – UNSW Graduate Megan Kline wins 2016 WA CME Outstanding Young Woman in Resources award and is profiled by UNSW

April – Whilst on Yvette’s Grand Tour, we both visited the Falkirk Wheel, a connection point between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal


Having a wheely good time on Yvette’s Grand Tour!

May – Yvette is awarded the 2016 Young Railway Engineer of the Year from the Railway Technical Society of Australasia


Yvette and Antonia with their awards

June – National Women in Engineering Day is celebrated in the UK on 23rd June, featuring the release of a list of the Top 50 Influential Women in Engineering

July – My favourite mathematician Hannah Fry and Dallas Campbell explore the modern aviation industry in a series produced by the BBC ‘City in the Sky


Hannah Fry not posing next to a plane, but rather a Jacquard loom from her show on Ada Lovelace

August – Whilst on my summer holiday we visited Bletchley Park and found out about the amazing women who operated the Bombe machines to find the daily Enigma settings

September – The Paralympics highlight a number of engineering innovations  A special issue of Sports Engineering highlights technology for Disability Sport


October – BHP Billiton sets new goal for 50% of workforce to be women by 2025

November – Book launch for Rules of the Game, a book that explores the world of engineering, resources and construction, from The Blue Collared Woman


December – Largest all-female expedition to Antartica heads off

What are your highlights of 2016, and what do you have planned for 2017?


Celebrating Gin and Visitors


Here’s something I posted last week for a good friend of mine who was celebrating World Gin Day in proper style, with a Gin Week on her blog!

As an oompa loompa of science I find the world of distilling and brewing quite fascinating.  Basically Chemistry class for adults!  So to celebrate Gin Week and a couple of visitors from home I headed to Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years Pickering’s, situated in Summerhall in Edinburgh’s south.  I had unfortunately missed out on Juniper Fest over the weekend and had already visited the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, so was keen to learn what made Pickering’s special.


This way to gin!

Pickerings gin is based on an original Bombay recipe dating back to 1947 and kept as a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013 when Matt and Marcus began distilling at Summerhall.  The tour begins at the Royal Dick Bar in Summerhall, also home to one of Edinburgh’s breweries Barney’s Beer, with a G&T to sip throughout.


Great way to start a tour, G&T with a slice of pink grapefruit

From the bar you are taken past the Mens room, then the ladies, through winding corridors and over uneven ground to what used to be dog and cat kennels. They have since been repurposed with some of the kennels used to store raw ingredients, gin and boxes.  But how do they make their gin?

A neutral grain spirit with 96%abv is piped into one of two copper stills on site, one called Emily, the other Getrude after Matt and Marcus’s great-grandmothers.  In the still the 9 botanicals are added and the spirit left to steep.

The 9 botanicals that go in to making this tasty drop are juniper, coriander, cardamon, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and clove.  The two stills have an ingenious custom-designed bain marie heating system that provides a gentle simmer able to coax out their subtle, soft, highly drinkable flavours.


With their 9 Botanicals

After steeping this bain marie system is used to heat the spirit to vapour.  As the heating begins this vapour is trapped in the ‘onion’ of the still, condenses and travels back down to the heart of either Emily or Gertrude.  This process of vapourising, condensing and travelling back to the spirit can occur up to 16 times before the spirit is warm enough for the vapour to bypass the onion and travel through the swan neck to the neighbouring condenser.

The condenser uses water that is stored in a local underground well to cool the vapour back to a liquid.  Similar to whisky distilling, the potable alcohol the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2OC, with the first vapours to boil off being more volatile and known as the ‘heads’. The hedas include chemicals such as acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), acetone ((CH3)2CO) and esters (pretty sure I learnt about those in chemistry back in the day!). Once the desired boiling point is reached the ethanol liquid is called the heart and piped through copper piping to one of three vats.  The heart will be ethanol. The tails are left, containing water, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols, all undesirable. The tails will consist of 1-propanol (CH3CH2CH2OH), butyl alcohol (C4H10O), amyl (Isobutyl carbinol) and acetic acid (CH3COOH) to name a few.

The copper in the still and piping is very important as it helps produce an even, smooth flavour and impurities are left on the inside of the copper piping thereby keeping the spirit pure without excessive filtration.

Once stored in the vats the distillers will monitor the temperature and density of the spirit, regularly taking temperature and density readings and adding water until the desired alcohol content is arrived at.  Pickering’s Gin has 42%abv, slightly more than the required 37.5%abv to qualify as a London Dry Gin.  It is a particularly high tech process at Pickering’s, adding the water by hand in smaller and smaller quantities, stirring using a oar bought from an outdoor shop and taking individual measurements with thermometer and hydrometer then double checking them in a large book full of tables.

This is a one-shot method, only mixing their end distillate with water to cut it to bottling strength, compared with larger distilleries who use more base spirit to stretch their distillate before cutting with water.

When the desired alcohol content is achieved then it is piped in copper pipes to the room next door where it is bottled by hand.  It is also stoppered and waxed by hand.


If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Pickering’s you’ll know the bottle isn’t square which makes attaching labels by hand consistently rather difficult.  The distillery is housed in part of Summerhall, an old Veterinary Hospital that is now home to many community groups including Edinburgh Hacklab.  This hacklab is a space for people to mess around with technology for fun so Pickering’s asked them to come up with something they could use to attach the labels, as they were worryingly close to their launch date and had a few hundred bottles to label.

The resulting machine is quite something, and is still going well considering it was designed to be used on a few hundred bottles and has now been used on over 60,000.


What a beautiful machine

Once labels are attached, and the stoppers are waxed the bottles are boxed up and stored in the old dog kennels.  Throughout this whole process it s evident that everything is done by hand by a very small team, and it is definitely a labour of love.


Dog kennels being used as an excise store for gin

The original 1947 recipe was altered as they were creating a gin that goes perfectly with tonic, and it seems they have hit the nail on the head.  They also produce a Navy Strength gin, as official partners of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and have also created a gin using the original 1947 recipe which is a spicier, sweeter and more intense spirit.

Their most recent release has its beginnings in a trip around Scotland to the iconic whisky regions in search of the best casks they could find.  They then age their Original gin in one of five ex-Scotch malt whisky casks, and the result is truly something!

Well that’s all from me today. I hope you feel a little better informed about the process of creating one of my favourite gins. I definitely believe a greater understanding of something leads to a much deeper appreciation of its beauty. So next time you sip that G&T ask yourself what botanicals are in it, how they affect the gin, whether it is a one or two shot distillate, and never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin.

If you want some wonderful ways to cook with gin, don’t forget to head to Kitty’s Storecupboard and have a look at all her wonderful Gin Week posts.

Are you proposing today?



I’m proposing that my boyfriend and I complete 5 Munro’s over the next 12 months.  And that we drink slightly less beer, and finally, officially, move in together.  But I’m definitely not popping the question, ‘that’ question.

Today is February 29, the only day in four years women are traditionally allowed to get down on one knee and propose spending the rest of your life together with the one we love.  But these days, during our fight toward proper gender equality, is this tradition valid anymore?

It dates back to the mid fifth century where Saint Brigid of Kildare, who was sick of waiting, beseeched Saint Patrick for a day when women could propose marriage to longtime suitors.  She could almost be called an early feminist, but why did she only ask for one day in every 1461?

If we want true equality, then both men and women should be able to bring up matters like these with no reproof, and discuss them in that often elusive “safe space”.  Equality is a two way street.   While marriage no longer has as many of its advantages, we should empower women, and men, to discuss marriage in an open and honest manner, before signing up for a lifelong commitment.

Tea and a Cuppa?



Hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s recipes as much as we have.  One final recipe, just in case you haven’t exploded Mr Creosote style from all the cake so far this week.

Ever wondered what to do with all that leftover tea after you make pot during a long leisurely afternoon reading and drinking tea?  A Tea Loaf is the answer.


  • 1 cup cold black tea
  • 8 oz / 225g mixed dried fruit (I used currants and goji berries)
  • 8 oz  / 225g self raising flour
  • 4 oz  / 113g superfine sugar
  • 1 large beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (I used Seedless Bramble Preserve and it was very tasty!)


  1. Grease a 675g loaf tin
  2. Preheat the oven to 180c
  3. Place fruit in a small bowl, pouring the cold tea over the top
  4. Soak, overnight if possible, until the fruit swells
  5. In a bowl combine the flour, sugar, egg and marmalade
  6. The pour in the fruit and any tea left int he bowl, stirring thoroughly
  7. Put into the load tin and bake in the oven for 1 hour
  8. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin
  9. Slice, butter if you like and enjoy with a cuppa, and maybe even some rugby

This will keep for a week when stored properly. Similar to banana bread, it could also be toasted before eating.


Cake, tea and rugby on a windy winter’s afternoon 🙂

If Disney Princesses Were Engineers…



We have, through the power of the internet, found out what it would be like if Disney Princesses were mothers, minions and even velociraptors.  But, the most important question has yet to be answered, until now… What if Disney Princesses were engineers?


Ariel the Biomedical Engineer

Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) the Biomedical Engineer – after her experiences losing her tail and gaining painful new legs, Ariel developed a sympathy for prosthetics users and went on to be a Biomedical Engineer, working with robotics for amputees.

Aurora the Chemical Engineer

Aurora (from Sleeping Beauty) the Chemical Engineer – after her experience with the effects of poisoned spinning needles on the body, Aurora developed an interest in Chemistry and went on to study Chemical Engineering.  Her favourite pracs at uni were those involving litmus paper, which reminded her of her favourite fairies’ ongoing disagreement between blue and pink.

Belle the Computer Systems Engineer

Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) the Computer Systems Engineer – Belle became curious about wireless communications technologies after trying to understand how the Beast’s magic mirror worked.  With Computer Systems Engineering, she discovered that there was something more than that provincial life and something even more interesting to her than reading books: coding!

Cinderella the Mechanical Engineer

Cinderella the Mechanical Engineer – after the problems she encountered using vehicles made by her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella decided to find out exactly how motors and machines worked, leading her to a pumpkin-free career in Mechanical Engineering.

Elsa the Civil Engineer

Elsa (from Frozen) the Civil Engineer – in order to ensure that her ice sculptures, bridges and buildings were structurally sound, and that upon thawing, that they didn’t flood Arendelle, Elsa undertook studies in statics and hydrology, becoming a Civil Engineer.

Jasmine the Aerospace Engineer

Jasmine (from Aladdin) the Aerospace Engineer – after getting a taste for experiencing A Whole New World on the magic carpet, Jasmine became determined to travel to space, studying Aerospace Engineering in preparation for becoming Agrabah’s first astronaut.

Merida the Electrical Engineer

Merida (from Brave) the Electrical Engineer – whilst trying to determine exactly what wisps are made from, Merida stumbled upon Electrical Engineering and is currently doing a PhD on electronic weapons calibration.  However, she actually spends most of her time mucking around with the Van de Graff machine in her lab.

Mulan the Materials Engineer

Mulan the Materials Engineer – Mulan’s interest in swords developed beyond swordswomanship and into steel production, leading her to study Materials Engineering in order to seek work in a foundry.  Luckily, all those years spent with Mushu the dragon meant that Mulan had developed a tolerance of being around high temperatures so she loved her new work environment.

Pocohantus the Environment Engineer

Pocahontas the Environmental Engineer – after her largely unsuccessful campaign against the English, Pocahontas discovered that she could influence environmental outcomes in a far more powerful way by working as an Environmental Engineer rather than merely singing about the benefits of the natural resources she was trying to protect.

Rapunsel the Signalling Engineer

Rapunzel (from Tangled) the Signalling Engineer – after realising the power of light as a communications medium from her experience with the lanterns which ultimately led to her reunite with her parents, Rapunzel turned to another discipline which conveys messages by lights: railway Signalling Engineering.

Snow White the Mining Engineer

Snow White the Mining Engineer – living in a mining household, it was only a matter of time before Snow White became fed up with letting the Dwarves have all the fun, but instead of being an operator as the Dwarves were, Snow White studied to become an Mining Engineer, influencing the long term plan for the mine.

Tiana the Project Engineer

Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog) – Tiana had had enough of getting her hands dirty after her stint being transformed into a frog, but very fortunately Tiana’s excellent budgeting and cost control experience made her a brilliant Project Engineer.



And they all lived happily ever after… with rewarding careers in engineering!

UPDATE: due to popular demand, we have made printed posters of our princess engineers available!


Hedy’s 2016 Reading List



The short days, cold grey weather and long nights over the Christmas period should have been the perfect backdrop to snuggle up on the couch and lose myself in some books, however family holidays and itchy feet got the better of me, so by the time I went back to work I was only 25 pages into my Christmas book. It was a present from Peter, and a bit of a cracker – Ada Lovelace: Bride of Science, a so far enthralling read that covers the doomed match of Ada’s parents Lord Byron and Annabella, her early childhood, through to her work with Charles Babbage and beyond.  Ada personifies the age in which she lives and in the words of another review, “The Bride of Science is a wonderful portrait of struggle between reason and passion”.

To help me get through the rest of winter without wasting too many hours in front of the television (thankfully Strictly Come Dancing is no longer showing) I put together a shortlist of women in engineering books I plan to get through this year.  This is not all I plan to get through, but with work trips starting to pile up and the number of friends visiting starting to increase it seems like a good place to start.  Let us know if you’ve read any of the books I mention, or if you have any other suggestions.  I hope you find something in here to inspire, to aspire to or just entertain.

 WomeninEngineeringThe first suspect is Women in Engineering: Pioneers and Trailblazers by Margaret E. Layne.  This is an anthology of essays, articles, reports and lectures that introduces the reader to the pioneers and trailblazers that paved the way for todays female engineers.  Female contributions to construction management, industrial efficiency and environment protection are placed in their original historical context, and from a personal point of view given this was the priciest of the bunch I am hoping this will put my own daily struggles as a female engineer into perspective and inspire me in directions I’d not considered before.

GraceHopperNext on the list is Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer.  The author promises to reveal a more authentic Hopper, “a vibrant and complex woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry”.  An Admiral in the United States Navy, Grace was a computer scientist who popularised the term “debugging” and invented the first compiler for a programming language.  This is all that I know about her, and with the cover having a bit of a Hedy Lamar vibe about it I don’t think I will ruin her story and contribution to the modern world by consulting Wikipedia…

 I’m more than a little passionate about the mining industry, in fact so much so that I ended up in a slightly heated argument with my boyfriends granddad at Christmas… Not my finest moment, but we both felt strongly about the closure of the UK’s last underground coal mines, thereby ending an industry that underpinned the local economy and  communities for many years. It plays a defining role in British history, and the decline of coal mining is still a sore point for many of the older generation. Pit Lasses: Women and Girls in Coalmining c. 1800-1914 by Denise Bates explores life as a female miner from 1800, through their banning from work underground in 1841 to the outbreak of the First World War.  The attitude that women don’t belong underground is still very prevalent in Australian underground mines, both coal and metalifferous, so I am curious to learn about the role women have played in mining and how these views came to be.  Is it really man’s work?

BeThatEngineer The final item of my order was Be That Engineer: Inspiration and Insight from Accomplished Women Engineers: Submissions from members of the Society of Women Engineers’ Corporate Partnership Council (CPC).  The digital preview looks promising, categorising advice from the top women engineers in their fields, covering being a leader in a male-dominated workplace, taking risks and learning from mistakes, and embracing your more feminine, creative side to be creative to create change and establishing and evolving your own brand.  Each engineeress gets her own page, ensuring bite-sized digestible advice and a book that can be picked up and put back down and picked back up whenever inspiration or encouragement is required.  Hopefully everything we need to become a leader through influence.

So what to read once this Amazon order is finished?  Given my interest in travel, geology and engineering, Adventures in the Anthropocene:A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made looks promising.  Welcome to the Age of Man, or should we say Woman?

What are you currently reading?

System Engineering Your 2016 Goals



I had planned to write a really bright and cheery post about the promise of the new year.  There would have been rainbows and unicorns and sequins (not glitter – I am glitter intolerant) but that was before the week that was.  The shine of my 2016 has been tarnished a little by the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, eerily similar deaths from cancer at age 69, just days apart.

Bowie’s songs are woven through the soundtrack of my teenage years, having discovered who he was (before the internet really got going) by listening to the director’s commentary on A Knight’s Tale (in which Golden Years is transformed into a medieval court dance number), Shrek II (featuring a fantastic duet of Changes with Butterfly Boucher) and Moulin Rouge (showcasing dancers dancing to and named the Diamond Dogs).  Another slightly haunting and not particularly well known performance is Bowie as electrical engineering pioneer, Tesla, in The Prestige.  If you haven’t seen The Prestige, you really should.  If you have seen it, then you should really watch it again.

My social media accounts are full of evidence of my Potter-obsession (see above) so you will expect that I am mourning Snape all over again.  Thinking about the Lily-Snape relationship always makes my eyes well up with tears.  Always…

Recently, one of the mantras that echos in my mind is, “The Willoughby will never change…  You deserve the Colonel Brandon.”


Essentially, for the non Sense and Sensibility addicts, you deserve the suitor that treats you like the lady you are, and not a charming but lying womaniser.  With this in mind, Rickman’s performance in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility as Colonel Brandon represented to me the epitome of Mr Right, arguably, even more so than THE Mr Darcy, which makes his departure even more heart breaking.

Having the mortality of your heroes shoved in your face puts a different spin on goal setting.  Goal setting for me seems very much about control but in reality, it seems more and more obvious that we aren’t the sole captains of our own destiny.  Perhaps it is this thought, the perceived lack of influence on our own outcomes, that means that 80% of people don’t even bother to set goals.

I used to think that this was a sensible mindset.  Not really having a target means that you can never miss; you will never fail.  But this is ridiculous.  You have a much greater chance of getting where you mean to be if you actually articulate the intended destination, mark the route on your map and steer in that direction rather than jumping in and being randomly swept along by the current.

In place of not particularly specific, measurable, achievable, relevant or timely New Year’s Resolutions as usual, this year, I invested in a goal setting workbook from Leonie Dawson and actually filled it out.  This colourful companion full of gorgeous drawings asked me questions about what I wanted from all aspects of my life (my creativity, soul, mind, relationships, family, body, home, travel adventures, finances, and self-care); things I hadn’t thought I was missing or some I really didn’t like to acknowledge.  There was also the optional opportunity to make some motivational and/or therapeutic artwork relating to the goals, mantras, word of the year etc., shown below.

I broke down my goals from the workbook into tasks and scheduled them using a Pivot Table in Excel (I’m so over MS Project).  So, now, I essentially have a to-do programme for the year.  I actually feel quite optimistic about the coming year which will hopefully end with a feeling of measured accomplishment and not the feeling of running out of time.  After completing this whole goal setting and task scheduling process, I realised how similar it actually was to the 5 Step System Engineering V Lifecycle, shown below superimposed on my to-do list folder/portable mood board.

systems engineering goals.jpg

So, if you’re looking for an awesome 2016, I urge you to apply Systems Engineering to your life goals:

  • Requirements – Ask yourself what you want in detail and document your requirements (maybe with an awesome book like this, or just write minutes for the stakeholder meeting you have with yourself)
  • Design – Determine how you are going get what you want; design the plan; schedule the tasks
  • Implementation – Carry out the plan
  • Verification and Validation – Periodically evaluate your progress ensuring that your outcomes match both your plan and your original wishes
  • Handover – Depending on the nature of the goal, make this change a permanent feature in your life (that is, go into maintenance) or finish off the task properly

And remember that these steps are not necessarily linear, like life in general.  They are iterative and it’s okay to modify your requirements if things change (you’re the client here too, you are always right).

I’d love to know how your goal setting goes, what you’ve found works for you and your resolutions, and what you’re focussing your energy on this year!  Also, if you wanna know anything about Leonie Dawson swag and/or Systems Engineering, send your questions my way, ’cause I’ll rave about them all day if given the chance!

Happy planning, good luck and have a fantastic 2016!