Belfast Telegraph

At 36, Maire’s youngest engineering professor in Queen’s history, youngest Irish Academy fellow, a former inventor of the year and on cusp of science hall of fame

So tell us... is there anything that this woman can't do?

By Amanda Ferguson

She is one of the world's leading engineers and academics.

Professor Maire O'Neill from Glenties, Co Donegal, who has been living in Belfast since she was a teenager, boasts a list of achievements to be proud of, including a nomination to enter the Semta Engineering Hall of Fame.

The digital security expert is the youngest ever engineering professor at Queen's University Belfast and also the youngest to be elected a fellow of the Irish Academy of Engineering - Ireland's premier academy.

The 36-year-old, who juggles a busy career with caring for her two children, works at the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's.

Modest Maire is one of five people shortlisted for the Semta Hall of Fame award which celebrates the most inspiring and innovative UK engineers.

Respected as one of Europe's leading digital security experts, she previously won British Female Inventor of the Year for work on high speed data security.

Her research involves designing novel security solutions for communications applications such as email, cloud, set-top boxes and mobile technologies.

As Maire explained, there is a long tradition of women in engineering but they are still very much under-represented in the profession.

"I try to get involved in events to promote engineering at secondary school level." she said.

"I was part of an initiative called Scientific Women Academic Network. Queen's has been awarded a silver medal in the Swan charter about how we go about promoting women in research and academia. I led the team that won that award for our engineering department in Queen's.

"We are proud of that and are trying to address the lack of women in our discipline and how we can go about increasing representation."

On her Semta Hall of Fame nomination, Maire added: "I am pretty proud I am alongside the shortlistees. I noticed James Dyson was previously shortlisted. I am in good company - I feel it is quite an honour."

Professor John McCanny, director of the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at the Northern Ireland Science Park, is Maire's mentor and former PhD superviser.

"Maire is a role model of a modern engineering professor," he said. "She is a world leader in her research field whilst combining this with a strong knowledge of industrial need and application."

Factfile

Semta's Engineering Hall of Fame brings together and celebrates the most inspiring and innovative UK engineers, from the 18th century to the present day. It also looks to the future of engineering, by recognising the achievements of contemporary engineers. Voting for this year's Hall of Fame will close on February 15. The winner will be announced at the Semta Skills Awards Gala Dinner on February 24. You can vote for QUB academic Maire O'Neill here: http://www.semta.org.uk/hall-of-fame-2015-shortlist

Five quickfire questions for brilliant academic

1. Who are your heroes and role models?

“Dame Wendy Hall who contributed to the creation of the internet and the world wide web, and my late dad John McLoone. Dad was just an inspiration to the whole family. When I was small he built a hydroelectric scheme on a river beside our house giving us free electricity. He was a teacher. Both my older brothers are in electronic engineering. He sparked our interest in the area.”

2. What would you say to women considering engineering as a career?

“It is a really good career.

“What I say when I talk to schools is it is a really good degree at undergraduate level in that it is really well accepted.

“There is a vast range of possibilities of different careers you can get into.

“There’s security, software, building hardware devices, aerospace industry, all different facets of society.”

3. Favourite engineering advance in recent years?

“The availability of apps that can do anything and everything. My favourite is Whatsapp.”

4. How do you relax?

“I don’t really relax because I have two young children, aged two and five. When I am not working I spend my time with them. We enjoy going to the park.”

5. Future goals?

“To progress in my career, continue being successful at what I do and balance that with my family life.”

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