From electron transfer to production line
Associate Research Professor
University of South Australia
Please explain your research in simple words
My research is looking at the optical, mecahnical and electronic properties of whole bunch of materials that you can apply as thin coatings. We work with metals and polymers in particular. On the fundamental level, it is understanding how the all atoms are sewn together in order to get the unique properties. And then investigating how these unique properties can be useful in industry in automative, agricuture, biomedical, renewable energy or anything else!
In my curation week, you can guarantee that I will be talking about not just the fundamnetal research but also how to get it in and out of the lab into the hands of your ends users (industry partners). One area where I do a lot of work is, which is my non day job, the in and around the research industry engagement. In particular for early career researchers what are some of the things they can do for example how to start forming the network and plan how they might engage with the industry.
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
Not by design, but by following opportunities as they can up. I started out doing a Science and Engineering degree, where I picked Chemistry as my science major. The choice of chemistry was by a process of elimination, not wanting to do the other sciences. I then finished half my engineering degree, as I focused on the chemistry to undertake an honours year in physical chemistry. After this I searched for jobs, but was over or underqualified. This led me to do a PhD - something to keep my brain stimulated and to pay the bills (and mortgage). At the end of my PhD I was a fully trained chemist, and took a job as a physicist in industry. This exposed me to much more physics, plus hands on with manufacturing. After 4 years there, I then returned to the academic sector as a materials engineer. Hence, not by design, but by taking opportunities.
My core research focuses on enhancing the performance and manufacturability of thin film materials. My team and I explore structure-property relationships of metals, metal alloys, metal oxides, and polymers. This is done by looking at the fundamental properties of thin materials on the nanoscale, and relating this to their fabrication and performance through advanced manufacturing techniques. For example, the mechanical and optical properties of nanocomposite transition metal alloys for automotive applications, to optoelectronic properties of nanostructured conducting polymers for agricultural sensing.
How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?
Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?
This is an old project, but an easy one to explain. It is the development of the world's first plastic automotive mirror for supply on new vehicles. This is underpinned by the development of optical nanocomposite metal alloys that are fabricated as nanofilms using large scale vapour deposition. These thin films are highly structured, and posses an acceptable balance of mechanical toughness, corrosion resistance, optical reflection and colour for use as the reflector in a mirror on plastic. To date over 3.5 million of these mirrors have been manufactured by our partner and exported to the USA for use on the Ford F-250.
First wish - a relaxation of the emphasis on metrics. It should be ok to great science and have it impact on others, without the need to justify it by the number of publications, your h-index, and/or total funding. Second wish - a more welcoming and inclusive research sector. In general the sector is ultracompetitive, with a range of biases along the way. This is inhibiting the diversity of thinking we need for truly great research to flourish. Third wish - obviously more money. But money spent wisely to employ people, rather than many researchers constantly focused on where their next employment contract will come from.
If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?
A few things. I am aiming to have at least two of my PhD students submit their theses. In parallel, to have one of my industry-engaged projects transfer from lab research into field trials. And finally, a holiday. this has been a very busy year, and I need time out to recharge.
In my opinion one of the greatest challenges, with a huge reward for solving, is how to translate the great fundamental discoveries into practical outcomes for society. This will require lots of work in understanding the manufacturing at scale of the new materials.