School of Engineering and IT

School of Engineering and Information Technology

Dean's Newsletter

November 2014

Engineering Accreditation

The School has recently completed its five-yearly accreditation review with Engineers Australia, gaining full recognition of all Engineering majors accredited previously, converting provisional to full accreditation for Environmental Engineering, and securing provisional accreditation for our new program in Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. This is a very good outcome.

However, the Accreditation Panel also noted a need to increase resourcing of Engineering at Murdoch. Our current recruitment drive to fill the vacant positions in Engineering constitutes one of the strategies to respond to this need.

Head of Engineering, Professor Parisa A. Bahri, led the Engineering disciplines in compiling the complex and rigorous accreditation submission, and hosted the accreditation panel during their visit to the School in October. Professor Bahri was assisted by the Academic Chairs in Engineering, Dr Aleks Nikoloski, Dr Greg Crebbin and Dr Martin Anda, along with numerous other colleagues and administrative staff.

The School Dean, Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski, commented:

“This is extremely good news for us all at Murdoch. This outcome would not have been possible without everyone’s support and hard work, especially the effort put in by Professor Bahri and the Academic Chairs in Engineering. The success of this critical activity needed every Murdoch Engineer to contribute to the effort. Therefore, I would like to congratulate all of you.”

Head of Discipline Roles Formalised

The Dean is pleased to announce that the roles of the Heads of Discipline have now been endorsed by the Provost and formalised by the University. Congratulations and thank you to the academic leaders below who have been serving in this role:

• Professor Parisa A. Bahri – Head of Discipline of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and Chemistry
• Associate Professor Graeme Cole – Head of Discipline of Electrical Engineering, Energy and Physics
• Professor Graeme Hocking – Head of Discipline of Mathematics and Statistics
• Associate Professor Tanya McGill – Head of Discipline of Information Technology

The role of Head of Discipline is highly demanding, and includes responsibility for matters such as academic and research leadership, workforce planning, provision of advice to the Dean and mentoring for early career researchers.

Welcome to Professor Wendell Ela, Professor of Desalination

The School is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Wendell Ela, to the position of Professor of Desalination and Water Treatment. Professor Ela will join the School in early 2015.

Professor Ela’s teaching and research broadly focus on water quality management with work spanning heavy metals release and removal, organics characterisation and fate in natural and engineered systems, integration of renewable energy into water treatment processes, and development and analysis of innovative purification systems for water contaminants.

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Professor Wendell Ela, undertaking fieldwork in Bolivia

Professor Ela is co-author of one of the top three most widely used textbooks in environmental engineering: Introduction to Environmental Engineering and Science, 3rd edition, 2008, Prentice International Education. Desalination and other membrane-assisted water purification have been primary foci of Professor Ela’s research since 2005, with a particular emphasis on small-scale, renewable energy-driven processes. This work has covered the range from bench-scale technology trials using various membrane types and technologies up to implementation of solar-driven membrane distillation field-scale units on remote Native American Tribal Lands. The research has resulted in 13 MS and 3 PhD theses; leadership of three national desalination workshops; peer reviewed and book chapter publications; numerous invited talks; membership on review panels for the WateReuse and Desalination Foundation, US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and National Science Foundation (NSF); and collaboration with the National Centre for Excellence in Desalination Australia (with whom he looks forward to much closer and more extensive interaction).

Professor Ela’s water treatment research has also involved extensive research on heavy metal remediation and sequestration (particularly arsenic with 7 PhD & 17 MS theses), and on the fate and removal of organics of emerging concern (particularly estrogenic organic mixtures with 3 PhD and 8 MS theses). He routinely serves on expert panels, advisory boards, and review panels for the USEPA, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NSF, and US Bureau of Reclamation. Assessment and construction of water projects in developing nations has also been an interest for Professor Ela, who has worked in Mexico, Ghana, Bolivia, and Zimbabwe. He has been a member of Chemical and Environmental Engineering academic staff at The University of Arizona since earning his doctorate from Stanford University in 1998.

Welcome to Dr Piotr Kowalczyk - Senior Lecturer in Physics

The School is pleased to welcome Dr Piotr Kowalczyk, who has recently accepted appointment as a Senior Lecturer in Physics. Dr Kowalczyk will join the School in January 2015 from Curtin University, where he is currently a Senior Research Fellow.

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Dr Piotr Kowalczyk

Dr Kowalczyk received his MSc (Eng) in Chemical Engineering (with extended mathematical physics) from Military Academy of Technology, Warsaw, Poland (1999), PG Dip in computer science from Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland (2001), and his PhD in diversity and fractal science from Kaneko’s laboratory, Chiba, Japan (2004). He has been an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw, Poland), the University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellow and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Research Fellow. He has conducted national and international collaborative research with top scientists in statistical physics, adsorption science and chemical engineering.

His main research interest is in developing new theoretical methods and simulation algorithms for understanding soft-condensed matter systems. More recently his research concerns are on the reconstruction of the internal pore structure of carbonaceous materials (molecular sieves and activated carbon fibres), statistico-mechanical description of adsorption-induced deformation, and investigations of quantum dynamics and phase transitions of light particles in reduced geometries at finite temperatures (see Piotr Kowalczyk’s homepage).

Piotr is a chartered member (MRACI CChem) of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. He has published more than 100 scholarly journal articles, 7 book chapters, and 1 edited book. His research papers have been cited over 1454 times with h-index of 22 (Researcher ID: A-3840-2012, November 2014).

Dr Devindri Perera - Appointed as Lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics

Dr Devindri Perera will take up a continuing appointment as Lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics from January 2015.

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Dr Devindri Perera

Dr Perera obtained her MSc in Mathematical Statistics (time series analysis) from the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1997 and her PhD in Statistics from the University of Sydney in 2007. Prior to first joining Murdoch on a contract as a Lecturer in Statistics in 2011, Dr Perera worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the prestigious Menzies Research Institute in Hobart, and the Genome Institute of Singapore, and has also held academic positions at the University of Sydney and University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. 

Dr Perera’s research interests include disease risk prediction in genetic data models, statistical data analysis in genetic data models, and saddlepoint and Edgeworth approximation methods, and she has published in several peer-reviewed statistical journals and refereed conference proceedings. Her current projects include Genetic Risk Prediction for Multiple Sclerosis for an Australian and New Zealand study.

Dr Perera currently teaches in MAS230 Biostatistical Methods and MAS284 Applied Statistics and Process Management, along with MAS180 Introduction to Statistics. Devindri has also been involved in the development of the statistics component of the transition unit, Academic Skills for Business.

Dr Zhong-Tao Jiang - Appointed as Senior Lecturer in Physics

Dr Zhong-Tao Jiang has recently been appointed on a continuing basis as a Senior Lecturer in Physics.

Dr Jiang received his PhD from La Trobe University and a Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) from Murdoch University. After his postdoctoral fellow and research fellow positions in Korea (KAIST/Samsung Semiconductor) and Japan (Shizuoka University), he joined Murdoch University as an ARC research associate and Lecturer in late 1998.

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Dr Zhong-Tao Jiang

Zhong-Tao’s research interests include surface physics and analysis techniques, functional thin film/bulk materials, and computational modelling. Currently, his research focus is on superhard coatings, optical solar selective coatings, surface chemical reaction of boron nitride, density functional theory (DFT) study of doped nanostructure 2-D materials, and applications of synchrotron and cyclotron facilities. He is the principal and/or co-author of over 90 publications, with many research articles published in high impact factor journals.

Dr Jiang is the Chief Investigator of ARC Special Research Initiative in Synchrotron Science Scheme for Murdoch University. Since 2010, Zhong-Tao has been the leader of the Surface Analysis and Materials Engineering Research Group (SAMERG) in the School of Engineering and Information Technology. He is the principal supervisor of five PhD students and one visiting researcher, along with several more HDR student expected to join SAMERG in 2015.

Environmental Engineering - Airport Waste-to-Energy Study Concludes

Final year environmental engineering students recently completed a study with Perth Airport engineers on the design of a waste-to-energy (W2E) plant. This study was conducted for their design project in the unit ENG481 Environmental Engineering Design during second semester.

Dr Martin Anda, Academic Chair of Environmental Engineering, said the airport is undergoing massive infrastructure upgrades in line with their 20-year Master Plan prepared by architects and planners Woods Bagot. Dr Anda saw this as an opportunity to liaise with airport engineers and assist them in creating a vision towards sustainability outcomes. As a result, the airport infrastructure planning team asked Martin and his students to undertake a number of studies.

In addition to the W2E project, Martin's students in the unit ENV318 Sustainable Urban Water Systems were given the task of conducting two studies for the airport engineers: a wastewater recycling project and an 'Aquifer Storage & Recovery' project using stormwater runoff.

The ENG4281 students recently presented their final W2E design at the airport. The Urban Water students also presented their findings recently. Mark Schilling, Civil Infrastructure Planner for the airport, commented "Overall, the good work by the students has highlighted the range of engineering infrastructure options available to us for consideration in future planning.”

“The students' focus on sustainability in energy and water management has certainly motivated us to realise there are great opportunities ahead of us".


For the students it was a challenging and enjoyable experience to get early exposure to a live industry project and a good opportunity to meet engineers at the coal face engaged in exciting civil works projects.

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L-R: Mark Schilling (Perth Airport Engineer) with Murdoch students
Joel Griffiths, Sam King, Jamie Stephen and Dr Martin Anda

CCG Researchers Secure Funding to Help Sufferers of Rare Diseases

Researchers from the Centre for Comparative Genomics (CCG) have received almost $800,000 in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to develop genetic drugs to treat rare diseases.

Chief Investigator Professor Steve Wilton and Investigator Professor Sue Fletcher have previously had success in developing a therapy for people with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) and the new funding will allow them to extend their research to other rare conditions.

Over the last decade Professor Wilton and Professor Fletcher developed a new drug for DMD sufferers that works by “skipping over” the faulty part of the gene message, so that is can produce a functional version of the protein dystrophin that stabilises the muscle fibre.

“Clinical trials of the drug we developed for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy have yielded some remarkable results,” Professor Wilton said.

“We believe we can use the same technology that we applied in development of the drug for DMD to treat other rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy and Pompe’s disease.”

The NHMRC grant is worth $792,656 over four years starting in 2015. Also on the research team are Director of the CCG, Professor Matthew Bellgard and Director Genetic Services & Familial Cancer Program of WA, Professor Jack Goldblatt.

Professor Fletcher said that it was crucial that universities researched drug development for rare diseases because the small number of patients requiring specific treatments is a disincentive to investment in therapy development.

“When you add up all the people in Australia suffering from a rare disease there are at least 400,000 which is actually more than the number of people living with cancer,” Professor Fletcher said.

“Yet despite the large number of people afflicted, there has been relatively little research on treatments for rare diseases. Within Australia, WA Health has been leading the drive to help those living with a rare disease and there is also increasing community awareness and advocacy, driven by community groups.”

Professor Wilton and Professor Fletcher’s breakthrough treatment for DMD led them to be awarded one of nation’s most prestigious awards last year, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the NSW Health James Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research Translation.

ARC LIEF Grant Success - Associate Professor Gamini Senanayake

Associate Professor Gamini Senanayake is part of a consortium that has won a $1.06m ARC Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment & Facilities (LIEF) grant, supporting the acquisition of a dual beam focused ion beam 3D microscopy and analysis system.

According to the project summary, this proposed facility will “…will provide 3D imaging, site-specific analysis and nano-machining to a wide range of internationally recognised Australian researchers across a broad spectrum of disciplines in the geosciences, engineering, biological and physical sciences. Providing critically needed access to this world-class infrastructure is expected to advance international competitiveness, leading to high-impact outcomes in smart materials, nanotechnology, bioscience, and geoscience, including support for the Australian resources sector.”

The grant was awarded following a joint application from researchers at UWA, in collaboration with colleagues at Curtin, The University of Sydney, ECU and the CSIRO. UWA’s Professor Martin Saunders, one of the lead investigators, hopes to have the instrument in place in late 2015.

Gamini has invited Professor Saunders to Murdoch to give a seminar explaining the capabilities of the new instrument.

Information Technology Academic Presents at ICONIP 2014

Earlier this month, Dr Mark Abernethy presented a paper at the 21st International Conference on Neural Information Processing (ICONIP). The conference was held at the Imperial Hotel, Kuching, Malaysia. Dr Abernethy is a sessional academic who this semester, has taught in ICT170 Foundations of Computer Systems, ICT218 Databases and ICT167 Principles of Computer Science.

Dr Abernethy’s presentation, entitled "Cooperative Feature Level Data Fusion For Authentication Using Neural Networks", was well received, and the abstract is as follows:

"In traditional research, data fusion is referred to as multi-sensor data fusion. The theory is that data from multiple sources can be combined to provide more accurate, reliable and meaningful information than that provided by a single data source. Applications in this field of study were originally in the military domain; more recently, investigations for its application in various civilian domains (eg: computer security) have been undertaken. Multi-sensor data fusion as applied to biometric authentication is termed multi-modal biometrics. The objective of this study was to apply feature level fusion of fingerprint feature and keystroke dynamics data for authentication purposes, utilizing Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) as a classifier. Data fusion was performed adopting the cooperative paradigm, a less researched approach. This approach necessitates feature subset selection to utilize the most discriminatory data from each source. Experimental results returned a false acceptance rate (FAR) of 0.0 and a worst case false rejection rate (FRR) of 0.0006, which were comparable to - and in some cases, slightly better than - other research using the cooperative paradigm."

During discussions with a number of conference attendees, Mark acquired further ideas and considerations to expand the research work he does in the school. Mark reports that overall he had a successful and productive time at the conference.

Combustion Researchers visit Dyno Nobel Asia-Pacific Facility

In late October, the Fire Safety and Combustion Kinetics research group, led by Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski and Dr Mohammednoor Altarawneh, visited the Dyno Nobel Asia Pacific facility, located at Mt Thorley, NSW, near Newcastle. This company is the industrial partner for the ARC-linkage project “Mitigation of NOx formed in blasting of ammonium nitrate explosives”.

Accompanying Professor Dlugogorski and Dr Altarawneh on the trip were postdoctoral researcher Dr Juita, along with postgraduate students Ibukun Oluwoye, Michael Opoku and Kamal Siddique. Another PhD student from the University of Newcastle, Joyeth Dorado, also joined the meeting and presentation.

The group delivered presentations on several aspects of the project to R&D staff of Dyno Nobel. Topics discussed included “Effects of Inorganic Salts on NOx Emission during Decomposition of Ammonium Nitrate”, “Mitigation of NOx with Pyrolysate Fragments of Solid Fuels” and “Surface Kinetics of High Internal Emulsion Phases”.

Dr Juita also illustrated the new laboratory facilities at Murdoch, including the sophisticated analytical apparatuses. Furthermore, in the meeting, the attendees also discussed the prospect of submitting a further ARC-linkage proposal in the upcoming application round.

Three Minute Thesis Final – Murdoch Entrant in the Top 10

Harshani Perera, a PhD candidate in Information Technology, recently competed at the trans-Tasman Final of the Three Minute Thesis competition, hosted by the University of Western Australia.

From the 48 finalists, Ms Perera finished in the top 10 – and it is believed that she is the first Murdoch student to achieve such a high ranking in the competition’s seven year history. Ms Perera's PhD research project focuses on computer analysis of EEG for detection of dyslexia, and she is working under the supervision of Associate Professor Kevin Wong and Dr Fairuz Shiratuddin.

Postgraduate Research Director, Associate Professor Gamini Senanayake remarked “This is very good news for our school and a good outcome for Harshani, in the first year of her enrolment in her PhD.”

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Harshani Perera presenting at the Trans-Tasman 3MT Final

Ms Perera had the following comments to make about the experience of competing in 3MT:

"3MT is a competition that challenges us PhD students to consolidate and present our research ideas in just 3 minutes to a non-specialist yet intelligent audience. I believe that 3MT is an excellent platform to communicate our research to a wider audience.

It was interesting to observe the lack of knowledge people had about dyslexics. People were fascinated by the simulation of dyslexia presented by me and they were in fact amazed to hear that great minds like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson were also dyslexic. Overall it was fabulous to see the amount of people interested in my research, which can give a better view of the disability to save millions of dyslexic children from a lifelong risk of illiteracy and social exclusion.

It was a privilege taking part in the 3MT Trans-Tasman Final 2014, finishing up at the Top 10 out of 48 Universities from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong and becoming the first Murdoch entrant ever to reach the Top 10. Most importantly, it was a pleasure meeting all these fantastic researchers around Australasia and the opportunity to learn about their excellent research.”

Harshani also gives her special thanks to Associate Professor Kevin Wong, Dr Mohd Fairuz Shiratuddin, Dale Banks,  Dr Madeleine Laming, Associate Professor Corinne Reid and Kelly Fullerton (from The Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation of WA) for the support provided for the competition and her research.

Australian Institute of Energy Scholarships for Murdoch Energy Studies Students

Two Murdoch PhD students were recently awarded scholarships by the Australian Institute of Energy (AIE) to support their travel to Melbourne to participate in the AIE National Postgraduate Student Energy Awards.

Mahdi Shahnazari Avval and Amir Bashirzadeh Tabrizi, PhD students in the field of Energy Studies, were selected by the Perth Branch Committee of the AIE to attend the AIE All-Energy Exhibition and Conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, October 15 – 16, and represent Western Australia in the national postgraduate poster competition as part of the Exhibition.

The two students were presented with their cheques at the Hyatt Regency during an AIE event on September 18th. The national exhibition was a great chance to showcase their PhD research as well as to build their network of contacts in the energy industry in Australia.

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Mahdi Shahnazari Avval and Amir Bashirzadeh Tabrizi

Murdoch Physics Student wins 2013 AIP Medal

Murdoch graduate Joel Schier has won the 2013 Australian Institute of Physics Student Medal. The Institute’s WA branch has introduced this new award to recognise the outstanding achievements of Physics students in WA.

Joel completed his degree in mid 2013, combining a Physics and Nanotechnology major with Biomedical Science. He was nominated for the award as the year’s most outstanding 3rd year student, having achieved an uninterrupted record of High Distinction results in his Physics units.

Joel will be presented with the AIP Medal at the Institute’s WA Branch AGM and dinner later this month.

News in Brief

- 24th Earth Sciences Meeting: Dr Darren Rowland, Postdoctoral Researcher in Chemistry, has recently returned from presenting at the 24th Earth Sciences meeting and conference, held at the Palais Beaumont in Pau, France.

- Our Academic Support Officer Leandra Corich will soon commence a secondment in the Space and Timetabling team. Leandra will be greatly missed by the School Admin team, but we congratulate her on her new challenge. We are pleased to announce though, that Emma Tristham will be stepping into Leandra’s role, and we hope she enjoys the challenge.