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Congratulations to Jenny Baker on being awarded a £1.3M, 5-year Early Career Research Fellowship by EPSRC to pursue her research in sustainable manufacturing of solid state batteries for fixed storage applications.

This is how she got here…

Born and educated in Yorkshire, Jenny grew up 3 miles from a British Steel manufacturing plant where she undertook work experience aged 15. Jenny was encouraged by her family to take on any subject she enjoyed. Her choice: Engineering! Jenny graduated from Birmingham University with a Materials Engineering degree and started her career on the graduate training scheme for Rolls-Royce (RR). Following this she became laboratory team lead, specialised in controlling the manufacturing titanium components for aerospace applications, in particular reducing non-conformance and cost of manufacture.

After five years she left RR and joined VSMPO-Tirus (the UK subsidiary of the Russian titanium manufacturer VSMPO-AVISMA and one of RR key suppliers) as Technical Manager. In Russia, engineering is a popular career for both women and men and Jenny found a more equal balance in workforce gender. Some of the women at managerial level acted as Jenny’s mentors, providing strong female engineering role models in contrast to the male dominated field in the UK. The women were highly qualified, capable and respected and a great example of how the cultural bias towards women not going into engineering in the UK is just that – something that does not happen in all other countries.

Another cultural difference in Russia was the embodiment of a circular manufacturing route within the manufacturing process from concept to manufacture.  One of Jenny’s key roles was to translate this circular concept used for the manufacture of Russian aerospace components into the manufacture of components for Western manufacturers who were cautious of this approach. 

Whilst at VSMPO- Tirus, Jenny started a family, becoming the first person in the company to take maternity leave. Working in a male dominated environment came with a different set of challenges to the work itself, however Jenny’s manager helped accommodate her needs as a new parent.  Key to her return to work was her partner’s work supporting time off and him travelling with the baby to support her attending meetings with customers across the UK.

A passionate advocate for sustainability, Jenny had hoped that working in recycling and using titanium to make aircraft more efficient would be a way to reduce emissions associated with flying. However, she began to wonder if there were other more productive ways she could help.

Her answer: To go into solar cell research!

Now based in Swansea, Wales and having become a parent for the second time, Jenny threw herself back into the world of academia, interviewing for a role as PhD researcher at Swansea University 2 weeks after giving birth. Armed with a strong work ethic and a partner who among many, many other things took both kids camping in the rain for a week during her write up, Jenny completed her PhD, gaining her doctorate in 2014.

Newly qualified, Jenny joined the photovoltaic (PV) team here at the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre researching solar cells in line with SPECIFIC’s vision – a world in which buildings can generate, store and release their own heat and electricity from solar energy. Jenny’s career rapidly progressed, supervising students, speaking at conferences, publishing papers and leading on projects such as the manufacture of the largest perovskite PV module.

Since moving to Swansea and back into the field of research, Jenny was keen to take forward the mentoring she gained from her Russian female colleagues. Entering the world of funding, Jenny successfully won grants to support and run women’s outreach events such as the first Welsh Soapbox Science as well as travel grants to collaborate with other universities. Jenny regularly runs outreach activities at science fairs and schools to encourage children into engineering and is a member of the Women’s Engineering Society. Jenny is also the creator of Welshwomenwiki, training people to contribute to Wikipedia and promoting inspirational Welsh women.

In January 2019, Jenny was promoted to Senior Technology Transfer Fellow, moving into the field of battery storage research, a key part of the energy problem of how to sustainably store solar energy harvested from the sun. As battery team lead, Jenny has been busy recruiting a team of researchers to aide her in this endeavour. In addition to this she has been appointed the Swansea University lead in M-RHEX, a collaborative battery project involving internationally-leading researchers on world-class materials research.

Continuing her success in her new chosen field, Jenny has just been awarded an ESPRC Fellowship. This will enable a small pocket cell line to be set up at SPECIFIC’s Pilot Manufacturing Research Centre (PMRC) and will fund post-doctoral researchers to study NIR processing technologies and life cycle and techno-economic analysis of energy storage for active buildings. 

So, congratulations Jenny, a great advocate for sustainability research and for helping inspire more women into the field of engineering. We’re proud to have you leading one of our research teams at SPECIFIC!

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