School of Engineering and IT

School of Engineering and Information Technology

Dean's Newsletter

September 2014

National Teaching Citation for our Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching

Congratulations to Danny Toohey, who was recently announced as a recipient of an Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. Danny was one of two citations achieved by Murdoch University academics.

Danny was awarded the citation for his sustained commitment to facilitating student engagement and improving learning outcomes in ICT through interaction with students via multiple channels and innovative approaches to assessment.

The OLT Citations were formally presented to Danny Toohey, along with Murdoch’s other winner Dr Ravi Tiwari from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, at a ceremony in Perth on September 18.

Vice Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award - Amy Glen

Our congratulations go to Dr Amy Glen, lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics, as a winner of the 2014 Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Dr Glen has been a teacher in higher education since 2001, starting out as a tutor in Mathematics and Statistics at The University of Adelaide, where she subsequently obtained her PhD in Pure Mathematics in 2006. From 2003–2005, Amy also taught at the secondary–tertiary interface in the Degree Transfer Program for international students at Bradford College in Adelaide. Since then, she has held lecturing positions at The University of Adelaide (2005–2006), Reykjavík University (Iceland, 2008), and Murdoch University (since 2009). Amy has taught at all university levels, from 1st year through to Honours (including postgraduate supervision), within areas of Pure and Applied Mathematics as well as Statistics. She is a passionate and dedicated teacher, thoughtful in her methodology and able to adapt as necessary to keep her students engaged and interested. She is also strongly engaged in research and she uses this knowledge to inform her teaching.

Dr Glen will receive a grant to help her to disseminate her work in learning and teaching to wider national and international communities, and to enhance her scholarship. The award winners were announced at the Murdoch University Learning Futures event on September 19.

SEIT Equipment Small Grant Scheme

The School has instituted an Equipment Small Grants scheme, aiming to provide support for the purchase of equipment to build and facilitate research and teaching activities in the School, leading towards high quality academic research and teaching outcomes. Grants of up $30,000 were recommended by the ESG Committee and approved by the School Dean. Up to 75% of the grant applications have been approved and funded. This is an encouraging enhancement of the teaching and research resources in the School.

Congratulations to the following staff who have secured grants under the Scheme in 2014:

  • Dr Kate Rowen secured funding to roll out “Mastering Chemistry” teaching software, currently used in OUA teaching, to a wider cohort of students in Fundamentals of Chemistry, thereby maximising efficiencies in the unit’s redevelopment.
  • Tina Oteri (Senior Technician) received funding to update analytical equipment used in Chemistry teaching and research, including an ageing density meter that is essential for teaching fundamental thermodynamic principles.
  • Andrew Foreman (Technical Manager) was granted funding for a Karl Fischer Auto titrator which will replace the old Metrohm Coulometer. This equipment is used in both research and teaching activities for low-level water determination.
  • Dr Kevin Lee and Dr Graham Mann in Information Technology received funding to purchase a heavy lifting drone and platform, to support the initiation of a project investigating the viability of self-organising delivery networks.
  • Dr Kevin Wong, along with Shri Rai, Fairuz Shiratuddin and Hong Xie, were awarded a grant to purchase an electroencephalography (EEG) device, for use in a range of games technology and 3D visual simulation teaching and research projects, such as the Driving Simulator, Natural User Interfaces and projects relating to dyslexia detection.
  • Dr Martin Anda, with Dr Linda Li and Dr Stewart Dallas (Adjunct), secured funding to set up a testing rig to demonstrate a range of functions of water recycling and greywater reuse, to demonstrate hydraulic principles to Environmental Engineering students, and to conduct research trials for final year thesis and HDR students.
  • Dr Terry Koziniec was awarded a grant to purchase equipment associated with a proposed study into the use of high frequency wireless networks as transmission medium for low power sensor networks.
  • Dr Zhong-Tao Jiang won a grant to purchase various equipment such as Spin-coater, 3-zone tube furnace, medium lab vacuum dry oven, precision weighting balances and Electron Deflection Tube equipment for use in the laboratory component of several Physics and Nanotechnology units, along with Honours and PhD research and external grant applications.

Three Minute Thesis Competition - Murdoch Success for "Dyslexia using EEG"

Harshani Perera, a PhD candidate in ICT under the supervision of Fairuz Shiratuddin and Kevin Wong, has won the Murdoch round of the Three Minute Thesis competition. She will now proceed to the Trans-Tasman 3MT final in early November at UWA.

Harshani both won the Murdoch round outright, as well as taking out the “People’s Choice” award, for her presentation on her research which focuses on developing and utilizing a new and improved framework for analysis and classification between dyslexics and non-dyslexics through a computer analysis of Electroencephalogram (EEG).

Dyslexia is a disability with a neurological origin, which causes difficulties in reading, writing and spelling despite normal or above average intelligence levels. It is a hidden disability which often goes undiagnosed, and sometimes even unrecognized by society because of its nature.

Dyslexia detection using EEG would complement the current manual dyslexia detection methods by introducing a more reliable input, ie brain wave patterns. The main reason for utilizing brain wave patterns is because the outcome cannot be falsified, unlike the conventional behavioural based dyslexia detection techniques (such as reading and writing skills). Therefore the outcome of this research could assist to fill in the existing gap in the conventional detection methods.

Universities, Schools, Language testing organizations and government organizations could benefit from this approach, since it can rule out deceivers who try to gain unfair advantage by pretending to be dyslexic and may help change society’s negative perception towards dyslexia.

Canstruction - Win for Murdoch at the Perth Science Festival

A team of Engineering students have won the WA University Canstruction competition, which took place as part of National Science week, on August 16 in the Perth Cultural Centre.

University Canstruction is supported by Engineers Australia, and is an innovative contest in which students studying architecture, engineering, construction and related areas are invited to design and build a creative structure made entirely of cans of food.

The structure designed and built by our students was a representation of the Engineering Pilot Plant and an operator, as they might appear in the popular video game Minecraft.

The structure was built from cans of food that were kindly supplied at a discounted cost by Cash & Carry in Canningvale. Following the contest, the food was donated to Foodbank WA, the largest hunger relief organisation in the state, to provide assistance to local people in need. Our team’s structure weighed in at an impressive 571kg, which equates to the provision of approximately 771 meals.

Special thanks to the team Ashen Seranghe Jayasinghe, Rowel De Paz, Jack Morris, Naotunna Thamindu Palliyaguru, Rodwell Nara and Charlie Foote, Jade Sciberras and Tim Meiri who provided supervision and assistance to the team.

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Nano engineering advances bone-forming material

Murdoch University nanotechnology researchers have successfully engineered synthetic materials which encouraged bone formation in sheep.

The advancement means the successful use of synthetic materials in bone grafts for human patients is a step closer. The material could also have potential future applications in fracture repair and reconstructive surgery.

Currently the patient’s own bone, donated bone or artificial materials are used for bone grafts but limitations with all these options have prompted researchers to investigate how synthetic materials can be enhanced.

Dr Eddy Poinern and his team from the Murdoch Applied Nanotechnology Research Group worked with powdered forms of the bio ceramic hydroxyapatite (HAP) to form pellets with a sponge-like structure which were then successfully implanted behind the shoulders of four sheep by collaborators from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences at Murdoch University.

HAP is already being used in a number of biomedical applications such as bone augmentation in dentistry because of its similarity to the inorganic mineral component of human bone. But treatments of HAP so that it can be successfully used in a bone graft have yet to be developed because of the complexities involved with compatibility and HAP’s load bearing limitations.

Dr Poinern and his team prepared pellets with varying density and porosity using a variety of chemical methods including sintering, ultrasound and microwaves. Four pellets were implanted into muscles in each of the sheep, later demonstrating good biocompatibility, including mixed cell colonization after four weeks and even new bone formation 12 weeks after the surgery.

“Using synthetic materials in this way is difficult and complicated because they need to be engineered to be porous and to replicate the various physical, chemical and mechanical properties found in natural bone tissue,” explained Dr Poinern.

“They also need to be non-toxic and have a degradation rate which will allow for cells from the host to steadily recolonize the area and permit the formation of blood vessels necessary for the delivery of nutrients to the forming bone tissues.

“We already knew that synthetic HAP was a good material to study for possible use in bone-related medicine, but we needed to find out if the pellets we’d engineered were biocompatible.

“Our results were very positive – our pellets acted as a scaffold for the growth of bone material, made possible because of its porous properties allowing cells to infiltrate.

“The pellets were also very cost effective to make.”

Although the study was small scale and originally intended to test the biocompatibility of the HAP pellets, the bone growth was beyond what the interdisciplinary team expected.

Associate Professor Martin Cake, who surgically implanted the pellets into the sheep, described the results as “stunning” and said they boded well for the use of engineered HAP in bone implants.

“This material begins as a powder that can be theoretically moulded to any shape, or perhaps one day even 3D printed, then sintered to harden it,” he said.

Associate Professor Phil Nicholls, who undertook the pathology in the study added: “It’s early days but we are hoping this work will help develop further collaborations both between our own schools, and with other institutions.

“It is an example of why we think the emerging health campus surrounding the new Fiona Stanley Hospital will be a real catalyst for translational research. There are few other places where this combination of capabilities is located on the one precinct.”

Dr Poinern said he was hoping to improve and match the physical and mechanical properties of the pellets with those of natural bone tissue in a new study.

“Once these properties have been achieved, further implantation studies will be carried out to establish the feasibility of using this scaffold for bone grafts,” he said.

Dr Poinern et al’s paper on the research was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal and can be read here.

Notes for editors

The implantation study was carried out in non pregnant Merino ewes with the approval of Murdoch University’s Animal Ethics Committee and all experiments were conducted in accordance with the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Code of Practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.

In accordance with the ethical principles of the Code, the sheep were simultaneously used in an unrelated trial involving surgery of the stifle joints.

After the pellets were removed, the sheep were humanely euthanased.

Mechanisms of pollutant formation in fires

Article by Gordon Ingram, written for IChemE’s WA Joint Chemical Engineering Committee newsletter.

You might have heard that “oils ain’t oils.” Well, Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski from Murdoch University argues that “fires ain’t fires.” Professor Dlugogorski, a specialist in fire and explosion chemistry, recently gave a presentation at Engineers Australia about the types and formation mechanisms of pollutants in fires.

He argued that there are marked differences between the well-controlled combustion processes in industrial equipment and those in accidental fires, and this means that the pollutants generated will be different too. Industrial combustion is high temperature, with a consistent fuel source, and good mixing of air and fuel, leading to essentially complete combustion. Post-combustion gas clean-up is also used. In contrast, uncontrolled fires are distinctly heterogeneous, having both high and low temperature regions and poor fuel-air mixing, with gases spending a long time in the combustion zone.

Consequently, fires tend to produce a lot of soot and ash, and incomplete combustion means that a wide spectrum of potentially toxic organic compounds is formed. Indeed, fire suppressants themselves generate further pollutants.

Post-combustion gaSAM_2219.jpgs clean-up is also used. In contrast, uncontrolled fires are distinctly heterogeneous, having both high and low temperature regions and poor fuel-air mixing, with gases spending a long time in the combustion zone. Consequently, fires tend to produce a lot of soot and ash, and incomplete combustion means that a wide spectrum of potentially toxic organic compounds is formed. Indeed, fire suppressants themselves generate further pollutants.

Professor Dlugogorski described some of his research work in the area, which ranges from experimental calorimetry studies to computational chemistry (CC). The CC techniques allow first principles prediction of intermediate chemical structures, thermochemical data and reaction rates. He emphasised that experimental work and CC go hand in hand, but chemistry is not the whole story— heat and mass transfer, fluid mechanics and mixing are also important. One of his medium term goals is to develop the mechanisms of fire chemistry to the extent that they can be incorporated into commercial software.

Nick Thompson presents at A Touch of Science

Dr Nik Thompson, Lecturer in Information Technology, gave a presentation at the Canning River Eco Education Centre, as part of a City of Canning community science expo titled "A Touch of Science".

The event, timed to coincide with the start of National Science Week, aims to engage people in the excitement and challenges of science. Last year over 2,500 people attended the event, which features interactive activities as well as speakers.

Dr Thompson discussed the future of technology with the underlying theme of "Science Fiction or Science Fact". Nik presented a number of inventions drawn straight from Science Fiction TV and involved the audience in discussing how these could be turned into reality. We then took this idea even further and discussed some magical creations from Harry Potter and I explained how science could even turn these things into reality, this was a big hit with the younger members of the crowd!

This event was engaging and successful, and led to many follow up questions and discussions after the presentation.

The Student Advisors: Who are we and what do we do?

The Student Advisors are a first port of call for students to meet and discuss any issues or difficulties that are impacting on their study.

The Advisors provide advice, support, information and referral to appropriate support services where necessary.

We are working closely with relevant staff to ensure we remain a useful point of contact for all our undergraduate students and a relevant resource for staff; for now and into the future.

Our focus is on improving student engagement, enhancing the student experience and assisting students’ with successful progression through their study program.
If your students express any of the following:

  • If they feel lost, confused and overwhelmed
  • Are struggling to keep up with the technical skills and competencies of the unit; particularly in the first year
  • They are feeling depressed, anxious or upset
  • They are struggling to manage their time and develop good study habits
  • They have unique learning needs that are creating extra difficulty
  • They feel isolated and disconnected from the student community
  • They need ESL support
  • Or if your students are experiencing financial difficulties

then please send them to the Student Advisors (SAs).

The list above is not exhaustive and we welcome all comments and feedback about what you would like to see from the role in the years ahead; either for yourself or your students.

Mandy Middle and Emer McKernan
SEIT Student Advisors
Science and Computing building, Level 2, Room 2.010

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Emeritus Professor Goen Ho's Collaborations in Zhejiang

Goen Ho, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Engineering, has recently returned from a fruitful time in exploring research and other collaboration opportunities at Zhejiang University, China. Professor Ho was hosted by Professor Weixiang Wu, Director of Institute for Environmental Science & Technology.

Professor Weixiang Wu and Emeritus Professor Goen Ho
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Zhejiang University is ranked 3rd amongst mainland Chinese universities and about 150 globally. It has a student population of about 50,000 with postgraduate research students forming around 40% of this.

As Visiting Professor, Goen Ho gave two public lectures and mentored 4 graduate students assisting them with polishing their papers for publication in international journals. At the end of the visit, Professor Wu expressed a desire to form research collaborations with Environmental Engineering at Murdoch University, in particular to conduct a joint workshop at an international conference on Sustainable Water Management, which will be hosted at Murdoch University at the end of November 2015.