University academic named as one of UK’s engineering heroes

An academic from the University of Plymouth has been named as one of the UK’s female engineering heroes.

Alison Raby, Professor of Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Head of the COAST Engineering Research Group, has been named by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a recipient of its Top 50 Women in Engineering: Engineering Heroes awards.

Now in their sixth year, the 2021 WE50 awards celebrate women who have made a significant contribution to helping their organisation, community or indeed the world during the last year.

Professor Raby is one of the world’s leading experts on how extreme waves and coastal flooding impact coastal structures.

She led the national STORMLAMP project, which examined the resilience of lighthouses and how they might be affected in future years as a result of the rise in extreme winter storms.

She has also led international initiatives such as investigating how coastal communities in Sri Lanka can be warned about the combined threats of severe rainfall and cyclones.

And she has played a vital role in a number of collaborative initiatives with the UK Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team, aimed at uncovering the precise reasons for the severity of destruction.

Professor Raby said:

“It is a real honour to be named by the Women’s Engineering Society as one of their Engineering Heroes. This award reflects the many exciting opportunities – both from an academic and personal perspective – that have come my way as a civil engineering academic. The ongoing support and affirmation given by colleagues at the University of Plymouth and elsewhere is also hugely valued and appreciated.”


Professor Alison Raby is one of our Plymouth Pioneers

Professor Alison Raby

Professor Alison Raby

Professor of Applied Hydrodynamics Alistair Borthwick, who nominated Alison for the award, added:

“Alison Raby is a most worthy recipient of a Top 50 Women in Engineering Award. She is renowned worldwide for her work on coastal defences and field investigations following earthquake-induced tsunamis. She has analysed the stability of rock lighthouses, utilised focused wave groups to simulate extreme wave events, and devised methods for simulating wave-body interactions. Her research has benefitted the analysis, design, and reassessment of seawalls and breakwaters. She has also contributed to better survivability of wave energy converters. Alison Raby is a hero in coastal engineering in that her work both protects lives and defends the coast.”

Announced on International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), the WE50 awards seek to recognise the wealth of female talent within engineering and related disciplines.

INWED celebrates the achievements of women in engineering and related roles and highlights the opportunities available to engineers of the future; this year the campaign is partnering with UNESCO UK.

The awards were judged by a panel of industry experts who said that even in the current climate, the number and standard of nominations were high, emphasising the exceptional achievements made by women in this field.


Find out more about the WE50 awards

Alison Raby
<p>plymouth pioneers. alison raby<br></p>
Longships lighthouse in Cornwall

WES’ CEO Elizabeth Donnelly MSc FRSA MRAeS MINCOSE, said:

“The literal definition of hero, meaning “protector” or “defender” could not be more apt in the current climate. Often the unsung heroes, the past year has seen the world faced with challenges which have highlighted the immeasurably important role that those working in engineering, technology and the applied sciences play in safeguarding our way of life. Engineers have provided PPE which has enabled medical professionals dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to do their jobs safely and have built lifesaving ventilation equipment used to treat critically ill patients. They have continued to tackle the climate crisis, developing solutions which minimise impact and reduce carbon emissions, paving the way for a brighter and more sustainable future. The impact of engineering is as diverse as the people it benefits, which is why inclusivity is so important. The women represented in this year’s WE50 are a testament to the fact that the more diverse the minds and voices of engineers are, the greater their influence will be. We are delighted to celebrate the trailblazing women whose work and advocacy are changing the shape of engineering in the UK.”

Head Judge Professor Catherine Noakes OBE CEng FIMechE FIHEEM added:

“2020 was a year unlike any other and remarkable times call for remarkable people. That is why, in 2021, the Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards celebrate the engineering heroes who have responded to the challenges of an ever-changing world, from healthcare and climate change to infrastructure and championing diversity, with inspirational innovation and leadership. With over 230 nominations, only the exceptional made it to the top 50.
"The standard of nominations received was outstanding. It was wonderful to read about the achievements of these extraordinary women and the impact that they are making on society with their talent, hard work and dedication. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how truly important science, technology and engineering are to the health of our planet. The 2021 WE50 personify the inventive and inclusive thinking needed to build a sustainable future. If there was ever a time that we needed these heroes in engineering, it is now.”



World leaders

We are ranked the number one university globally for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 14: life below water.

The award recognises the quality of our marine research and teaching as well as our efforts to reduce the impact of campus activities on the marine environment. The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Learn more about our rankings

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021: life below water

COAST Engineering Research Group

The COAST group is focused firmly on major problems facing society regarding rising sea levels, flood risk, and marine renewable energy which have been highlighted in recent government reviews. COAST contains internationally recognised specialists in: 

  • coastal engineering
  • renewable energy
  • flood risk and coastal protection
  • field experimentation
  • instrument design and laboratory modelling
  • numerical modelling 
  • theoretical analysis.