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Civil engineering graduate scoops top engineering awards for origami beam project

Thursday 9 February 2017

A high-flying civil engineering graduate from the University of Salford has won two top awards for her dissertation project.

Gemma Small, 24, has been awarded the Michael Horne Prize from the Institution of Structural Engineers, for her dissertation project, which was an industrial collaboration with Gatorduct. 

The project investigated the feasibility of a corrugated cardboard floor joists, using an optimised origami folding pattern, created using specially treated cardboard, developed by Gatorduct’s Karl Sullivan, himself a graduate from the University of Salford.

Gemma said: “I was over the moon to win this award. My final year at University was very challenging not only because of the pressures of the course, but also due to some personal challenges. My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before my dissertation submission date, so to even get nominated for the award felt impossible.”

As well as the award from the Institution of Structural Engineers, Gemma has also won the Premier Award for her submission to the CIOB International Innovation & Research Awards 2016, also for the origami beam project.  

During her time at Salford, Gemma had the opportunity to work in industry, spending a year on placement at construction firm Costain, where she now works full time since graduation.

While at Costain, Gemma worked on was the Tunnel Remediation Scheme at Heathrow Airport, and the construction of two new dual carriageways in the North West.

She continued: “Working in industry was great experience for me, as it allowed me to turn theory into practice. I found coming back to University after my year placement, that I was more driven, had a better understanding and felt I performed better at University”.


Since graduating with a distinction last summer, Gemma regularly visits the University to offer advice and to mentor current students, providing the industrial engagement and support that helped make her project so successful.

She said: “I loved my time at Salford and enjoyed my course thoroughly. I was the first person in my family to go to University, but my family and the lecturers all supported me to pursue a career I enjoyed. The lecturers were engaging and I felt I had support when I needed it. The Masters year course is really where everything came together for me and where I really began to feel like an engineer. I felt comfortable tackling problems alone and these skills really helped me when applying for a job.”

Gemma was able to use some of the new Maker Space equipment at the University in her testing, and when testing the beams, using advanced DIC/PIC techniques combined with over £500k of newly purchased equipment as part of the Newton refurbishment programme.

Lecturer Neil Currie, who was Gemma’s supervisor, from the School of Computing, Science and Engineering said:

“Working with our industrial partners such as Gatorduct and combining their experience along with the talent, drive and enthusiasm of our students has helped create a real ‘can do’ culture at the University and it’s driving forward our core strategy of collaborating with industry to make exceptional and employable graduates. I’m really pleased for Gemma and her well-earned awards and I look forward to hearing from her regularly as he career inevitably goes from strength to strength”.

Find out more

Victoria Barker

0161 295 4779