Sue Ion

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Dame Sue Ion

Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS.jpg
Sue Ion at the Royal Society admissions day in London in 2016
Susan Elizabeth Burrows

(1955-02-03) 3 February 1955 (age 65)[1]
EducationPenwortham Girls Grammar School
Alma materImperial College London (BSc, PhD)
John Albert Ion
m. 1980)
Scientific career
InstitutionsRoyal Academy of Engineering
Nuclear Institute
Imperial College London
University of Manchester
British Nuclear Fuels[2]
ThesisDynamic recrystallisation in a magnesium alloy
Doctoral advisor
  • F.J. Humphreys[3]
  • S.H. White[3]

Dame Susan Elizabeth Ion (née Burrows; /ˈiɒn/)[6] DBE FRS FREng FIMMM (née Burrows; 3 February 1955) is a British engineer[7] and an expert advisor on the nuclear power industry.[8][9][10][11][12]

Early life and education[edit]

Born Susan Elizabeth Burrows on 3 February 1955 in Cumbria,[13] she is the daughter of Lawrence James Burrows, a planning officer for British Rail, and Doris Burrows (née Cherry), a secretary.[5]

Ion was educated at Penwortham Girls Grammar School near Preston, Lancashire in the same year as Nancy Rothwell.[4] As a young student, she enjoyed science, which her parents encouraged by letting her do chemistry experiments in the family's kitchen.[5][14]

At school, she took a leadership role as Head Girl from 1972 to 1973 and deputy leader of the orchestra. At 16, Ion won a book on atomic energy as a prize for her O-levels in science, which helped inspire her enthusiasm for the topic.[14] She recalled, "When I was in school ... it was quite different. You were given every encouragement possible to do science subjects if you were interested in them".[9][13]

Ion went on to study Materials Science at Imperial College London,[1] gaining a first class Bachelor of Science degree[when?] and a PhD in Metallurgy in 1979 supervised by F.J. Humphreys and S.H. White.[5][3][15]

She taught in an inner-city school in London while completing her doctorate, and used supplies from the college laboratories in her lessons to help students become enthusiastic about the industry. "Where there is no vision ... the people perish", she says.[4]

Career and research[edit]

At the 2015 QED conference in Manchester

In 1979, Ion was first hired as a technical officer at British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL). At the time, she and one other woman were the only females working in the chemical engineering department.[5]

In 1992, she was promoted to Executive Director of Technology,[16] a position Ion held within the organisation until 2006.[4][9][15][16]

During this time, nuclear or atomic energy was viewed as a valuable source of energy, along with the existing coal industry, and a necessary part of rebuilding post-war Britain. It was, according to Ion, an exciting industry with a vibrant research and development program and great prospects. As she told Jim Al-Khalili in a 2013 interview for BBC Radio Four, "Nothing over time has changed my view of that".[4]

As technical director of BNFL, Ion held a seat on Tony Blair's Council for Science and Technology and has been credited with persuading Blair to change Labour's official government's policy on nuclear power.[4][15][17]

Ion's work, along with David King, took about 10 years of educating government officials to consider the scientific evidence surrounding the issues of nuclear power and renewable energy to inform policy.[4] She helped advise Gordon Brown on long-term energy policies.[9]

In 2004, Ion was among 180 women invited to a "Women's Theme Day" luncheon at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her contributions to the field of science and technology.[18][19][20][21]

Ion was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng) in 1996 and was a vice-president from 2002 to 2008.[22]

In 2006, Ion was appointed visiting professor of Imperial College[9][13][15] and admitted to the Fellowship of the college in 2005.[23]

Nuclear power and renewable energy[edit]

Sue Ion at QEDCon

Ion has studied energy supplies for more than 30 years. She spent a lot of time early in her career advising government officials about nuclear reactors and countering the negativity caused by the incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.[4][5]

"People worry about nuclear waste, but modern power stations create much less than in the past. I'd certainly have no hesitation living next door to one."

— Sue Ion[5]

Ion supports the development of smaller, modular versions of nuclear reactors for their economy of size, portability and cost.[5] These smaller reactors would, most likely, be housed on existing nuclear sites licensed for that purpose.[24]

Ion views her biggest challenge is "persuading decades-worth of politicians that nuclear energy is really needed."[14] Her position is that renewable energy sources (particularly wind power), coal and nuclear power will be necessary components of Britain's energy policy moving forward.[25][26]

Science education and gender stereotypes[edit]

In Ion's outreach as a spokesperson for the nuclear power industry, she has expressed a belief that more needs to be done to attract women into the field of engineering.[27] She has expressed concerns that some areas of the educational system still view engineering as a subject only for males.[13]

While major institutions may support the idea of females entering the field of science and engineering, Ion notes that grade schools under the current system may not provide the prerequisite coursework early enough in students' academic careers for them to be successful at university.[13]

"I get into terrible trouble when I visit schools to talk to students – especially girls – as I tell them not to dump the sciences because they are difficult. So many choose the softer, creative subjects but I tell them they can still do those subjects later on – what you can't do is go back and study the sciences. They all look glum after I give those talks but they've got to be told."

— Sue Ion[15]

Ion supports educational programs that support all students, regardless of gender, to explore science and develop the skills necessary to replace what the Royal Academy of Engineering views as a retiring workforce. In response to a report commissioned by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) discussing the UK's plans for future energy production, she cautions: "There will be an unprecedented demand for new infrastructure to support the changes in the energy industry. There are not enough people going into university to study engineering and provide all the turbine specialists, heavy electrical engineers and construction engineers that will be required".[28][29]

"Grab every chance you've got to watch and learn from others. Take control of your career and ask for the development moves and the experiences that you feel will get you ahead."

— Sue Ion[14]

Committee service[edit]

  • EU Euratom Science and Technology Committee (Chair since 2010)[9][13][15]
  • Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (Chair)[15][30]
  • Board of Governors of Manchester University (since 2004)[9][13][15]
  • Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton (board member, 2006–2014)[9][31]
  • Council for Science and Technology (2004–2011)[14][16]
  • MacRobert Award Judging Panel for the Royal Academy of Engineering (Chair, 2015)[32]
  • Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (Member, 1994–2001)[9][31]
  • Council for The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (Member, 2005)[9]
  • UK's Fusion Advisory for the Research Council (Chair)[9]

Selected publications[edit]

  • For and Against with G. Kane (Engineering and Technology, 2011)[33]
  • The UK must take the lead on carbon capture and storage (Financial Times, 2008)[34]
  • Nuclear Energy: Current Situation and Prospects to 2020 (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 2007)[35]
  • South Africa nuclear project arousing US interest (Financial Times, 2005)[36]
  • BNFL reactor far ahead on efficiency and safety (Financial Times, 2000)[37]

Keynotes and Interviews[edit]

  • Guest Speaker, QED conference, Manchester, UK (April 2015)[38]
  • Keynote speaker, IChemE's Sustainable Nuclear Energy Conference, Manchester, UK (April 2014)[39][40]
  • The nuclear power industry and the politics of power. The Life Scientific, Radio 4 (February 2013)[4][41][42]
  • "How safe is nuclear power?" Infinite Monkey Cage, Radio 4, London, UK (November 2013)[43]
  • Opportunities and Challenges Facing the Nuclear Power Industry, Athena Lecture at Imperial College (May 2004)[44]

Personal life[edit]

She married John Albert Ion in 1980[1] and lives in Leyland, Lancashire.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Anon (2017). "Ion, Dame Susan Elizabeth". Who's Who. (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U21517. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "The Royal Institution of Great Britain". Archived from the original on 24 February 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Burrows, Susan Elizabeth (1979). Dynamic recrystallisation in a magnesium alloy. (PhD thesis). Imperial College London. hdl:10044/1/7335. OCLC 930652385. EThOS open access
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sue Ion". The Life Scientific. 26 February 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Taylor, Jeremy (19 January 2014). "The lights will go out if we don't go nuclear: Dame Sue Ion, 58, one of the UK's top nuclear experts and a government adviser, talks about her unswerving commitment to nuclear power – whatever the opposition". Sunday Times. London, UK. p. 66. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Woman's Hour Power List, Woman's Hour – Dame Sue Ion". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  7. ^ Sue Ion publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Profile of Sue Ion, Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Zolfagharifard, Ellie (4 May 2010). "Dame Sue Ion, veteran nuclear fuels expert". The Engineer. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Woman's Hour, Woman's Hour Power List – Dame Sue Ion". Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  11. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic
  12. ^ Why we cannot keep the lights on without nuclear energy (Blog post for The Independent)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Pitman, Jenny (5 April 2013). "Woman's Hour: Jenny Pitman; Sue Ion goes back to school". BBC. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e Pozniak, Helena (26 October 2014). "Great minds don't all think alike: Current heroes of STEM prove that ideas can come in any shape or form, finds Helena Pozniak". The Sunday Telegraph. London, UK. p. 8.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Pagano, Margareta (4 October 2014). "If Engineering is hot, will it expand to meet demand for new recruits?". The Independent. London, UK. p. 48. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  16. ^ a b c Lipsett, Anthea M. (16 March 2004). "Education: Higher: Show me the money: The government's top scientific advisory board is relaunched for the third time after a series of failures. Anthea M. Lipsett says the new team has a lot to prove". The Guardian. London, UK. p. 24.
  17. ^ "100 Makers of the 21st Century: Welcome to the second of a three-part special, featuring 25 more of the 100 most influential Britons of the modern age: the people who, for better or worse, are shaping our lives". Sunday Times. London, UK. 15 March 2014. p. 26.
  18. ^ "Buckingham Palace women's lunch". The Times (Final 2 Edition). London (UK). 12 March 2004. p. 44.
  19. ^ "Lunch with the high achievers". The Guardian. London (UK). 12 March 2004. p. 13.
  20. ^ Mouland, Bill (12 March 2004). "All the Queen's Women; Punk priestess, prima donnas and TV stars – the 'Women of Excellence' invited to the Palace yesterday". Daily Mail. London (UK). p. 24. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  21. ^ Jobson, Robert (11 March 2004). "All the Queen's women; 180 attend special lunch at the Palace". London Evening Standard. London (UK). p. 2. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  22. ^ "Sue Ion". WES. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  23. ^ "Imperial College London bestows its highest honours in Commemoration Day ceremony". Imperial College London. 26 October 2005. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  24. ^ Pfeifer, Sylvia (15 February 2013). "Flexible Fission: Nuclear". Financial Times. London, UK. p. 9. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  25. ^ Anonymous (7 October 2010). "Sue Ion: Age 55. No. 96 – Gone Nuclear". The Times. London, UK. p. 48.
  26. ^ Finnigan, Kate; Salter, Kate; Brett, Gillian (14 November 2010). "100 most powerful women in Britain: From the towering figures of law, medicine and politics to the familiar faces of television, film and fashion, we reveal the women who wield the most influence – visibly or invisibly – over our lives today". The Sunday Telegraph. London, UK. p. 36. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  27. ^ Hodges, Lucy (14 February 2002). "Survival of the fittest, or an old boys' club?". The Independent (Foreign edition). London, UK. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  28. ^ Hotten, Russell (24 May 2007). "Reaction intentions are good, but can it deliver in time, asks the critics". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. p. 005.
  29. ^ Leake, Jonathan (26 November 2006). "Switching on to the nuclear option". Sunday Times (Final 1 Edition). London, UK. p. 15.
  30. ^ "More women needed in IT, Science, Maths and Engineering Professions". Targeted News Service. Washington, D.C. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  31. ^ a b "Dr Dame Sue Ion, FREng". University of Cumbria. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  32. ^ "Three British companies compete for prestitious engineering prize". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. 21 May 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  33. ^ Ion, S.; Kane, G. (1 September 2011). "For and against". Engineering & Technology. 6 (8): 24–25. doi:10.1049/et.2011.0822.
  34. ^ Ion, Sue (18 September 2008). "The UK must take the lead on carbon capture and storage". Financial Times. London (UK). p. 16.
  35. ^ Ion, Sue (February 2007). "Nuclear energy: current situation and prospects to 2020". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 365 (1853): 935–944. doi:10.1098/rsta.2006.1958. JSTOR 25190480. PMID 17272242.
  36. ^ Ion, Sue (10 February 2005). "South Africa nuclear project arousing US interest". Financial Times (1st Edition). London (UK). p. 16.
  37. ^ Ion, Sue (13 June 2000). "BNFL reactor far ahead on efficiency and safety". Financial Times (London Edition). London (UK). p. 28.
  38. ^ "Question, Explore, Discover". April 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  39. ^ "Managing the Skills Transition to Nuclear New Build". Targeted News Service. Washington, D.C. 1 April 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  40. ^ "Nuclear Safety Makes Encouraging Progress". Targeted News Service. Washington, D.C. 28 August 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  41. ^ Reynolds, Gillian (26 February 2013). "Radio Choice". The Daily Telegraph. London (UK). p. 30.
  42. ^ SJ (23 February 2013). "Today's Radio: 26 February Tuesday". Daily Mail. London, UK. p. 50.
  43. ^ "The Infinite Monkey Cage: Risk (Series 9, episode 1)". BBC. 17 November 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  44. ^ "Nuclear power: a solution to climate change or a victim of its history? – Dr. Sue Ion debates the future of nuclear energy". Imperial College. 21 May 2004. Retrieved 18 September 2015.