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Nottingham wastewater expert named one of UK’s top 50 women in engineering

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

A University of Nottingham researcher who is looking to solve some of the biggest global water challenges has won a Top 50 Women in Engineering: Sustainability Award for 2020. The WE50 announcement coincides with International Women in Engineering Day celebrations on 23 June.

Professor in Water & Resource Processing, Rachel Louise Gomes is working on new technologies and analytics to treat and reuse water from our homes and industry. Her aim is to deliver secure and resilient water. This requires process manufacturing environments that can both intelligently use resources and prevent pollutants reaching rivers and seas.

“It was a huge honour to be recognised nationally and I am very grateful to have been nominated. I absolutely love what I do and it is important to share positive experiences such as mine to inspire more female talent into engineering. We need their skills and energy to shake up the sector on gender equality.”
Professor Rachel Gomes, one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering 2020

Passionate about the circular economy of water, Professor Gomes believes wastewater treatment processes can do so much more than just treat water so it can be returned to the urban water cycle.

In fact, her research takes wastewater treatment to the next level, where waste is wealth and pollutants can also become products. By cleverly using novel materials and nature-based solutions there is immense potential to process valuable materials often found in polluted water to manufacture chemicals or to generate energy sources.

“”Where there’s muck there’s brass” they say, and water removed from homes and industries can contain valuable materials including metals and enzymes. Copper, for instance, is found in agricultural wastewaters such as cattle footbaths and we are exploring how to recoup this residue and turn into a commercially-viable product. Recycling in this way is vital as supplies of raw copper from ore are dwindling due to industrial use in everyday electronics, such as mobile phones and computer chips."
Professor Gomes

Run by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the Top 50 Women in Engineering Awards (WE50) programme seeks to recognise the wealth of female talent within engineering who have made a significant contribution to sustainability.

Winning nominees for 2020 were required to provide evidence of their successful support of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) or the Net Zero Carbon Programme. Professor Gomes’ met several of the SDGs with her tireless research into solutions for global water and food security and resource resilience.

Elizabeth Donnelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Engineering Society explained why WES had chosen the theme of sustainability for 2020. “The 2019 Climate Emergency Declarations followed unprecedented weather conditions across the planet. Engineers were instrumental in repairing the Toddbrook Dam after it collapsed in August last year, and it will be engineers who will provide many of the solutions needed to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We felt that it was the right time to showcase the amazing women who are already working on these issues.”

Even in the current climate, the number and standard of nominations were high, emphasising the exceptional achievements made by women in this field. The WE50 awards were judged by a panel of industry experts.

Sally Sudworth, WE50 Head Judge, the Environment Agency’s National Programme Manager for Asset Management & FCRM Sustainability Lead (Net Zero Carbon Programme) and WES Honorary Secretary said, “The panel of judges was thrilled by with the outstanding achievements demonstrated by all of the winners and were thrilled by the difference being made by the candidates.”

The 2020 winners are to be published on the INWED website and celebrated during WES’s own virtual INWED event on 23 June and across social media and press throughout the world. A full list of the WE50 winners is available at

Professor Gomes is Head of the Food, Water, Waste Research Group at the University and is at the helm of another cross-disciplinary 140-strong team on the Interdisciplinary Research Cluster, WaterWorks. This major project is finding new ways address challenges associated with the management of all water processes, including those highlighted by the United Nations as globally significant. Solving these issues will lead to more sustainable, resilient water processes, and ecosystems for generations to come. Proving its aims resonate at home as well as overseas, WaterWorks was recently cited in the Carbon Neutral Action Plan (p 47) outlining Nottingham’s commitment to be the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2028.

Professor Gomes, based in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering since 2011, also teaches water treatment engineering and is a mentor to several female engineering Fellows to support their long-term career goals.

“We are very proud of Rachel and the impact her research has produced. Her work is poised to have a significant impact on the provision of safe, clean water an area which will be vital to the sustainability of our planet. Rachel has produced some amazing achievements over the past few years and I am absolutely delighted for her that these have been recognised by the judges of the WE50 awards and the Women’s Engineering Society.”
Professor Sam Kingman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Engineering

The Faculty itself has gained recent national recognition; becoming the first engineering department in the country to be awarded a coveted gold Athena SWAN award – an accreditation which rewards excellence in advancing gender equality across higher education and research.

To learn more, Professor Gomes will be talking about her research in the forthcoming live lecture: Wastewater treatment and beyond – the road to sustainability and a circular economy at the Virtually Nottingham platform on 1 July.

Professor Gomes with her WE50 Award

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Rachel Gomes at or Emma Lowry, Media Relations Manager (Engineering)

Emma Lowry final
Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156
Location: University Park

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

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