International Women in Engineering Day: Angharad Curtis

Angharad Curtis - Women in engineering

This year we’ll be celebrating the amazing work that women engineers around the world are doing to support lives and livelihoods every day. 

Angharad Curtis, from Newport, who is doing her PhD in Optoelectronics, explains how her interest in medicine guided her route to engineering.

How did you come to be studying for a PhD at the University of South Wales?

After school I did a degree in Medical Engineering at Swansea University, which involved looking at medical devices, fluid dynamics, prosthetics, implants, implantable electronics – it was quite a generic engineering course with medical components.

With my degree being quite general and multidisciplinary, which touched on quite a few things, I decided I wanted to have more of a focus so went on to do an MSc in Biophotonics in Cardiff, because it fitted in with my interests. 

This was a fusion between physics and biology and, as part of the course, I worked with an external company on a PPG sensor which detects blood clots in the legs, using light, specifically Near Infrared wavelengths of light to diagnose thrombosis. There was a lot of maths, physics and biology, so a new set of things to learn.

After getting my masters I went to work with a medical devices business, and then for another company which suggested I should take on a PhD, with their support as the company partner. I wasn’t sure at first, but then decided to take the opportunity and just went for it. 

My PhD is in Optoelectronics, using different types of illumination (light) sources at specific parts of the wavelength spectrum, to identify the presence of a chemical marker in an effort to detect cancer.  The application is fluorescence endoscopy for the detection of breast cancer.

Why did you decide to focus on engineering?

I definitely feel like my personality is curious. I’ve always wanted to take things apart and put them back together. I’ve always been interested in how things work and why. Why that way and why not this way?

I always think it was logical that I would do engineering or that I would be interested in engineering. 

I did originally want to do medicine, but wasn’t successful with my applications. Then I thought about what part of medicine was attractive to me, and, as I’ve always had an interest in things to do with medicine and medical devices, went down that route.

I was really interested in prosthetics, and there was a lot of technology at that time – like the bionic eye, things that were quite like sci-fi and experimental – and I thought maybe I should try medical engineering.

About the research

My PhD involves the design, manufacture and testing of an imaging and illumination system for a fluorescence endoscopy application using the fluorophore indocyanine green. 

I am working on a new device that offers an alternative illumination source and imaging protocol to existing systems. I have created a lab-based, trigger controlled system comprising LASER and LED illumination sources with a CMOS camera, to collect and quantify fluorescence. 

I hope that my research will impact on the accessibility of endoscopy systems and improve on patient safety.

I am very grateful to have received KESS 2 funding for my PhD research and am looking forward to a career in STEM. Engineering for me is solving problems, it’s getting creative when faced with a challenge, it’s trial and error, exciting, fulfilling, logic and it is a hunger to do better.

For me, the most exciting thing about this area of engineering is how innovation can come from the smallest contribution. The field is constantly changing, expanding and improving because of research. Innovation leads to interest and excitement in the topic which results in increased opportunities to develop.