Sustainable Development Goals


The SDGs and me - Rachel Wan

Spotlight on Rachel Wan, UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering student

Photo of Rachel Wan in the Portico

What is your role and what does it involve?

In my degree you learn a vast variety of things from biomechanics to control systems to image processing. One of the highlights is a module that include six intensive team-based projects known as Scenarios.

Projects range from designing an ultrasonic detector for the blind to manufacturing a peristaltic pump using laser cutting and 3D printing. Ethical issues and sustainability were strongly emphasised in this course, so students learn a lot of skills in industry standards and professional conduct.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I am in my second year at UCL… It is still so surreal to me. I am from Hong Kong and lived there previously for 18 years. I am still very new to the UK, so I am still exploring different places and exposing myself to the culture. Before joining UCL, I was just a regular student trying to get through her A-levels!

Tell us about something you’re working on at UCL that is supporting the SDGs

I am the Outreach Officer for the Engineers Without Borders student volunteering project. In collaboration with UCL Students’ Union Volunteering Service,  we recently received a grant from the UCL SDGs: Pathways to Achievement funding scheme to support our sustainable engineering workshops for schools across London.

We deliver hands-on  workshops for students in primary and secondary schools, encouraging young people from different backgrounds to choose a career in engineering. The award is for the materials we need to for students to design floating houses and wind turbines at our workshops. Both these engineering challenges can minimise the impact on the natural environment and improve the wellbeing of local communities.

As society moves towards the deadline to meet the UN SDGs, the workshops aims to inspire the next generation of engineers to commit to global responsibility.

Our project is working towards SDG4: Quality Education, SDG5: Gender Equality, SDG10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG11: Sustainable Cities & Communities and SDG13: Climate Action.

As society moves towards the deadline to meet the UN SDGs, the workshops can inspire the next generation of engineers to commit to global responsibility. With this approach, we have the power to rapidly transform our world for the better: to inspire, drive change, and educate.

Beyond work, which of your everyday activities contributes most to one or more of the SDGs?

I am very privileged to be living in central London, as it allows me to walk almost everywhere! Within half an hour, I can reach the main attractions and places, which is very convenient. London is a very walkable city, which I love.

And what do you do that has the most detrimental impact on the Goals?

Mainly travelling. Hong Kong is a 12- to 13-hour flight from London, so I do quite a bit of air travel, which is detrimental to the Goals. If only there was a way to significantly reduce the carbon footprint created by planes…

In your opinion, which of the SDGs is the most important for humanity to address?

All the SDGs interlink to each other in some way, so they are all equally important. If I have to choose one, it would be SDG1: No Poverty. I believe that all people should have equal rights to economic and financial resources and services, new technology and control over property.  

If there was an 18th Goal, what should it be?

SDG18: Inclusive Design. It is so important for products, environments and services to be accessible to everyone, and be usable for as many people as possible. It is all about putting people first and designing for the needs of people.

If you could bring in one law or societal shift to help the UK address the SDGs, what would it be?

Hmm good question! It would probably be banning non-renewable energy resources, such as fossil fuels and coal. It is severely damaging our environment and it is unavoidable that we have to ban fossil fuels to save our planet. Or else, the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees would be merely impossible to reach.

What is the biggest challenge to the world achieving the Goals by 2030?

Political conflict and war. Not only does it increase global instability and leads to a financial crisis, but it also delays the urgent transition to more inclusive and sustainable economies, throwing the SDGs further off the track. 

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I have never drunk Coke before! I was never interested in it, ha ha.