Cambridge engineer scoops top public engagement prize

Posted on 18 Jun 2015 by Jonny Williamson

Cambridge University Reader in Mechanical Engineering, Dr Hugh Hunt has been awarded the 2015 Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Award for his outstanding contribution to the public promotion of engineering.

Described as “…one of the most energetic, inspirational, and committed engineers in public engagement”, Hunt has scooped the Academy’s award in recognition of his efforts over the last 25 years.

Cambridge University Reader in Mechanical Engineering, Dr Hugh Hunt
Cambridge University Reader in Mechanical Engineering, Dr Hugh Hunt.

Through direct education, television and radio, he has inspired thousands of people to engage with engineering and science.

He has long been a stalwart of the Cambridge undergraduate engineering teaching programme, as well as a regular contributor to the university’s popular science lectures.

For many years he hosted the Institute of Physics School Teachers’ Update Courses in Cambridge and he appeared at the Cheltenham Science Festival. He also makes regular appearances on the BBC’s popular Naked Scientists radio show.

In addition, Dr Hunt has created and presented television documentaries with a strong engineering component. He was the lead presenter and principal technical expert for Attack of the Zeppelins (2013), Escape from Colditz (2012), and Digging the Great Escape (2011).

Dr Hunt and Windfall Films collected the 2011 Royal Television Society award for the best history programme for their two-hour long production Dambusters: Building the Bouncing Bomb. Watched by an estimated 5 million viewers in the UK, it was also screened in Canada, the US and in Hugh’s native Australia.

Previous winners of the Rooke Award include broadcaster and engineer Professor Mark Miodownik FREng, computer science champion Professor Chris Bishop FREng FRSE, and Dr Diane Crann for her pivotal role in setting up Engineering Master Classes at the Royal Institution (Ri).

Nigel Perry FREng, chairman of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Awards committee, commented: “Hugh’s fascinating work has helped to reawaken the British people’s latent passion for engineering.

“He has invoked the spirit and derring-do of our wartime engineers, who triumphed against adversity, making some incredible advances – and escapes!”

On winning the award, Dr Hunt noted: “Very often, engineers are in the background, just getting on with things, but to inspire the next generation we need to be front-and-centre.

“As well as being vital to our future, science, technology, engineering and maths are incredibly good fun, and I love showing people that. Universities and funding bodies have a role to play too – they must recognise the importance of outreach activities and continue to support them”.