Professor Zhu’s engineering journey began when she was 15 years old. Recognised as one of the brightest and most ambitious students at her school, she opted to study mechanical engineering in college instead of pursuing A-levels like her peers. After three years of studying, she leapt straight into university to focus on mechanical engineering and manufacturing, before continuing nonstop onto her Masters then on to her PhD – one very intense, continuous journey through Southeast University, Nanjing, China – proving that if you set your mind to achieving a certain goal, you can get there with hard work and dedication.
“I have that sort of spirit – I can pursue something until I get it,” she chuckles.
Becoming a Fellow
When the pandemic shut everything down in 2020, there arose the opportunity for her to finally slow down and apply for her Fellowship. Professor Zhu has gained many accolades throughout her career from across the globe, and becoming a Fellow is an award that adds further prestige to her long list of achievements. For Professor Zhu, one of the key aspects of becoming a Fellow is self-belief and resilience, and she is most proud of her achievements across disciplines.
“You need many specialists to make this work – electronic, physics, mechanics – I am just one person to manage it all, it’s very good, it’s nice and it is very hard work, I have to say!
The key thing is when you set up your aim and your objective, you just put your head down to it – that’s all. If you have proper knowledge, a proper methodology, you just do it.”
Professor Zhu’s energy harvesting research began in 2008 and is in constant development with a dedicated team and a globally renowned research lab which is one of only four in the world. Energy harvesting works by harnessing small amounts of ambient energy, which is otherwise dissipated or wasted in the form of heat, vibration and light. It is a nascent technology but holds tremendous promise when it comes to powering low-power electronics, for example small, wireless autonomous devices, like those used in wearable electronics and wireless sensor networks.
Her investment in energy harvesting has led her to create relationships with the electrical engineering and information and communication sectors, and she has relished this opportunity to continue her own personal development.
“I have really expanded my knowledge from the original start with all of these disciplines coming together on this project,” she explains.
Collaborating with Network Rail, Professor Zhu is the PI of £1.4 million Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) funded project, ‘zero power, wide area track monitoring’ and with Babcock International Group, focusing on a high-performance energy harvesting systems as a Royal Society Industry Fellow (FRSInd).
Encouraging young engineers is at the heart of her daily work, as she teaches and supports over three hundred students at the University of Exeter. Having entered the world of engineering through her own unique path, she believes that anyone can succeed as long as they have the willingness and the drive to pursue their goal.
“You have to be willing to keep learning. The journey can be long, and you need to commit yourself to the end. Whatever happens, try to keep calm. Because if you keep calm, your efficiency will be good.
Professor Zhu is, herself, a remarkable product of her own self-belief, and to those considering a career in engineering, that is the seed she would like to sow in the minds of anyone setting off on a challenging journey.
“Sometimes impossible is possible. Unachievable can be achievable, depending on how you work.”
Find out more about becoming a Fellow