Author: Pamela Connellan
The 2021 James Dyson Award international design competition is now open for entries from undergraduates and recent graduates of engineering and design, to ‘Design something that solves a problem’. Purposely broad and open-ended, the brief challenges students to solve real-world problems and we’re hoping the JDA will find our next big inventors in the process.
This year, there’s $52,000 in global prizes for the International winner and the Sustainability winner. But first, each participating country and region will have a National winner with prizes of $3,500 – and two National runners-up. Those that win a National accolade proceed to the international awarding stages. Australian entries in 2021 will be judged by a line up of experienced industry figures, including Jane Waldburger, leading engineering executive and Olympian, Rae Johnston, award-winning journalist and leading commentator on all things science and technology, and Alex Goad, founder of Reef Design Lab and the 2014 James Dyson Award Australian National Winner.
The James Dyson Award is looking for Australia’s next big inventor
Past winners of the JDA have found solutions to renewable energy generation, new forms of sustainable plastics, and medical and cancer screenings. Sir James Dyson, founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson, chooses the two global winners, who receive funding and global recognition – key first steps to take their ideas into real life practical application.
As Dyson says: “Young people want to change the world and the Award supports them to do that giving crucial funding, validation and a platform to launch their ideas. They are remarkably successful, 65% of international winners are commercialising their ideas, against a backdrop where 90% of start-ups fail. I will be looking for radical inventions that challenge and question established thinking. Good luck!”
2020 was an unmatched year for the award
The James Dyson Award saw a record-breaking number of entries to the Award and the new Sustainability prize was awarded to its first recipient: AuREUS, invented by Carvey Ehren Maigue from the Philippines. The Sustainability prize was added because it was seen as important to recognise the role engineers and scientists play in creating a sustainable future.
Solving real problems
The best inventions are often the simplest, providing clear and intelligent solutions to real-world problems. The 2020 International Winner, The Blue Box, is an at-home breast cancer detection device which diagnoses patients using an AI algorithm and a urine sample. It’s designed to be less invasive and more accessible than current screening processes, after witnessing a rise in women skipping mammograms.
The 2020 Australian National runner up and International Top 20 design Quito, is a low-cost and sustainable CO2-based mosquito trap, which mimics human presence to attract and capture mosquitoes rather than repelling them, using a simple but highly effective method.
Boosting opportunities for young inventors
The Award has given young inventors international media exposure, which has opened up further investment and opportunities for them to develop their ideas. The UK 2011 National winner KwickScreen, infection-controlled screens for patient safety, has grown to establish a company employing over 70 people, supplying screens to every NHS trust in the UK and 240 hospitals internationally.
In 2017, US National runner-up SoaPen, a colourful soap pen encouraging safe handwashing, commercialised their invention and SoaPen was listed in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 List. SoaPen now ships its expanding product portfolio across America, most recently creating a hand sanitiser to meet demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
At Women Love Tech, we asked Jane Waldburger, leading engineering executive and former Olympian – as well as one of the judges for the Australian part of the James Dyson Award – a bit more about herself and why she was inspired to work in this area:
WLT: Can you tell us a bit about your engineering background and what inspired you to take this career path?
Jane Waldburger: I am a civil engineer and have worked at Aurecon in engineering design since my internship whilst at uni in 2005. I acknowledge I’m a rare breed from my generation having stayed at the one company for so long. Through my career I have gained experience across the built environment (designing airport terminals, hospitals, commercial high rises), in disaster relief and recovery efforts after major flooding events, in construction on site through highway and airbase runway constructions, and in transport (design and managing major road, highway and light rail projects). I have also been in operations and market roles, and am inspired to encourage people into engineering, and to develop young engineers. Everything that we use and touch has been engineered to a degree.
WLT: Do you think women are still underrepresented in the STEM industry and what’s your experience as a woman in the engineering field?
Jane Waldburger: Absolutely! The crux of what we do is design for the community, to make the end-user experience better. The community and the end-users are very likely 50% female, so there is huge opportunity to bridge the gap by really embracing diversity of thought to serve our community better. In 2019, women comprised 27% of the people working in STEM‑qualified industries…
WLT: Can you tell us a bit about your experience as part of the Australian Water Polo team at the 2012 Olympic Games and how you’ve balanced both your sport and corporate careers?
Jane Waldburger: Walking into Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony was a feeling like no other. Hitting the water for our first game at the Olympics represented a decade of highs and lows and significant personal and professional sacrifice and a lifetime of dreams. Standing on the dais to receive our Olympic bronze medal was a crazy mixture of pure joy and utter relief.
I was able to balance full-time training and touring with water polo with full-time engineering work (when I was in the country) as I had a really understanding, and forward-thinking employer. Granted Aurecon is a large firm, but they valued the investment in an emerging professional, and the investment in women’s sport well before the groundswell we have seen in the media in recent years. In any case Aurecon provided significant support to me, and enabled me to fulfil two dreams – representing my country at the Olympics and progressing, nurturing and accelerating my engineering career.
WLT: What’s your involvement in this year’s James Dyson Award and why you are excited to be a judge for this year’s Award?
Jane Waldburger: Design is so exciting, and it’s even better when it’s a simple solution that hasn’t been thought of before that has such a big impact. A recent