Emily Cummins is not your average inventor. She aims to help communities, to improve people’s lives. A year in Namibia, southern Africa, inspired her to develop her latest invention – a sustainable fridge.
“I refined my fridge, powered by dirty water, during a gap year between school and university in southern Africa,” she says. “While I was there, I chose to give away the plans for… The sustainable fridge because I realised that by teaching people new skills and showing them how to make fridges for themselves, I could help them to create jobs and an income for their families,” she adds.
Emily thinks that by investing in people, she can unlock their creative potential. “I learnt so much from the collaboration at the time, and I have been overwhelmed by the recognition that this approach has brought me over the last few years,” she says.
“The design is ideal for use in the developing world because it doesn’t require electricity and can be built using barrels, spare car parts and ordinary household materials. Polluted water can be used without corrupting the fridge’s contents, because the water does not come into contact with the storage facilities.”
Past and future collide in Emily's inventions. Her work is a dedication to people in need. She says: “My design philosophy involves a back-to-basics approach, which keeps an eye on the past as well as the future and combines the best of both.”
She is also motivated by human need and sustainability. “When I am thinking of a project to work on, the first thing I do is identify a problem,” Emily says.
“There is no greater feeling than seeing someone benefit from using a product that I have thought about, designed and manufactured.”
Her love of science and technology can be traced by to her grandfather’s garden. It was there that the seeds of her career were sown.
“I spent many happy hours there during my childhood, exploring, learning and creating. My granddad ignited my creative spark, which is something I will never lose,” she says.
Surprisingly, Emily did not study an engineering course at university. "I didn’t study the correct A-Level’s,” she says. Instead, she chose product design, biology, business and psychology – “those that I enjoy the most”.
A meeting with a Leeds University representative showed Emily what opportunities would open to her on a business degree.
“Once I was accepted on my business course, I was able to make use of the engineering facilities and study modules in sustainability as well as securing an Enterprise Scholarship,” she recalls. “The opportunities I had at Leeds University were incredible.”
She currently works at an innovation consultant, working with different companies on their product development. “I also work in schools, colleges and universities, encouraging young people to use science and technology to solve real world problems.”
Emily is an active STEM ambassador, and in 2011 she won the STEMNET Ambassador award. Her designs and ideas continue to contribute to improving the world: “I still work on my own projects… Recently I worked with teachers and a [mobile] app company to design and create [a] maths app for primary schools, and currently I am working on some more simple designs for underdeveloped countries.”
She says technology can be used in class to solve real-world problems. “If you have time to work on a technology project, make use of it.”
“I often see young people choose to design and manufacture children’s toys and items of furniture in their classroom, but why not use this time – if your teachers will allow – to identify and solve a real world problem, that may even have commercial use,” Emily says.
For a GCSE project, she once designed and made a toothpaste dispenser to help her granddad squeeze toothpaste out of its tube.
“It was a really simple product, but one that made a real difference, not just to my granddad’s life, but to others who also struggled to squeeze a tube due to arthritis,” Emily says.
It eventually took her to the Young Engineers for Britain National Final, at the age of 15.