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Volunteers' Week Spotlight: Matthew Kerr, Mechanical Engineer

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I love getting into the water at local beaches and lochs for a surf or a cold dip!

Tell us about your career journey so far.

When I was in high school, I always enjoyed subjects like Maths and Physics, subjects which involved problem solving. When discussing my career aspirations with my school guidance teacher and some friends already at university, I learned about Engineering as a subject. And so, I pursued a master’s in mechanical engineering at university, which gave me the foundational knowledge and skills required to be a competent and successful engineer. During my studies, I maintained a keen interest in problem solving and developed an interest in engineering design, fluid mechanics and process systems. And so, when it came to applying for graduate positions, I found myself being drawn toward engineering roles within the water industry, as this area would allow me to continue my development in these areas of interest. I was lucky enough to be offered a position as Graduate Mechanical Engineer at MWH Treatment in my home city, and that is where I remain to this day.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

My favourite subject in school was probably Physics, as I really enjoyed the mathematical and logical thinking required to solve the problems presented in the class. I found it fascinating to delve deeper into new areas such as mechanics and thermodynamics, and enjoyed how it challenged me to think about how the motion, energy and the fundamental forces all around us are at work.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

Maths and Physics have played an equal role of importance in the work I do as a Mechanical Engineer. I am often tasked with carrying out pump calculations to help select a pump which allows for the transfer of water from one location to another, and so understanding the physics and mathematics behind these calculations is of great use. However, a key skill in an engineer’s toolkit is the ability to problem solve, as every day we are faced with unique and challenging scenarios that require sophisticated solutions whilst ensuring that the desired outcome has been met.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

My favourite thing about my job is being able to see the things that we design come to life. For example, on one of my projects I was tasked to develop a pipework system to fit into a very small and complex existing water treatment works to allow for our new equipment to tie into the existing equipment. I initially pulled together a 2D drawing of my idea of what I wanted the design to look like, and this was then created into a 3D model. This allowed for my design to be verified as suitable in solving the problem.

What is a normal day in your role like?

A typical day as a Mechanical Engineer in my business will usually involve meetings with the design teams for my different projects. This allows us to discuss our progress on our project work and creates an opportunity to discuss any problems or issues that we have encountered in our work. I will also spend some time working on my project deliverables, which could range from mechanical calculations, equipment schedules, developing engineering drawings, as well as working alongside other engineering disciplines to provide mechanical input to their work, for example working closely with the civil engineering team to ensure that the submersible pumps I have selected can fit inside the concrete well that they design. On certain occasions I might be required to carry out a site visit for one of my projects, where I might be carrying out a visual inspection of the existing site or observing installation of equipment.

And what does your job title mean?

A Mechanical Engineer within the water and wastewater treatment sector is responsible for the design, development and maintenance of all mechanical systems and equipment used in our projects. It is our responsibility to apply principles of mechanical engineering to ensure efficient and effective operation of various components with our water treatment facilities. In doing so, we are responsible for the production of key design deliverables such as calculations, subcontractor workpacks, equipment schedules, and mechanical arrangement drawings, to name a few, which help progress our projects through key project stages ultimately leading to construction of designs and the operation of the treatment works themselves.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

A simple activity that could be done at home to illustrate my work as an engineer within the water treatment sector would be to create a DIY water filtration system. With a few simple items (plastic containers, sand, gravel, coffee filter, cotton balls, muddy water) you can make miniature filtration systems through which students can pass their dirty water samples through and observe a change in colour. This helps demonstrate the concept of water treatment and water filtration in its simplest form and challenges the students with a problem-solving task to identify the best materials to use for the filtration. 

Here is a link to an example of this activity and the resources required: Water Filtration Project: Make Your Own Water Filters - Activity - TeachEngineering


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