By combining her passion for science and cars, Ella Podmore is paving the way for engineers of the future.
Meet Ella Podmore. At just 26, she’s already a trailblazer in the automotive industry. McLaren Automotive’s first materials and fault engineer and IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2020, Ella has combined her knowledge for science and cars to carve out a career she loves.
When did you realise you wanted to become a materials engineer?
I grew up in an environment that made me quite inquisitive. My dad was tinkerer, and he would always pass car objects or washing machine parts around the dinner table. He would encourage me to question how things were made and why a certain object was there and what was beneath or inside a machine. So that inquisitiveness was instilled in me from a young age. In school, I loved science, especially chemistry. Looking under a microscope and discovering and learning about atoms blew my mind. You can’t see them, but without them nothing would exist. So, I knew I wanted to solve problems, but I also had a passion for chemistry. I asked myself, how can I combine the two?
How did you get your start in the auto industry at such a young age?
When I was in my third year at the University of Manchester, I had the opportunity to do an industrial placement year. I had a poster of a McLaren and other gorgeous cars on my wall, and I thought: why don’t I try? I wrote a convincing essay about the importance of materials knowledge, landed an interview and ended up spending 12 months there solving material-related problems. I inherited an exciting thesis topic to take back to Manchester University. After completing my master’s, McLaren offered to create a materials engineering department where I was invited back as a materials engineer.
"Yes, I love working on cars, but first and foremost I'm passionate about the science behind it"
What does your normal day look like?
Basically, about 60% of my time is quite practical; in the lab, working on experiments, fixing broken parts. If we’re testing new pieces of material, then we’ll test it around the track. I will get it back, see how it has performed, check if there’s any degradation. We send cars out all over the globe. If we have, say, a pink car, we’ll send a car out to Sweden to test it in different temperatures and climates. I must make sure that the colours and customisation of cars are going to perform at the same level. It’s cool. I get to deal with the techy material stuff like titanium and carbon fibre, everything I learned in my degree. But because I’m in this industry I get to deal with wacky gold-plated exhaust systems or diamond-encrusted badges and ostrich leather seats. The other 40% of my time I spend educating other engineers about materials as they’re automotive mechanical engineers. It’s my job to make sure they understand what materials they’re spec’ing.
The auto industry is undergoing a revolution as we see a shift to EVs. How do you see your role evolving?
I can see it going crazy. My objectives are to use materials to make a car light, make it fast and make it look good. Those things are going to be even more current as we move towards fitting batteries and making cars heavier with all the electrical equipment we need to put there. We must remove weight from somewhere. When we are looking towards hybrid technology, there’s been a huge uptake of women in the product development side. I’m sure that’sbecause we’re making a product for a more diverse client base.
You’re a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) ambassador, specifically encouraging young women to pursue careers in these fields of study. What do you want to see change?
We need to shred the stereotypes. Women learn from a young age that it’s a male-dominated industry. And it’s true, but we need to still encourage them to apply. Obviously, they need to work hard and put their heads down but they don’t have to fit a certain stereotype. A lot of girls will come up to me after a talk at a secondary school and ask: “will I fit in?” I tell them they can be fantastic engineer and still embrace their individuality. I also encourage them to find what they’re passionate about. Get on TEDx, learn about experiences and opportunities out there. Yes, I love working on cars, but first and foremost I’m passionate about the science behind it.