Welcome to our 2020 Term 2 newsletter! We have reconfigured our newsletter to coincide with the commencement of each of our three teaching terms, which allows us to highlight the major stories and personal achievements in the previous term.

As we all know from both the extensive media coverage and our own personal experiences, 2020 is turning out to be one of the most difficult years in recent times. We started the year with the catastrophic bushfires, only to be confronted by COVID-19 that rapidly morphed into a global pandemic. At UNSW, these crises have had a profound impact on everyone, particularly our students who were forced off campus to study from home. It has been a particularly difficult time for our international students who have been separated from their families and friends, or simply unable to travel to Australia to either commence or continue their studies.

By the midpoint of Term 1, the deteriorating situation in Australia forced the closure of the University, and we were all faced with the strange and challenging situation of working and studying from home. Staff were also confronted with the momentous challenge of transitioning their lectures, tutorials, lab classes and exams, often within a few days, to fully online. While this has been a very steep learning curve, our students, teaching and support staff have handled the situation with amazing composure.

The student feedback on our Term 1 teaching was very encouraging, with teaching/course appraisals revealing a deep appreciation for the overall effort from staff for ensuring a smooth transition to an online world. Most importantly, the feedback has been invaluable for highlighting the various worries and challenges that students are experiencing with studying from home.  Staff have been spending a lot of time supporting each other on new technologies and sharing tips for improving the online delivery of lectures, tutorials, and exams.  As I write, we are now into our second term of online teaching, but very happy to note that lab-based research has recommenced.

While it may all seem like doom and gloom, things are slowly improving, and I will start by announcing three new academic staff appointments to bolster our teaching and research:

  • Associate Professor Shery Chang – Shery moved from Arizona State University to take up a joint position between the School and UNSW’s Electron Microscope Unit, where she is Associate Director.  Shery received her PhD in Materials Science from the University of Cambridge, then carried out research in several major electron microscopy laboratories in UK, Germany, Australia, and USA.  Shery is an expert in aberration-corrected electron microscopy, a technique that can image individual atoms, which is being used extensively to carry out her research on nano-diamond materials for quantum sensing and biomedical applications.
  • Dr Benjamin Pace – Ben moved from the University of Sydney to take up an education-focused lecturing position.  He received his PhD from our School, then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at ACMM, University of Sydney.  Ben’s research interests span a broad range of thin film deposition technologies, structural characterisation, and sustainable materials processing. He has major teaching interests focused on innovative methods for improving the online learning experience of our students.
  • Dr Tushar Kumeria – Tushar moved from the University of Queensland to take up a position as Senior Lecturer in the growing field of Biomaterials, where he is also an NHMRC Early Career Fellow and UNSW Scientia Fellow. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Adelaide, then held postdoctoral positions at the same institution, University of California-San Diego, and University of Queensland. Tushar’s current research and teaching  focus is on porous nanomaterials and composites for drug delivery, sensing, and tissue engineering.

Welcome to the School Shery, Ben and Tushar! We are very excited to have you on board!

The School is immensely proud of our students and their wide-ranging achievements. This year is particularly special as five of our graduating students were awarded the University Medal for academic excellence throughout their respective degree programs. The School conveys its warm congratulations to Vicki Zhong,  Gajan Shivaramanan, Keenan Burrough, Alan Cen and Liam Stephenson for their wonderful achievements and we wish them all the very best for the future!  In other news, Angela Abraham was listed in the Top100 Future Leaders Awards, jointly hosted by GradConnection and AFR, which connects emerging talent from Australia’s graduate pool with leading employers.  Angela is currently in her 5th year of a combined degree in Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering.  Congratulations Angela!

In social news, our undergraduate student society, MATSOC, held a welcome BBQ at the start of Term 1 then followed up with online Peer Support Trivia aimed at engaging and supporting our students during this difficult period away from campus. Our School also participated in the University of the Third Age (U3A), designed for active retirees who are keen to continue their life-long learning. I would like to thank the wonderfully talented Scarlet Kong who presented an online course to over 30 participants! We highlight Scarlet’s journey as both an undergraduate and PhD student in the School.   

An achievement that is always worth celebrating is our successes with grant funding.  The following staff were recently awarded prestigious ARC Linkage grants: Chris Sorrell & Judy Hart secured $406K to work on an exciting new ceramic material;  Dewei Chu, Tom Wu & Claudio Cazorla secured $324K to investigate high performance metal oxide inks for printable memory arrays, and Sophie Primig and her USYD team secured $714K for research on advanced hard metals. In other grant news, Pramod Koshy & Xing Xing received $370K from ACARP to investigate coke properties under blast furnace conditions, and Sam Chan, Dewei Chu & Claudio Cazorla secured $505k from Impresario Investments to work on a game changing hydrogen production and storage technology. Congratulations everyone!

We feature one of our high profile alumni, Saul Griffith, who was interviewed recently by GreenTech Media on the numerous companies he founded and co-founded, and to talk about his new mission to convince people that we already have most of what we need to decarbonize large swaths of the economy in the near future. As a background, Saul graduated with a Bachelor of Metallurgical Engineering in 1997, then went on to complete a masters degree at USYD in 2000 and a PhD at MIT in 2004.  Most recently, he is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Otherlab.

On a final note, I have been involved in numerous online meetings and forums associated with the impact of COVID-19 on the University, staff and students, and I thank everyone in the School for their input and understanding, particularly with some of the more sensitive issues. It is pleasing to note that the campus is finally coming back to life, and staff and research students are slowly returning to the School. We are hopeful that our domestic and international students will also join us again soon.

I close with a big thanks to Vanessa, Jeremy and other support staff and students for compiling and publishing this newsletter!

As always, take care everyone and stay safe.

Professor Michael Ferry

Head, School of Materials Science and Engineering