That cultural factor: Meet Miriam Garcia

Photo landscapeIt’s the first time that I’m going to participate in something like Soapbox Science this year. I feel quite nervous because I haven’t presented to the general public before but I’m also looking forward to see the reactions of the attendees. I wanted to get involved in the event because I thought it was a good chance to disseminate our research outside the Academia and to know more about the achievements of the other presenters.

When I think about the reason why I applied to SoapBox Science I remember a talk that I had with my second supervisor, who encouraged me to join it. I was telling him that as a Civil Engineer I have always found quite a limited number of women both during the degree and in the companies where I worked afterwards. When I looked at the number of female engineers working as directors of the department in the University or in the Consultancy companies, the number was even smaller. In my opinion, there is still a cultural factor which makes a challenge for women joining scientific or engineering degrees and developing successful professional careers. I think that the public perception plays an important role and that carrying out actions such as the SoapBox event can help to change it.

As a summary of my background I could mention that after five years of working experience in the project departments of different consultancy companies I started an Engineering PhD two years ago with a research scholarship at the University of Exeter. It was an important change but I realised that I was very happy to do research and I love the topic of my thesis too.

As I will explain during the talk, the title of my PhD thesis is ‘The impact of tidal stream farms on flood risk in estuaries’ and it is part of a project funded by the EPSRC for the optimisation of large groups of tidal turbines to be deployed in shallow estuarine areas. When we talk about tidal turbines you can imagine something similar to wind turbines but they work submerged into the water. And when we say large groups of turbines we mean something of the order of thousands of them. Therefore, given the size of these devices, we can expect some kind of effect on the environment. In my case, the core of my thesis is related to the environmental impact in terms of the changes introduced to flooding in the area where they are going to be deployed. In relation to this, the objective of the EPSRC research project is to get an optimal design for the configuration of the tidal farm with the maximum energy extraction and the minimum impact on flood risk. We know that these technologies are still in their infancy compared to offshore wind devices which are being numerously installed, for example. However, there is a growing interest from Governments and investors. Numerous studies are being undertaken, not only in the UK but also in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, China and other European countries.

On the other hand, I think that tidal energy is becoming popular now with recent news in the UK about the construction of tidal lagoons. In our project, as we are talking about arrays of turbines they would not involve the impoundment of the area where they are installed, therefore they would have different environmental effects and could be considered as an alternative to other schemes, such as tidal lagoons or barrages.

Besides, we have to keep in mind that tidal energy is constant and easy to predict. The forces that create tides are mainly the gravitational forces between the Sun, the Moon and the Earth. We are able to determine their positions and the resulting water heights at any time. This idea is very interesting if we compare it to other renewable energy sources, such as the wind or the solar energy, which vary according to the meteorological conditions.

During SoapBox in Exeter I will explain about all of these ideas and I will bring some small objects or tools to help visualising them and make it less boring for the younger people. I hope that the talk will be interesting enough and I am looking forward to meet the rest of the presenters.


Catch Miriam on her Soapbox Near Princesshay Square, Exeter City Centre, this saturday 13th June 1-4pm, where she will be talking about “Tidal energy in estuaries”. 

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