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New virtual exhibition explores engineering response to the pandemic

A new online exhibition opens this week at Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum, featuring a series of fascinating and evocative images of the engineers who dropped everything to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the images were captured by Leeds-based photographer Jude Palmer, who is more used to photographing rock stars and sporting events. The collection illustrates the human effort across the UK to develop and manufacture ventilators and testing kits, construct field hospitals and protect healthcare workers and the public, all in record time.

From a consortium of some of the UK’s biggest companies working together to build ventilators to an off-duty engineer who designed an ingenious hook to help healthcare workers open doors safely, the scale and variety of the engineers’ work is vast. University teams around the country have worked tirelessly to design new ways to test for the virus and even to develop a desktop vaccine factory for the future.

The one thing that unites all the engineers featured in Jude’s photographs is their determination to tackle the pandemic using their engineering knowledge and training. They are also recipients of the President’s Special Awards for Pandemic Service, presented by the Academy in recognition of their exceptional dedication to fighting Covid-19.

Photographer Jude Palmer says:

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a moment in time I hope we will not live again, it has impacted upon every human being on this planet in some way, and the people on the front line of tackling this disease have rightly been praised for their heroic work. Engineers have worked silently and diligently, with equal passion, but they are not always in the headlines. This project was about putting them into sharp focus and placing them also at the forefront of this battle.

“All had such passion for their role in fighting this pandemic. All were so modest about their contribution. After each shoot I left feeling totally overwhelmed with what I had seen and heard. I am totally in awe of these human beings who were saving lives in the best way they knew how—through their engineering skills and talents.”

Charlotte Howard, Interpretation Developer at the National Science and Media Museum, commented:

“Covid-19 has been a shock to the system. While many of us tucked ourselves away in our homes during the first lockdown, engineers all over the country rolled up their sleeves and got to work. These photographs give us a glimpse into their working lives and the people behind the inventions. The achievements of the 19 awardees are inspiring and the museum is honoured to offer itself up as a platform to share these outstanding achievements.”

Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest public health crisis of our time and has presented society with multiple challenges. Engineering expertise and innovation has been central to the global fight to save lives and protect livelihoods. 

“I am also incredibly proud of engineers everywhere who have worked round the clock to maintain essential services, critical supply chains and infrastructure in unprecedented circumstances, using their training and skills to find innovative solutions to a host of problems and to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our daily lives.”

Notes for editors

The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone. In collaboration with their Fellows and partners, they are growing talent and developing skills for the future, driving innovation and building global partnerships, and influencing policy and engaging the public. Together they are working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.

The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, opened in 1983, and has since become one of the most visited UK museums outside London. The museum explores the science and culture of image and sound technologies, creating special exhibitions, interactive galleries and activities for families and adults. It is home to three cinemas, including Europe’s first IMAX cinema screen and the world’s only public Cinerama screen outside the USA. Entry to the museum is free.

For more information, please contact Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering: +44 207 766 0636 / jane.sutton@raeng.org.uk

Part of the Science Museum Group