School of Engineering and IT

School of Engineering and Information Technology

Dean's Newsletter

August 2014

Vale Emeritus Professor Ian Ritchie

The Murdoch University community is mourning the loss of Professor Ian Ritchie who passed away on Wednesday, August 13. Ian had a long and distinguished career and made major contributions to the mining, research and tertiary sectors.

Staff members in the School of Engineering and Information Technology remember him fondly as a wise and considerate person. Adjunct Professor Jim Avraamides who worked alongside Ian at Murdoch said he was a fine scientist both as an educator and researcher.

"It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with him for over 20 years and be part of the extensive Ritchie Mafia," Jim said.

"His leadership approach at Murdoch was always one of direct engagement with each member of staff. He asked for and, most importantly, valued our suggestions on how we were to function as a team of teachers and researchers."

"In terms of research, he kept a close eye on all of the post-docs and students enrolled for higher degrees in chemistry and extractive metallurgy and was always willing to spend time understanding their research topics and providing insightful suggestions to any problems that arose."

"How he found the time to do all this, as well as manage his own research group and various administrative duties, was always a mystery to me."

Professor Peter May said, "Ian was passionate about chemistry research, education and industrial and other practical applications of chemistry and was well known for his wit."

Some advice to many a young member of staff learning about smooth-talking in the academic jungle was remember that, 'everything before the but in a sentence is rubbish'.  "This dictum was often used to devastating effect in committee debates and the like," Peter said.

Ian joined Murdoch in 1984 as a Professor of Chemistry and was Pro Vice Chancellor (Research) between 1986 and 1988. He was instrumental in introducing Industrial Chemistry courses at both Murdoch and UWA. In 1992 he became the Foundation Director and Chief Executive Office of the AJ Parker Cooperative Research Centre for Hydrometallurgy.

A Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Ian received many accolades during his career:

  • 2014 Member of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to science in the field of chemistry and hydrometallurgy.
  • 2002 Honorary degree from Murdoch University.
  • 1997 WA Citizen of the Year.
  • 1997 Royal Australian Chemical Institute of Applied Research Award.
  • 1997 The Stokes Medal for Electrochemistry
  • 1979 The Australian Corrosion Medal

Murdoch alumnus and former colleague Katrina O’Mara offered these personal reflections on Professor Ritchie:

Professor Ian Ritchie was, and for ever will be, “The Prof” to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Murdoch Chemistry and Metallurgy students. Whilst I have enjoyed the company of many ‘professors’ in my time as both a student and staff member at the Uni, few, if any, have preferred to be called Professor, despite the status associated with their position.

Ian was no different. To those who knew him “The Prof” was a term of endearment, rather than a status or a title. Although he had transitioned from academia to become the Foundation CEO of the Parker Centre in the year I started studying at Murdoch, "The Prof " was a familiar figure in the corridors of the physical sciences building.

I remember the first time we spoke like it was yesterday. I don’t recall how it came to be that he was in the second year Analytical Chem lab, but I remember him vividly asking if I was a relative of the famous electrochemist John O’Mara Bockris. I think he must have been truly disappointed when I said I didn’t think so, as he listed off some of my namesake’s contributions in chemistry.

Perhaps vainly hoping there was an electrochemist in me somewhere given the name connection, I chose Anodic Stripping Voltammetry for my end of unit topic…. alas the rest they say is history – destined to be more of a physicist than chemist!

Whilst the journals will record for ever more Ian’s exceptional chemistry knowledge and his thirst for discovery, his greatest legacy will be that of the teacher and science communicator – inspiring almost countless numbers of Murdoch Chemistry and Metallurgy students to become educators by sharing his passion for chemistry in that softly spoken, English accent.

New Academic Appointments

The School is pleased to announce the following new Academic appointments, commencing in January 2015:

Lecturer in Energy Economics & Greenhouse Accounting: Dr Xiangpeng Gao

The School is soon to welcome Dr Xiangpeng Gao, currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Curtin University, to its Energy Studies group. In addition to industry experience in China, Dr Gao comes to us with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Energy and Power Engineering from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, P R China. Dr Gao completed a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Curtin University, with his thesis entitled Emission of Inorganic Particulate Matter during the Combustion of Biomass, Biochar and Collie Coal. After 2.5 years of his PhD graduation, Dr Gao has published 23 papers in top refereed journals (e.g., Energy & Fuels, Fuel, and Environmental Science & Technology Letters) in the field of energy and fuels, with a h-index of 10. His research is focused on biomass and bioenergy.

Senior Lecturer in Energy Efficiency and Energy Management: Dr Manickam Minakshi-Sundaram

Dr Manickam Minakshi, currently a Lecturer in Chemistry, will join the Electrical Engineering, Energy and Physics discipline from January 2015. Dr Minakshi has made a significant contribution to studies on energy storage (battery and supercapacitor) materials and the ceramic synthesis and surface characterisation of lithium-ion/Sodium battery materials. He has improved the method of lithium intercalation using aqueous solutions; this is widely regarded as the single most important innovation to this power source – transforming the primary battery to a secondary one. Dr Minakshi has synthesized sodium nickel phosphate, an environmentally friendly and technically attractive cathode material for energy storage systems. Dr Minakshi is currently working on the development of sodium based hybrid supercapacitors as superior alternatives to lithium-based technologies. Dr Minakshi has an ongoing international links with institutions in India, Japan and USA.

Senior Lecturer Energy & Carbon Policy: Dr Tania Urmee

Dr Urmee graduated with a Bachelor of Physics Physics from Dhaka University, Bangladesh, and Masters Degree in Energy Technology from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand. She moved to Australia in 2006 to continue her studies at Murdoch University, where she completed a PhD on renewable energy in 2009. Dr Urmee started her career in 1996 after her graduation from Dhaka University and worked in different development organizations. She worked on energy issues in developing countries before moving to Thailand and Australia for higher study. Dr Urmee first worked with Murdoch University as an Associate Lecturer, and then subsequently as Lecturer in the former School of Engineering and Energy.

Senior Lecturer in Energy Science and Sustainability Energy Development: Dr Almantas Pivrikas

Dr Almantas Pivrikas will join the School from the University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, where he is currently a Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Organic Photonics and Electronics. Dr Pivrikas graduated from Vilnius University in Lithuania with a Bachelor’s degree in general physics, and later obtained a Masters degree from Vilnius’ Department of Solid State Electronics and Condensed Matter. Dr Pivrikas completed his PhD at Finland’s Abo Akademi University, and subsequently worked as an Assistant Professor at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. Dr Pivrikas has an h-index of 22 and 70 published papers in total, and his main areas of research are on fundamental mechanisms of electrical conduction, charge transport and recombination in novel semiconductors and devices such as organic solar cells, photodetectors, field effect transistors and light emitting diodes.

Scholarly Teaching Fellow: Dr Nik Thompson

Dr Nik Thompson will take up an appointment as a Scholarly Teaching Fellow in Information Technology from January 2015. Dr Thompson first joined Murdoch University in 2004, and has taught and coordinated a large number of subjects in Information Technology, currently in the area of Systems Analysis and Design among others. Dr Thompson has varied research interests including information systems, human computer interaction, physiological computing and electronic learning. Dr Thompson has also been an active participant in industry and community engagement activities, including coaching teams in the Cyber Security Challenge in 2013 and 2014, and representing the School at STEMFest 2013 in Malaysia.

Scholarly Teaching Fellow: Dr Helen Middleton

Dr Helen Middleton will continue her role at Murdoch University when she takes up an appointment as a Scholarly Teaching Fellow in Mathematics and Statistics from January 2015. Since 2008, Dr Middleton has coordinated and taught Introduction to Statistics, a large first year introductory service unit, and coordinates its offerings through Murdoch University’s transnational partners. This year she has been part of the development and coordination team of the new transition unit in Science. With over 25 years’ experience in mathematics education at both secondary and tertiary levels, Dr Middleton has taught and developed a wide range of mathematics courses for students in education, business, nursing, science, mathematics and statistics. She also spent five years in university research management at The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Teaching Matters

I am pleased to announce the winners of the Dean’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching for Semester 1, 2014. Two awards were instituted based on Unit and Teaching survey results from semester 1. The first award is for the top Unit Survey score based on student responses to the statement “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of the unit”. The second award is for the best overall score across all compulsory questions in the Teaching Surveys.
Sinisa Djordjevic won the award for overall student satisfaction for PEC292 Energy in Society, which scored an impressive 5.7/6.

The award for the best overall score in teaching surveys was won by Gareth Lee for his teaching in ENG243 Circuits and Systems II.

Congratulations, Gareth and Sinisa.

The following units, ordered by Unit Code, finished in the top quartile for overall student satisfaction in Unit surveys:

• CHE130 Introduction to Earth Sciences – Manickam Minakshi Sundaram
• ENG193 Introduction to the Minerals Industry – Dan Churach
• ENG243 Circuits and Systems II - Gareth Lee
• ENV211 Pollution and its Control – Linda Li
• ICT208 Business Intelligence Tools & Techniques – Danny Toohey
• ICT231 Systems Analysis and Design – Nik Thompson
• ICT248 Cyber Forensics – Richard Boddington
• ICT333 IT Projects - Peter Cole
• ICT349 Forensic Data Analysis – Richard Boddington
• ICT362 Network Security – Mike Dixon
• ICT517 Advanced IT Study Project – Lance Fung
• ICT521 IT Professional Practice – Jocelyn Armarego
• ICT615 Information Technology Research Methods – Tanya McGill
• MAS305 Environmental and Biological Modelling – Graeme Hocking
• PEC292 Energy in Society – Sinisa Djordjevic
• PEC594/294 Energy Management – Jonathan Whale

The following colleagues’ teaching survey results were in the top quartile:

• David Henry, for CHE247 Chemical Processes and CHE312 Materials Chemistry
• Dan Churach, for ENG193 Introduction to the Minerals Industry
• Gareth Lee, for ENG243 Circuits and Systems II
• Danny Toohey, for ICT208 Business Intelligence Tools & Techniques
• Jocelyn Armarego, for ICT521 IT Professional Practice
• Andrew Johnstone, for ICT546 LAN Design and Implementation
• Graham Mann, for ICT612 Human Factors in Information Technology
• Tanya McGill, for ICT615 Information Technology Research Methods
• Brenton Clarke, for MAS368 Time Series and Multivariate Analysis
• Sinisa Djordjevic, for PEC592 Energy in Society
• Samuel Gyamfi, for PEC594/294 Energy Management

Congratulations to the winners, and to all who did such a good job in Semester 1.

Danny Toohey, Associate Dean Learning & Teaching

Be a Met for a day 2014

bamfad 1.jpg

The annual ‘Be a Met for a Day’ events, supported by Rio Tinto, took place in June and July. On the first day of the event series, a ‘trickle’ of 60 students landed at our front door and embarked on a taster programme of Hydrometallurgy, Pyrometallurgy and Mineral Processing. By the end of the day they were fed, watered and left carrying a bundle of knowledge both physically, in the form of a booklet and mentally from practical exertions and thinking about what they had accomplished.

The trickle becamebamfad 3.jpg a flood when for 5 days during the next fortnight, over 450 students from various local high schools ventured on to the campus for a taste of “Being an Extractive Metallurgist For a Day”. For these latter days we bought out the BIG GUNS and added Mathematics and Statistics of Mining and Chemistry of Mining to round out the day. Each group of students embarked upon the study of four of the topics, interspersed with Morning Tea and Lunch so that they could up their energy levels for the next challenge.

Each of the days began with a talk on “The Search for the Lost Electron” by either Dr Jim Avraamides or Dr Dan Churach. The talk gave an overview and some details as to what is involved in Extractive Metallurgy and what a metallurgist might do.04 July newsletter Mars article 04 LittleBlueOnRamps.JPG

A number of students were enthralled at the fact that there was such a position in the big wide world out there and numerous questions were asked during the day for more information. The feedback on the day and afterwards was very positive. They were sent away with numerous challenges as to what they will need to do to keep this world functioning for the future. There was a continual buzz as they departed from whence they came.

Thanks go to the following staff who organised prepared and ran sessions in various laboratories: Ken Seymour, Stewart Kelly, Glen O’Malley, David Henry, Damian Laird, Helen Middleton, Doug Fletcher and Brenton Clarke. Additional thanks to the numerous PhD students who assisted in the running of the days: Heather Evans, Rachel Candy, Nadira Batool, Rorie Gilligan and Maryam Barmi.

Of course, the day would have not been anywhere near as memorable without the help of the office staff: Leandra, Emma, Rosie and others who organised lunch and morning tea, keeping the masses under control and fed. Further thanks to Leandra who composited, organised and got the booklet printed – a coloured version no less.

Finally, thanks to Rio Tinto who have provided funding for the venture and of course Murdoch University who provided facilities and staff.

Graeme Thompson
Co-ordinator of BAMFAD

Seminar Series - "Turning your Passion for Physics into a Real Job"

Two seminars featuring guest speakers working in Physics and Nanoscience are coming up in September.

Thursday 11 September – 12.30pm, VCS Lecture Theatre 2.008

Dr Phill Knipe

Phill is the founder of Total Radiation Solutions Pty Ltd a Western Australian company with a national focus, established to cater to the requirements of clients looking for professional, independent consultancy in all areas of radiation safety. He now employs three other staff and between them they tackle such things as

  • RF and Microwave Radiation Hazard Measurement
  • Industry accredited (ACRBR) RF EME Awareness Training Courses
  • Consultancy on all aspects of ionising and non-ionising radiation
  • Site audits for ionising and non-ionising radiation

Thursday 18th September - 12.30pm, VCS 2.008

Barend (Barry) Becker

Barry joined the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) in 1982 as a weather observer and graduate from Murdoch in 1995 with a BSc in Atmospheric Physics. This degree has given him a continued career with BoM as a forecaster and during his time with them he has been posted to many remote locations throughout Australia.
In the summers of 2005/06 and 2007/08 Barry was posted to the Antarctic to forecast for the summer science programs especially for aviation support.

2013 saw him posted to Macquarie Island, this time as the Office in Charge of the weather station, and he spent 13 months on the island (March 2013 to April 2014). While at Macquarie Island he kept a blog which you can find at


These talks are primarily aimed at students taking a Physics and Nanoscience major, but all interested students and staff are welcome.

For more information on the seminar series, contact Dr Chris Creagh

AIP Post Graduate Conference: 3rd October 2014

The Annual Australian Institute of Physics Post-Graduate Conference will be held on 3rd October at Murdoch University.

This is a wonderful opportunity for post-graduate physics students to enhance their professional development, to network, and to talk about research with their peers. Feedback from previous conferences has been overwhelming positive, and hence we are organising it again.

Note that the AIP and your Department are heavily subsidising this event. Contact Chris Creagh for more information.

Murdoch Student Finalist for 'Student Scientist of the Year'

Murdoch PhD student, Tobias Prosin, is one of three finalists for ExxonMobile Student Scientist of the Year in the 2014 Premier’s Science Awards.

Tobias is a concentrated solar thermal (CST) engineer who is pioneering the introduction of this new field of renewable energy technology in Australia.05 july newsletter synchrotron.png

CST is an up-and-coming renewable energy technology which could be deployed on a large scale.

“CST is fundamentally different from solar photovoltaic rooftop panels as it does not directly generate electricity, rather CST operates using the sun’s heat energy by collecting concentrating sunlight with mirrors,” Tobias said.

“This heat energy can then be utilised to generate electricity in the same way that heat energy is released from burning fossil fuels, or nuclear reactions, using the same conventional power plant.”

The research Tobias is pioneering in Australia concerns a new type of CST solar capturing receiver technology, the solid particle receiver (SPR).

“The SPR is to be located at the top of a solar tower to absorb concentrated solar radiation reflected from a heliostat mirror field,” he said.

“This technology then converts sunlight to heat at temperatures up to 1000°C. The small particles in the receiver enable 24-7 renewable energy generation as they can be transported to insulated containers, where they can be stored for the heat to be used on demand.”

“This thermal energy storage enables inexpensive, reliable, constant solar energy generation at costs lower than fossil fuels.”

Tobias is the first person to complete research on SPR technology in Australia.

His research, together with his earlier work in the concentrating solar field, has resulted in several patent applications for 24-7 industrial scale solar power at cost lower than that of fossil fuels.

Despite been offered industry positions in Europe and America, Tobias decided to do his PhD in Perth, his home town, so that he could apply his acquired technical knowledge and skills for the betterment of his homeland.

“I approached Murdoch University’s academic chair of energy studies, Dr Trevor Pryor, with the intent to undertake the first ever WA research project in the CST field,” Tobias said.

“Dr Pryor showed foresight and interest in development this new brand of renewable energy research.”

Tobias has won an innovation award from the European Foundation for Power Engineering, established international collaborations with the Institute of Solar Research at the German Aerospace Centre, presented at a number of international and national conferences and has numerous publications in the field of solar energy. His current PhD Research Program is being supervised by Dr Trevor Pryor and Dr Chris Creagh.

Premier and Science Minister Colin Barnett said he was impressed by the calibre of the year’s finalists and the outstanding scientific research and engagement efforts taking place in the State.

“As well as advancing our knowledge and understanding in a range of disciplines, they have demonstrated exceptional leadership, communicated their science beyond academia and attracted significant investment to the State,” Mr Barnett said.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday, August 21, during National Science Week.

Dr Liang Cheng Recognised in RM Quigley Awards

Dr Liang Cheng, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Chemistry, has received an honourable mention in the 2014 R M Quigley Awards, for the best paper published in the Canadian Geotechnical Journal in 2013. This journal is regarded as the top journal in the field of Geotechnical Engineering.

Dr Cheng received the award for his paper entitled “Cementation of sand soil by microbially induced calcite precipitation at various degrees of saturation”, co-authored by Dr Ralf Cord-Ruwisch and Curtin University’s Mohamed A. Shahin. The paper originates from a collaboration started by Dr Cheng, together with Curtin University.

The award is to be presented at the Awards Gala as part of the 2014 Canadian Geotechnical Society Conference, to be held in Regina, Canada, at the end of September.

Emeritus Associate Professor Kuruvilla Mathew Recognised at WREC

Emeritus Associate Professor Kuruvilla Mathew was presented the Pioneer Award for Achievement and Dedication to Renewable Energy at the recent World Renewable Energy Congress in London. The award was presented by the WREC Director General Prof Ali Sayigh.

Professor Mathew was the principal organiser of the highly successful WREC event last year at Murdoch, and he has similarly organised similar events previously at Murdoch in 1999 and 2006.

Kuruvilla's commitment and efforts in his service to the World Renewable Energy Network was greatly appreciated and acknowledged. Dr Martin Anda accepted the award on Professor Mathew’s behalf.