Come Fly Away with Christie Lau, Future Aerospace Engineer!

What do you study at UNSW?

I study Aerospace Engineering and Materials Science at UNSW and I am in my fifth year.

What does your degree involve?

In an aerospace engineering degree, you study aerodynamics, propulsion of engines, aerospace structures, electrical systems and design. In this degree, we also learn to write technical engineering reports, how to use CATIA (a CAD program fit for aerospace applications) and practise our presentation skills. For the materials science degree, you study the different behaviours of various materials, including polymers, ceramics, metals and composites. In some courses, you also learn about the applications of these materials, such as semiconductors in transistors and various temperature resistant alloys in aircraft engines.

What do you really love about your degree?

I really loved studying aerospace structures! It was tough and required working collaboratively in small groups to analyse the structure of an aeroplane. It was challenging but fun!

What would be your engineering superpower?

Management skills! In engineering there are a lot of group projects which require collaboration and teamwork. I would love the ability to motivate everyone in my team and keep everyone on track to finish our group projects.

Tell us about AIAA, the student society you are part of.

AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) is a student society for anyone interested in aerospace engineering. We organise fun social events throughout the year where you meet other students over food and drinks. We also run industry networking nights, which help connect students to employers, and to students from other universities.

You also founded the student project Design Build Fly! What was the purpose of DBF?

In October 2018 I founded the Design Build Fly student project with 10 other students from across different degree programmes including mechatronic engineering and electrical engineering. The Design Build Fly goal was to design an aeroplane for the AIAA Design Build Fly competition in the US. This year we needed to build an aircraft that was fitted with deployment mechanisms; a way of storing payloads and release individually on command. The aeroplane was also expected to navigate a flight path with some 180 degree turns and also fold up its wings!

What is the best part about being involved in Design Build Fly?
I got to build a plane – something that would fly! As the manufacturing lead, I directed a team of five to build the plane. We would build parts from the drawing and designs we had developed in the Makerspace (a making workshop at UNSW where we can use tools to build our projects). We got to laser cut wing ribs, 3D print different parts and put everything together ourselves!

What do you want to achieve in your next Design Build Fly project?
Getting in the top 20 of the global competition would be great! Over 100 teams enter the competition every year, so hopefully next year’s team will be able to achieve this!

Has being involved in the student project made you think about where you’d like your career to go as an aerospace engineer?
From the start, I knew I wanted to do something in aerospace or material science. I am currently looking at careers possibly at Boeing, Airbus or Quickstep. Being in the DBF team has increased my knowledge of design process and design decisions. As an aerospace engineer, I would like to analyse different parts of the aircraft, or the materials they use and oversee the production of aeroplane components.

What is your advice to girls in high school who are considering a career in engineering?

From a young age, I liked to be hands-on and build things. If this sounds like you as well, consider going one step further to become an engineer and see your projects come to life!
Also, get involved in extra-curricular activities involving physics, chemistry and maths. University workshops are a great place to start. Also, have a go at doing engineering studies if it’s offered at your school – I did this in year 11 and 12. It was great to study more hands-on and application-related subjects, as opposed to maths and physics.

What is the best thing about being an engineer?

You get to actually build something important from your own designs and calculations, and then show it off to your friends, family and eventually, your clients! I think it’s quite amazing!

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