Monday, August 8, 2016

The Past and Future of Women in Engineering: A conversation with Helen Duncan


Helen Duncan is the former editor of Microwave Engineering Europe, where she was a part of the team that launched the first European Microwave Week. It was there that we at CST first encountered her and over the years, we have had a wonderful relationship. While contemplating the issue of women in engineering we knew that her perspective would be an invaluable one.

I called Helen Duncan the day after the 3rd Annual National Women in Engineering Day.  She has had a long career, getting her degree in Electrical Engineering in 1974. I asked, how does a girl growing up in the mid-20th century end up entering a field that is still dominated by men?
Her answer is elegantly simple, her father was a mechanical engineer. “I grew up talking about technical things at home, albeit about cars. He did in fact, take me to an engineering exhibition when I was about ten or eleven years old. I saw the very early CNC machines, which I thought were absolutely wonderful. You know? Making stuff automatically, then, it was like something out of science fiction.”

She grew up in Birmingham, a centre of the automotive industry in the UK. She also went to an all-girls school, which she credits for instilling in her the belief that women could, in fact, do anything.
In fact, she tells me, “It’s still identified that the high proportion of women who go into engineering or technical courses go to single-sex schools.” She continues that the lack of negative messaging that comes from male peers regarding the choice to enter into “male” fields just isn't there. 
“The school actually did try to dissuade me from doing engineering. They said I should do physics instead. I am a little perverse and if someone tells me I can’t do something it just makes me more determined.”

And you would have to be, to fight for the inclusion of women in this intimidating field requires that kind of gumption. It’s clear that Helen had what it takes. She acknowledges that it helps that she was always good at physics, but she says, she was also good at languages and that was a tough choice. A choice made easier by one defining moment, “I was in a physics classroom when I was about 13 and we had to make an electric motor. In a class of 25-30 girls, mine was the only one that worked and the feeling that I got when that happened; it crystallised my ambition.”
When she got to university, she was one of only two girls on the course, out of 100. It was strange going from an all-girls school, but she adapted quite well. Her tutor was especially keen for girls to do electronics, and by the time she graduated, the UK had passed laws ensuring gender equality in the workplace. Her timing was perfect.

We talk about the statistic that more girls get a grade of A or B in their STEM A-levels than boys, but that when they finish their degrees, they are much more likely to not continue working in the field of engineering. Helen finds that disappointing: “That says to me that they are finding -or perceiving - discrimination in the workplace. And I almost wonder if it’s worse now than when I did it. People were quite protective of me...”

She worries about the macho culture that has developed in some technology companies— a culture that could possibly be countered by more networks of women supporting women.
“Women benefit from mentors, either in their workplace or outside, to encourage them and to advise them on how to handle prejudice. That’s one of the reasons I became involved in the IEEE Women in Engineering committee. I think that role is just as important as trying to interest women in engineering, which I’m also involved in as a STEM Ambassador and a member of WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering). We have drinks receptions at events like European Microwave Week, talks about how to cope in the workplace, and that kind of thing. I think that could be one of the biggest obstacles, and the fact that news of how women are treated in the workplace is filtering down to girls. There always seems to be a cluster effect. If you have a number of women engineers with a particular employer, then more tend to join.”

There has always been a sense of safety in numbers, across issues of race, class and gender it has been found again and again that being the only representative of your group results in a high risk of failure. Helen is investing her time and energy into creating an environment in the field of engineering that allows women to feel supported and safe. That is the key, she says, to changing the face of the field. In the early 80s she was the first woman engineer at her company, and after that more and more followed. That is the key to change.

So I ask, if Helen could make one suggestion to a company wanting to increase their gender parity and ensure the comfort of the women who work for them what would it be?
Of course, she has an answer right away. Gender neutral CVs, much like blind orchestra auditions, greatly increases the number of women hired. Then, there’s the issue of family support later on in a woman’s career. The gender pay gap is mostly attributed to lack of retention once women have children, in a society that doesn’t make work/family balance an easy one to maintain, the engineering field as a whole misses out. There is a shortage of qualified engineers, so flexible working conditions for parents benefit everyone. Helen’s company made it as easy as possible to have children and also to remain a part of the office and I’m sure that’s part of why she is still going strong. This is not the case across the globe, though.

There is also a role for better communications to play, the more that women see examples of other engineers who are thriving and not having to sacrifice their work/life balance, the more secure they feel in trying to do the same. When the technology she had specialised in stalled, and was clearly no longer going anywhere, Helen transitioned to tackle that very issue. Marketing and communications was a natural fit, she was always a good writer.

Today, she spends a lot of time speaking to young women about the field and she has embraced social media. If you don’t already follow her Twitter feed, I highly recommend it. Helen is plugged into discussions on technical advances, political issues regarding engineering, everything. Recently, she’s been a source on fascinating analyses of the way the recent Brexit vote will affect the field of Engineering in the UK. She is very concerned, to say the least. The European Commission, she points out is crucial to the UK & Europe’s strong entry into the cellular market. Research into the development of GSM and Bluetooth were funded in part by the European Commission. She is not alone in this concern, the outgoing president of the IET wrote an article in the spring detailing the risks for the UK engineering community. Only the future will tell, but Helen is watching cautiously and worriedly. She has spent so much of her career bolstering the UK telecoms and wireless engineering industry. It’s easy to imagine the uncertainty she feels.

We laugh about shifting the conversation to something so political, so we talk about what kinds of messages are most valuable for young women and girls who hope to become engineers. Helen received this advice in school and stands by it.
 “Don't close any doors that will limit what you can do in the future. Even if you aren't top of the class in maths, don't give it up. Sticking with it will open lots of doors for you.” She laments that schools often pressure students into courses where they will be assured good grades- but taking a strange combination of courses unrelated to your career goals is good for the school, but not for the student.

That advice works all the way into someone’s career, she says- “Just remain open to any opportunities that come along. If I had been asked at the age 16 what I wanted to do, I would have said I would go into a research lab and stay there for the whole of my career. But I’ve changed the whole direction of my career on two or three occasions. Just see what opportunities are out there and seize them when they arise.”

Helen Duncan can be found on Facebook, Twitter and her PR company is called MWE Media- learn more on her site.

She will be participating in the European Microwave Week Careers Platform, which is sponsored by CST.

To learn more about women in engineering, and see how you can get involved visit IEEE Women in Engineering or the NWED page.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

National Women in Engineering Day 2016- An Interview With Dr. Monika Balk





We sat down with one of our Market Development Managers, Dr, Monika Balk to talk about her experience getting into the field of engineering. Monika holds a PhD from TU Darmstadt in Electrical Engineering and Computational Electromagnetics. 

Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me. Let’s start with who you are and what you do here at CST.

My name is Monika Balk and I am a product planning manager and market development manager. That means I communicate with developers about what to develop for the next year and talk to our experts in certain fields and I provide key account support in the charged particle dynamics market- that means everything pertaining to charged particles, like electrons, within an electromagnetic field.

And what did you study at university?

I studied electrical engineering with a special focus in high-frequency engineering. I basically have become a physicist and if you asked my colleagues now, they may not realize I was originally an engineer.

Oh, so did you switch when you did your Masters?

I actually didn’t officially change, but the fields are so closely related and it just happens to be where I work the most these days.

So what first got you excited about sciences, math and engineering?

Ah yeah, so my dad basically tried to make me into a scientist quite early, but I put the LEGO bricks into my hair instead of building things. So, that wasn’t so fruitful. I actually wanted to do something with languages, maybe be a teacher, but it turned out I wasn’t very good at languages. Although I actually ended up having to always speak in a foreign language anyway. Then at a certain point, I had an excellent physics teacher and it was fun. I became quite interested and continued on that path. 

And how old were you?

I think I was 14, 15, maybe - so, old enough to have an idea that this was my direction. 
What about engineering and physics was fun for you?

So engineering is kind of like looking into problems and finding solutions. It’s like being a detective- I’m not finding murderers, but I’m finding solutions to problems and that’s very interesting.

What advice would you give to students looking to enter the field of engineering- girls in particular?

I think that it’s not necessary to be perfectly organized but you have to be curious and analytical - that’s perfect. Everything else can come later while you are learning.  I don’t think that being a woman was a disadvantage for me. I never felt I was looked at negatively. It was more the male students always showing off, they’d say some strange things. Just let them talk - you will probably already have your masters while they leave university without a degree. Just be relaxed and don’t let them scare you.

In the last three years, I have been working on magnetrons, because I find them quite exciting. They are quite complicated- they are the devices that provide the power for radar. They are also in every microwave oven and generate the fields that heat up the food. It’s a very fascinating, complicated thing but I quite like it. Last year I also worked on gyrotron simulation - that is a device that provides high power. It is interesting in terms of fusion reactor programs and that’s so important right now because we are looking to the future of providing power to people. We all need power, so that was quite interesting.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Impressions from CST European User Conference 2016


Every year, our European User Conference (EUC) gives our users from across the continent the chance to discuss their work with their peers and to meet CST engineers and developers. This year’s EUC was held on the 25th-27th April in Strasbourg. This was our first EUC in France, and it was great to see the change in makeup of participants.
Jen Krämer’s keynote talk, “Integration of Simulation into the Electronic Design Flow at FESTO” explained how FESTO AG implements CST STUDIO SUITE very early in its workflows and how it leverages simulation expertise in different projects and teams. Meanwhile, our other keynote speaker Lieven Decrock presented “From Mechanical to High-Speed Design – Twenty Years of Simulation Experience at TE Connectivity”. This was a very personal review of one of our longest-standing customers. He’s seen simulation technology grow and mature in the last two decades.
The schedule this year demonstrated the breadth of applications, in a wide range of industries, solved using CST STUDIO SUITE. Our sessions included aerospace, automotive EMC, medical devices and EDA, to name but a few. We also got the chance to show off key new features for CST STUDIO SUITE 2016 in application areas relevant to our customers. Altium presented their new Altium Designer which now includes the PDN Analyzer powered by CST®.
You will find a detailed agenda and many of these presentations on our website.


After Tuesday’s technical sessions, attendees could admire Strasbourg, a beautiful city, which is both historical and cosmopolitan. Despite the pouring rain, we enjoyed a cruise down the river Ill, from the modern European Parliament to the timber-framed medieval houses in the center. This was followed by a delicious meal of local delicacies, including tarte flambée and quiche Lorraine. 
Overall, we’re delighted with how EUC 2016 went. In fact, the conference was so full that it was barely possible to fit in all the presentations.

As a result, next year’s EUC will be a 3-day event with more time for talks and training workshops. It will take place in our hometown, Darmstadt, Germany, from 26th-28th April 2017. We will keep updating the information on our website www.cst.com/euc, but for now:  Save the date!


  
Martin Timm
Director of Global Marketing, CST 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Rocketing to success

Congratulations to the EirSpace club at ENSEIRB-MATMECA, Bordeaux Institute of Technology,
The Project Artemis rocket lifts off

who won the Prix Espace et Industrie (Space and Industry Prize) awarded by the French government space agency CNES for their rocket, Artemis.
This is an experimental sounding rocket designed to show the team’s skill, and releases a CanSat payload. The team used CST STUDIO SUITE to design the dual-band antenna which transmits the all-important payload and telemetry data.
Antenna design for a rocket is tricky for a number of reasons. Not only does it have to be as lightweight and compact as possible, it also needs to have a wide coverage to maintain contact with the base station throughout the flight and be aerodynamic to reduce drag. The team chose to use a bicone antenna covered by the nose cone of the rocket. You can read more details about this on our website or in their article which has been published in IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters.

The antenna prototype under test
The team used an educational licence, a special low-cost licence for universities. For more information about our university program, see www.cst.com/academia.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

CST STUDIO SUITE 2016 Student Edition out now

Eddy currents in a copper disc in a fluctuating magnetic field.
One year ago, we launched the CST STUDIO SUITE® Student Edition, bringing state-of-the-art CST® EM simulation tools to students for free. The Student Edition was an instant success, and we’ve had thousands of downloads from students around the world. Driven by the popularity of the Student Edition, we wanted to make the software even more helpful for anyone studying electromagnetics.

For this reason, CST STUDIO SUITE 2016 Student Edition contains a new solver: the low-frequency frequency domain solver. This is a solver specially designed for the simulation of eddy currents, which come up in applications such as sensors, motors, and power engineering equipment.

The low-frequency frequency domain solver complements the solvers already available, including the static solvers and the high-frequency time domain and frequency domain solvers. Worked textbook examples are available on a range of topics, showing how the Student Edition can be used to study these applications.

For more information about CST STUDIO SUITE 2016 Student Edition or to download it, see our website.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Moving Mesh for Faster Optimization in CST STUDIO SUITE 2016

Comparison of traditional and moving mesh methods.
Mesh elements popping into existence contribute to "mesh noise".

We’re currently busy sending CST STUDIO SUITE 2016 DVDs and downloads off to our customers around the world. The 2016 release has both steady improvements and a number of brand new features to increase the speed, performance and functionality of the software. In our next few blog posts, we’d like to introduce some of these.

The first new feature is something called “moving mesh”. Not to be confused with the moving mesh used to simulate motors, moving mesh is a technique that can massively improve the optimization of very sensitive components such as filters. In order to simulate a filter accurately, a fine mesh is often needed in critical areas. Normally, every time the optimizer changes a parameter, the entire structure has to be remeshed. This can be a slow process, and in some cases it produces something called ‘mesh noise’, which makes it harder to identify what effect the parameter change had on the properties of the filter.

With CST STUDIO SUITE 2016, the structure does not have to be remeshed from scratch for every optimization step when using the tetrahedral mesh. Instead, the software can adjust the existing mesh by snapping it to fit the new geometry. This is not only faster than producing a brand new mesh, but can also reduce the mesh noise, allowing the optimizer to find a suitable solution in fewer steps. With moving mesh, filter tuning can be faster and more accurate.

Friday, February 19, 2016

2015 University Award Spotlight: “A Compact Planar Printed MIMO Antenna Design”

Saber Soltani
Dr. Ross Murch 
In 2015, four papers were awarded our annual University Publication Award. One of those papers was authored by Saber Soltani and Ross D. Murch, and we'd like to highlight it for you.

Mr. Soltani provided a little background on that winning paper- “A Compact Planar Printed MIMO Antenna Design”.

"After 6 years research in antenna area, I joined Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) as a PhD student at 2013.

At that time, design of high density MIMO antennas with arbitrary numbers of ports was a challenging project and still not solved and there was a project between Prof. Ross Murch (my supervisor) from HKUST and industry for this research topic.
After one year we come up with an interesting design consisting of a novel planar MIMO antenna with antenna densities of up to 22 antennas per square wavelength. The basic idea of the design was the development of a canonical 2-port antenna that could be replicated together to form MIMO antennas with arbitrary even numbers of ports.
HKUST-ECE is ranked 11th in world (QS-2014)* and provides great support with simulation software such as CST.

In the design process we used the commercial EM simulation package CST v.13.0 which provides efficient evaluation of designs and is able to simulate n-port antenna or MIMO antenna. CST also provides a lot of post processing analysis for MIMO antenna design.

As a demonstration, a 20-port printed planar MIMO antenna at 2.6 GHz was proposed. Experimental and simulation results show that the 20-port antenna with antenna density of 22 antennas in free space square wavelength (λ02) have average mutual couplings among the ports of better than -10 dB. In addition to good antenna performance the design is a simple and compact structure with low-cost features."