The soft-spoken Dr. Sarah Qureshi is a qualified engineer with a keen interest in aviation engines, and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Propulsion. Sarah’s father, Masood Qureshi, is an inventor and scientist with decades of experience while her mother, Dr. Rumina Qureshi, is a Chemistry Professor. Sarah recalls that the family “had very scientific discussions at the dinner table…my parents shared their interests with us,” says Sarah, “And now my six-year-old daughter accompanies me when I’m travelling or delivering lectures, there’s a lot of invisible learning going on.”
Sarah decided to become a mechanical engineer and was the only woman in her class at the National University of Science and Technology, Rawalpindi. “It was not easy,” she says, “But my family and teachers were supportive and that gave me the confidence I needed to go on.” After graduating, Sarah worked in the automotive and engineering industries. She won a scholarship to study for her Masters at Cranfield University, a hub of aerospace research in the United Kingdom. After returning to Pakistan in January 2009, Sarah got married a couple of months later, in March. She went back to Cranfield University to study for a Ph.D. in 2010.
Sarah’s daughter was born during her M.Phil studies and she was granted permission to do her research work back home in Pakistan. Her research question focused on the subject of aircraft contrails and their environmental impact.
Aircraft engines produce water through combustion, and the liquid is released through the plane’s exhaust. The water freezes in the cold atmosphere at high altitudes, forming clouds, known as contrails that trail behind the aircraft. These artificial cirrus clouds reflect sunlight back to space and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Scientists estimate they have five times the potential of carbon dioxide to create global warming.
At the time, most ongoing research in the field focused on contrail mitigation or avoidance. Sarah followed another line of inquiry, working on the research question with her father. Masood Qureshi invented a device that would eliminate contrails at the source. The device condenses water vapour into a liquid that can be carried on board the aircraft, to be discharged later. The aim is contrail capture, rather than suppression. “This work is ahead of its time,” says Sarah. ‘We have a revolutionary idea that could change the way the aviation industry works.”