School of Engineering and IT

School of Engineering and Information Technology

Dean's Newsletter

February 2018

Dean - Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski

The start of semester is almost upon us and everyone is busy preparing for our new student co-hort to commence and of course welcoming back our existing students.

During the orientation week, we welcome both domestic and international students to the University. Students will finalise their enrolment, meet staff and other students and participate in events taking place in the School and across the University. We know that O-week has a significant impact on pre-census attrition rates, so please ensure that you provide as much assistance as possible to the students and deliver a first class experience.

Watching our students graduate at this time of year gives me pause to think about the importance of the work we do in the School and our contribution to the broader community in educating well rounded Engineers, Natural Scientists, Information Technologists and Mathematicians. What we do is so important but we should never lose sight of something that is equally important in how we do this, so I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on our Values and the Behaviours that support these.

The University’s Values are

  • Integrity
We act with integrity and trust in the best interests of the University
We defend and express academic freedom at all times with civility and responsibility
  • Respect and Diversity
We are about people and for people, irrespective of background
We embrace and value the many individuals and organisations that support our endeavours
  • Purpose
‘Everything we do must matter’
We are responding assertively to the changing higher education sector
We are performance based, accountable and empowered
  • Excellence and Future-focus
We promote the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and rigour
We are future-focused and active in creating our success
We embrace continuous improvement
We value, celebrate and reward the success of our people

You will have all have heard me talk about the strive for excellence and every day I see that reflected in how we all go about our roles in this school. The commitment to excellence is fundamental to our success and why we get such positive feedback from our students

For those of us who have been in the workforce for some time, we can reflect on the different environment that we now work in and the diversity that surrounds us. For me, that diversity of age/background/culture brings us diversity of thought and anything that makes us think about things differently is to be celebrated. It is of ultimate importance for me as the Dean of this School, that we cherish this Diversity and treat everyone with respect and act with Integrity.

I recognise that we are facing many challenges in our current operating environment. For most of us, this is the place that we spend the majority of our waking hours and so each us have a responsibility to ensure that SEIT is a great place to work and study. We need to work together as one team, both academics and professionals to deliver the very best service to our students and broader community. I ask each of you to take the time to reflect on what these values mean to you, how you are demonstrating them and that we are brave enough to respectfully call out behaviours that are not in line with our Values, either directly, or through your manager or myself.

Remember, whether you are a student, an academic, administrative or technical staff member, if you have a story to share please send it to the SEIT email - Please mention the article title in the subject line of the email.

If you are a student or staff reading this Newsletter, please let your friends and family know about Scholarships for Honours, Postgraduate degrees, details are included in the Newsletter.

Best wishes,

Bodzio Dlugogorski


News from the Postgraduate Research Director
Are Your Eligible for a 'Murdoch Frist Scholarship'?
Start Your Journey to Scientific Excellence
Help Lead the Way to Clean Energy Storage
Apply for Honours and Post Graduate Courses
Student Ambassador Recruitment 2018
Smart Cities with Water and Energy Efficiencies and Blockchain Technology
Learning and Teaching Spotlight
Environmental Engineering Student Heads to Japan on New Colombo Plan
Biodegradable Plastics Get Naked
Murdoch Airship Getting Ready To Take Flight



Conference Poster Competition
Each year the Dean awards prizes for the best conference posters produced by the School’s postgraduate students. Conference posters are a summary of research efforts and results but presented in the challenging format of a single A3 sheet. The final posters need to be both ‘eye-catching’ and informative as they compete for attention during poster sessions at most scientific conferences.

This year, there were 15 entries from the disciplines across the School, except from Mathematics and Statistics where this form of conference publication is much less common. The judging panel consisted of the School Research Committee (SRC) who made the determinations listed below. For the sake of brevity, I have only listed the poster titles and the graduate students involved rather than their full research teams.

Best poster in CMEC:
The Mechanism and Kinetics of Solid-state Phase Transformation from Marcasite to Pyrite: An in-situ Synchrotron PXRD Study. Xizhi Yao.

Best Poster in EEP:
Multi-criteria Decision Analysis to Optimize Planning for Remote Area Standalone Off-grid Power Supply Systems. Taskin Jamal.

Best poster in ICT:
An Optimization-Based Document Clustering using Memetic Algorithm. Ibraheem Al-Jadir.

Best overall poster in the School:
Effect of Fe2O3 Nanoparticles on Combustion of Coal: Enhanced Fire Risk and Formation of Persistent Pollutants. Jomana Al-Nu’airat.

Congratulations to our four winners, Xizhi, Taskin, Ibraheem and Jomana. The fabulous cash prizes ($300), with accompanying transcript additions, are yours.

3 Minute Thesis Competition
While on the subject of prizes, I must make a special mention of the ‘3 Minute Thesis’ competition. This demanding art form requires a student to make a 3-minute presentation of their research and results to entertain and inform a general audience. It is a state and country-wide competition and while a gifted presenter from Psychology carried off the top University prize, our school had a strong contender in Ms Jomana Al-Nu’airat. The judges, with some supportive comments, put Jomana into a very creditable second place.

Research Training Place Scholarships
Important news from the Graduate Research Office is that the distribution of Research Training Place (RTP) scholarships in 2018 is again to be at the direction and discretion of each School Dean. The number of these awards allocated to each School was calculated by a formula based on graduations over the last 3 years and SEIT is likely to have another 10 scholarships to award in 2018. These RTP awards are each worth in excess of A$200,000 over a tenure of three years and competition is, with some understatement, very brisk. There were more than 100 applications for the six international RTP awards in our School.

RTP Scholarship Award System in 2018
Until 2017, the Research Degrees and Scholarships Committee (RDSC) sat to determine a University-wide ranking order for all applicants based on a published scoring template. However, last year the system was changed to give each School Dean the strategic initiative in awarding scholarships within their School. Each student selected by the Dean’s were then considered by the RDSC to ensure that they exceeded the minimum University-wide scholarship score. The Dean’s view again this year is that these awards should be distributed to provide the best research outcome for the School. The SRC has been tasked to consult across the School to establish criteria leading to that outcome.

Completion Seminars
To align Murdoch’s graduate research education programs more closely with national norms, students will now be required to present a ‘completion seminar’ in the months just prior to submission of their theses for examination. Presentation of this seminar will be recorded by the Graduate Research Office (GRO), as a formal requirement in the same way as the ‘confirmation of candidature’ seminar and the annual progress reports. Completion seminars will be scheduled and advertised in the same way as confirmation seminars. I hope you will endeavour to attend to support those nearing the completion of their studies and contribute generally to the intellectual life of the School.

Article provided by Dr David Ralph, Postgraduate Research Director


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Dean's Scholarships for Scientific Excellence


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If you or someone you know is interested in continuing postgraduate study, see the opportunities available below:


To find out more go to


To find out more go to


If you are a 2nd or 3rd year student and think you would be a great ambassador for the School and the University, why not join the Murdoch Student Ambassador Program?

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Murdoch University is set to be a part of two-year project in the City of Fremantle as part of the federal governments inaugural Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

The smart cities trial project will involve low-carbon and low-cost systems installed and connected using blockchain technology. Features of the smart cities include, a photovoltaic plant, rooftop PV panels, electric vehicle charging station and water treatment systems. This interconnected infrastructure will be co-ordinated using blockchain technology and data analytics.

Dr Martin Anda will be leading the Murdoch component of the project, which will offer an opportunity to develop a precinct scale urban water system. Murdoch University will provide research support on alternative district water supply and storage schemes, which will be used to deliver water capacity and ancillary services to the grid.

Other collaborators in the project include Curtin University, Power Ledger, Curtin Institute for Computation, CSIRO and Landcorp.

For more information on this story go to: Smart Cities with Water and Energy Efficiencies


Addition of Maths Content to OnTrack

The OnTrack programme is a 14-week university preparation course. Successful OnTrack students can apply to Murdoch undergraduate degrees with ATAR entry requirement of 70 or less. We have students in our School whose entry pathway is OnTrack. In Semester 2 2017, Dr Peter Geerlings, one of the OnTrack coordinators, initiated changes to the programme to add assessable maths content to the curriculum. This was in response to concerns raised by members of our School about how OnTrack prepares students for science degrees that require maths knowledge and skills.

The maths content is organised in weekly modules with materials available online for self-paced learning. There are weekly self-assessment quizzes that help the students prepare for their two supervised maths assessments, which contribute 10% weighting towards the final grade. All students complete the modules available in Weeks 2 to 6, and then there are two sets of modules available for students based on their anticipated discipline selection for university. The content is summarised in the following table. It is noteworthy that all assessments must be attempted to pass OnTrack, so this could limit students from opting out of the maths content.

I would like to send a warm acknowledgement to Dr Peter Geerlings on behalf of the school for the work he has done to champion the inclusion of maths content in OnTrack, and for providing information for this article.

Article provided by Dr Kate Rowan, Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching



Daniel Hay-Hendry is one of 120 undergraduate students to have secured funding from the New Colombo Plan, aimed at students studying and living in the Indo-Pacific.

An Environmental Engineering student, Daniel will be travelling to Japan to study water technology and management systems, aspiring in the future to provide regional communities in with solutions to water related issues.

Daniel will be studying Engineering at Kysush University and interning with an engineering and consulting firm during his eight-month stay. Daniel considers Japan to be a world leader in the area of water management and hopes his time studying in Japan will provide insight and help to create solutions to water management issues in all countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

We wish Daniel all the very best during his stay in Japan and look forward to hearing about his experiences and academic progress upon his return.

For more on this story go to: Melville Times Community


Research into developing biodegradable plastics from wastewater at Murdoch University has hit the international spotlight with an appearance on the BBC’s The Naked Scientist, one of the world’s most popular science podcasts.

School of Engineering and Information Technology researchers Dr Damian Laird and Dr Leonie Hughes have been investigating an environmentally friendly solution for the use of oxalate, one of the major waste products of the alumina industry.

The Murdoch team used mixed microbial cultures, similar to what you find in a run-of-the-mill wastewater treatment plant, to convert the carbon in the wastewater into a potential product, a bioplastic known as a polyhydroxy alkanoate.

These plastics have properties similar to those manufactured with starting materials derived from crude oil.

The process works because most bacteria have a mechanism to store excess carbon when another essential nutrient, such as nitrogen or phosphorus or oxygen, is limited.

“Essentially it’s the bacterial equivalent of a human eating too many chips and not enough veggies, the excess gets stored as fat,” explained Dr Hughes.

“When a suitable nitrogen or phosphorous source becomes available again, the bacteria convert that stored fat back into biomass and the bacteria start growing again. What we do is manipulate this natural phenomenon by giving the bacterial culture a feed that has lots of accessible carbon, in the form of small organic molecules like acetic acid (vinegar), or lactic acid, but very little nitrogen or phosphorus.”

“The carbon compound is converted into a polyester-like storage compound, rather than being turned into bacterial biomass or respired as CO2, we can harvest the plastic. That plastic should be completely biodegradable when we are finished using it, as the compound itself has been derived from a naturally occurring process and naturally occurring bacteria and fungi already have the biochemical tools necessary to turn the plastic back into its original state – effectively they can eat it.”

“In a genetically modified pure culture, the stored plastic can represent more than 50 per cent of the bacteria’s biomass; given the right carbon source and optimal conditions,” Dr Hughes explained.

“Unfortunately, this can be relatively expensive to achieve due to the costs associated with avoiding contamination from other species in the pure culture and the feedstock can be a bit pricey.”

Dr Laird said that industrial wastewater could be a much lower priced feedstock for biopolymer production. “When an industry releases their wastewater into the sewage system or environment most of the focus is on making sure that toxic compounds like heavy metals, or nutrients that lead to eutrophication of local waterways, such as nitrate and phosphate, are removed from the water.”

“Most people don’t realise quite how much carbon is contained in a lot of industrial wastewater, particularly from processes associated with the food and beverage industry, but also from areas such as the aluminium industry where organic matter in the soil is incorporated into the industrial plant. This can then affect the outcome of the entire conversion of bauxite to aluminium. That carbon can be converted into a useful product.”

The Murdoch researchers are using industrial waste streams as the source of carbon compounds and mixed bacterial cultures to do the conversion.

“The use of a mixed culture will probably mean a smaller amount of plastic produced overall, but there is less need to keep the culture in conditions that minimise the chance of contamination by other species,” Dr Laird said.

“We are really thrilled that our work has been featured by the Naked Scientists as we believe that this approach is a really exciting way to re-use what has typically been considered a waste and convert it into a product that can be utilised in an environmentally friendly manner. Just like upcycling clothes where you take a couple of old shirts and combine bits of each into a new product, we are essentially upcycling waste carbon compounds into a biocompatible, biodegradable biopolymer.”

The team have recently shown that oxalate, a potential problem compound in alumina production, can be converted to a bioplastic using this approach:

White, C., Laird, D.W., and Hughes, L.J. From carbon waste to carbon product: Converting oxalate to polyhydroxybutyrate using a mixed microbial culture. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering 5 (2017) 2362–2365

The Naked Scientist story can be found at:

BBC iPlayer Radio and search for Naked Scientists – available for 1 month from broadcast, posted on 6 February 2018

Article provided by Dr Damian Laird and Dr Leonie Hughes


In the last weeks of 2017, the School of Engineering and Information Technology purchased their largest RPA to date. The remotely piloted aircraft, UAV or drone, is a 6 m long airship, or blimp.

At 6 m in length and some 10 m3, this airship has the capacity to lift 2 kg payload in addition to its own avionics and control packages for long duration flights. Currently the airship is filled with air and hanging in the Engineering Pilot Plant for pressure testing and installation of the avionics. When fully tested, the blimp will be filled with helium, allowing flight operations. For those worried about the excessive amount of helium being used, the airship is made from 100 µm polyurethane which is rated with a Helium permeability of 0.5 %, on total volume per day. We are anticipating that once filled, it should stay aloft for a while.

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Figure 1: Initial inflation tests within the Engineering Pilot Plant

The airship is powered by twin 250 W motors and will be fully manoeuvrable as a remotely piloted aircraft. However, in many operations in and around campus, it is anticipated that we will use this in a tethered mode, (ie) tied to an appropriate rope. The positive thing about this is, the airship is then classsed as a “tethered balloon”, which makes flight operations much easier and safer than the powered multirotor aircraft on campus.

The main use of this airship will be for publicity and outreach activities on campus. This will provide a very visible platform for mounting cameras, sensors and displays for public events such as Open Day. There are also some potential fieldwork applications for the airship. One of the main limitations to multirotor aircraft is their very short flight times, approximately 15 min. The flight time of this airship can be measured in hours or days, depending on the application. This opens up a range of long term monitoring that a conventional drone would not be suitable for.

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Figure 2: Dr David Parleliet, Chief Remote Pilot, showing off an Octorotor RPA and stylish safety gear

The airship joins a fleet of RPA’s in the School or Engineering and Information Technology, ranging from micro-sized quadcopters, through to larger octorotor systems (Figure 2). The application for Murdoch’s Operating Certificate is in the final rounds of editing before submission to CASA. On approval, this will allow us to operate the fleet of RPA’s with full compliance with the regulations. We are anticipating this should be approved in the first half of the year.

In the meantime, if you are thinking of any projects, or activities that would involve RPA’s, please get in touch. Across the University there are lots of people moving into this area, including the Cetacean Research Group and Journalism. We now have the capacity for getting all sorts of things aloft and it is time to put these aircraft to use.

Article provided by Dr David Parlevliet