UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Athena Swan committee sponsors a female studentship at RNOH

1 August 2022

The UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering Athena Swan committee funded Alba Morillo Paterson's placement.

Alba Morillo Paterson and Charlotte Hagen

The IHE Summer Studentship Scheme gives engineering students the opportunity to spend 8 weeks working with clinicians on an interdisciplinary project. Students gain exposure to the clinical setting, interaction with clinical teams and invaluable hands-on experience.

In 2022, the IHE arranged 16 studentships, one of which was generously funded by the UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering (MPBE) Athena SWAN committee.

We spoke to the student, Alba Morillo Paterson, and Dr Charlotte Hagen from the committee about the award and what it means to them.

Dr Charlotte Hagen


Can you tell me about the Athena SWAN committee in UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering?  

Our Athena Swan committee was founded in 2012, determined to improve the gender balance within the department. It has steadily grown since (and secured several Bronze Awards along the way), it has now got more than 20 members, including early career, senior academic and professional services staff. Our current focus is to deliver our 2025 Action Plan, which has four priority areas:

1. Strengthen the capacities and communication channels of our committee.

2. Address the recruitment and retention of our female postgraduate research students.

3. Address key career transition points for academic and research staff.

4. Change organisational culture and facilitate outreach.

The committee’s flagship activities are a funding scheme through which we have supported this IHE Summer Studentship as well as a seminar series called “Female Futures”, which is all about women’s careers and common themes such as perceived and real barriers to success.  

How did you hear about the IHE Summer Studentships?

From the committee member who suggested funding one! She did a very good job convincing us that it would be an excellent use of our budget.  

What does it mean to you to be able to provide a female student with this opportunity? 

It feels good to provide opportunities, very empowering actually. Who knows what else this studentship will lead to? I’d be very happy if it inspired our awardee to pursue a career in Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, the field is in dire need of more women! Hopefully, she will be able to meet interesting people and expand her network, too.  


Alba Morillo Paterson


How did you find out about the IHE RNOH studentship? Why did it appeal to you?

I found out about the IHE studentship from my teacher Pilar García. She sent out an email with information about various studentships at the RNOH. There were so many being offered, all of them so interesting and appealing. Perhaps the most exciting aspect was the possibility of working and learning with doctors and clinicians at the RNOH.

As most of the studentships offered were related to biomechanics, I was sure that it would allow me to apply the knowledge I have attained over the last three years of my degree. I was very enthusiastic about having the chance to work on such an attractive project; building a device to measure force on orthopaedic screws.

Can you tell us a bit about the project you are working on at RNOH?

Orthopaedic screws are used to join broken ankle/foot bones that are distanced too far apart to heal properly on their own. There are multiple types of screws in the market used in orthopaedics such as headed screws, headless screws with opposing flanks, etc…, all of which are made of titanium alloy. However, the compression force they generate is not completely known, therefore we (Rachel Tan and I) have built a device which uses load cells to measure this compression. This will be useful as it will let us know with how much force does the screw compress the two pieces of bone. We may find that certain types of screws are particularly stronger than other, or, that they are all quite similar. Additionally, the device also allows to perform a pull out test where the force required to take the screw out is found. The outcome of this test could be that the screw fails and is pulled out from the bone, or, that the screw is so strong that bone fails. 

The first few weeks of the studentship the work was based mainly on learning about orthopaedics screws and designing an appropriate device. After actually building it and going through the design cycle (design, build, test, analyse) a few times, we made a working apparatus. As it is two of us in the project we have worked quite well and fast. Moreover, we are currently testing these screws which was not part of the studentship plan and hopefully we will be able to write a paper on the results!

How are you finding the experience? How do you think it is benefiting you?

I am finding the experience very enriching indeed, it is deepening greatly my understanding of biomechanics. As the studentship is not fully face-to-face, the days that we work virtually allow me to organise the online courses, completing them at my own pace throughout the 8-week period. The e-courses are teaching me vital aspects about research that must always be considered: the legalities, ethics, and data protection, etc.  On the other hand, the face-to-face time is improving my practical skills using tools and machines. I am finding the studentship very fulfilling and perhaps one of the most important discoveries that I have made is that I am very clear that after I graduate, I would like to continue to do research in the biomechanics field.

What does the support of the MedPhys Athena SWAN committee mean to you?

I greatly appreciate the support of the prestigious Athena Swan Committee. Without a doubt the experience and skills I have gained during my studentship at the RNOH cannot be taught in a lecture theatre. I am passionate about striving towards gender equality in biomedical engineering and so many other fields in which girls and women are underrepresented. To have received the MedPhys Athena SWAN studentship has helped me discover the path that I endeavour to pursue professionally, and it will be an honour for me to put their stamp on the work that I produce from this fabulous experience.