Teenager wins prize for 3D terrain model

Katie Archibald
Katie Archibald
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A TEENAGE girl has developed a way to make plane radar work more effectively – and saved an Edinburgh firm £60,000 a year in the process.

Katie Archibald, from Haddington, spent a gap year work placement at Selex ES’s Crewe Toll offices, taught herself coding and produced a computer programme which can make planes’ radar more efficient.

As a result the 19-year-old, who studied at Knox Academy and Fettes College, won the 2015 Year in Industry National Award – the top award handed out by the Engineering Development Trust through its Future Industry Leaders scheme.

And her computer model, which reduces the “clutter” which is reflected back at radar from the ground enabling it to be more accurate, meant that Selex ES was able to reduce the number of trial flights required in the testing and development of radar.

Katie, who is now set to study engineering at Cambridge University, said: “I was so shocked when I won. I really didn’t expect to as there were so many great projects in the running. It was as great a feeling as when I realised my software model actually worked.”

Using free Ordnance Survey map information, Katie created a 3D textured software model of the terrain of the UK. Up until now, radar models took no account of hills or the difference between sea and land.

Katie said: “When radar sends a signal to the ground some of that signal is reflected back up and the radar picks it up – that’s clutter.

“Before my model Selex had no way of accurately predicting the clutter. So my model mapped the entire UK terrain and predicted what clutter the radar would get back from any spot. I didn’t know if it would work but when it did it was amazing. I got such a kick out of it. It is an amazing feeling to see the positive impact that my own work has had on the company.”

Her manager and lead radar systems engineer at Selex ES, Paul Rose, said Katie’s success was a result of her “tireless endeavour and brilliant intellect”. He added: “Katie worked with calm, dogged determination, never letting any obstacle beat her.

“Her work on the advanced clutter model is world-class and is worthy of someone with much more experience. She transformed her model from being merely ‘very good’ to being ‘outstanding’ – the results are simply astonishing.”

Yet the teenager admits that just a few years ago she had never thought of studying engineering,

“When I arrived at Selex I didn’t know anything about software or coding so it was a very steep learning curve. My manager showed me the basics and set me challenges. Once I got the basic concepts I got better and I used coding to write my own software to create a 3D model of the Earth for the advanced clutter model. To me it was all very creative. I don’t think people think of engineering in that way.”

Dr Gordon Mizner, chief executive of EDT, said he was delighted with Katie’s success.

He said: “The success of Katie shows that the message can get through and I hope that a momentum is being built which will bring a critical mass of women into industry to fill the very real skills gaps which are appearing as older generations of scientists and engineers approach retirement.

“These young women are undoubtedly the first of a growing cohort of female future industry leaders.”