Shape the future
By Fran Molloy
Engineers create amazing solutions to big problems – from predicting earthquakes to improving cancer surgery.
Some engineers take on huge endeavours like the International Space Station, while others work on a molecular level. Some build robots that assist surgeons, and others use chemical processes to trap carbon emissions. But all of them solve problems by applying their skills and ingenuity.
Australian engineers are at the top of the game. At Monash University, materials engineer Professor Xinhua Wu led a team that 3D-printed a gas turbine jet engine. Chemical engineer Professor Graeme Jameson, from the University of Newcastle, created an efficient way to extract substances from water, which is used to process minerals in industry and to remove environmental pollutants.
Environmental engineer Liz Roder spent two years working in East Timor, where she helped develop a sanitation system. Seismology engineer Dr Kevin McCue, from Central Queensland University, set up Papua New Guinea’s earthquake database, as well as Australia’s first earthquake and tsunami relational database, and first digital network of strong motion recorders. These technologies help authorities develop emergency response plans to prepare for future disasters and save lives.
Medical engineer Robert McLaughlin was part of a team awarded WA Innovators of the Year after developing a microscope small enough to fit inside a needle.
It helps breast cancer surgeons see if they’ve removed all of the cancerous cells in an operation.
“One in four breast surgery patients have to go back for more surgery, because the surgeon didn’t get all of the cancer,” says Robert.
The team, including engineering professor David Sampson and breast surgeon professor Christobel Saunders, have tested the tiny needle with a camera and showed it has the potential to hugely improve the effectiveness of cancer surgery worldwide.
Robert completed a Bachelor of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Western Australia, then a PhD in Electronic Engineering.
Today, Robert is part of a multidisciplinary collaboration of engineers, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists and physiologists who are working on better ways to treat cancer. The team has won the Australian Innovation Challenge and have twice been finalists for Australia’s major science award, the Eureka Prize.
Georgia Sonter, who has just started a Bachelor of Technology/Master of Engineering (Civil Systems) degree at Charles Sturt University, says she wants to put her strengths in maths and science to practical use in her career.
“I like the idea of using knowledge to help people, like designing buildings for people of low socioeconomic status, which is one focus of this course.”
Georgia’s degree runs for five years and six months, but includes four years of paid work placement with industry partners.
“I’ll have the chance to figure out where I want to work and what I want to do while I’m still doing the degree,” she says.
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Technology/Master of Engineering (Civil Systems), Charles Sturt University
Engineering (Chemical), Curtin University
Civil Engineering (Hons), La Trobe University
Engineering (Mechanical) (Hons)/Science (Biological Sciences), University of Wollongong
Civil Engineering with Architecture (Hons), UNSW Australia