Profile - Maria Felice, BEng, Non-Destructive Evaluation

Materials World magazine
27 Nov 2012


2010–present EngD in Non Destructive Evaluation, University of Bristol and Rolls-Royce plc BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, University of Malta

What made you choose to study engineering? 
I always loved maths and wanted to continue studying it at university, but wanted to do something more applied than a mathematics degree. I chose engineering by elimination, but am very glad I did. 

You’ve experienced study in the UK and abroad – how do they compare? 
I’ve worked and studied in the UK and Malta. In my mechanical engineering undergraduate class at the University of Malta, a third of us were girls. And in other STEM courses, there was an even higher proportion of girls. There is a limited choice of subjects to study at school and at the university, with traditional subjects still very popular, so girls who are keen to study maths and science go on to do the above degrees. This has a long-lasting effect, with a good number of female STEM graduates becoming teachers in secondary schools, and inspiring students of both sexes to pursue STEM careers. With regards to terminology, in Malta, technician is used to describe non-professional people, such as those who install and service household appliances – they’ve never been referred to as engineers. 

What does your current role entail? 
I am studying for an Engineering Doctorate (EngD), which is the same as a PhD but with very strong ties to industry. I am registered at the University of Bristol and I spent a year there working on my research project. My sponsor company is Rolls-Royce and I am in my second of three years working on my project there. My area of research is non destructive evaluation, where I am developing an improved ultrasonic inspection to detect for stress corrosion cracking in titanium aerospace engine components. In addition to working on my project, I help out at Rolls-Royce when similar problems to the ones I am working on crop up. I am becoming specialised in using computer modeling to simulate real inspection scenarios, including real defects, and to design ultrasonic arrays for these. 

What do you think are the challenges facing the industry in the next few years? 
There are three challenges that I see – one from the beginning of a material’s life, one from the middle and one from the end. Extracting rare earth elements will become a bigger challenge as competition between industrial nations and the use of these elements increase, for example in LED screens. Non destructive evaluation of non-metallic materials is especially challenging and until the problems related to this are solved, the advantages of using materials such as composites and ceramics cannot be fully exploited. Finally, with environmental regulations becoming stricter, it is important to recycle more but there are challenges associated with recycling some materials, such as certain plastics and composites. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date? 
My greatest achievement to date is my undergraduate final year project. It was about medical engineering and surgical instrument design, which is something I have always been interested in. My parents and two sisters are all healthcare professionals and I enjoyed biology at secondary school. The project was very challenging and I learnt a lot. 

What do you see yourself doing next? 
I will complete my EngD in 2014 or early 2015. After that, I see myself working in materials engineering, in NDE or another area, and in a job that will allow me to continue enjoying the best and most challenging aspects of industry and academia. I would like to experience working in another country in the near future, too. 

What makes your job worthwhile? 
What I love about engineering, and NDE, is how the theory is so mathematical and complicated, and yet the applications are very real. So I get the satisfaction of solving very tricky, academic problems as well as knowing that I am contributing to making flying safer.