Materials for the 21st Century: The 2015 Theo Murphy Australian Frontiers of Science Symposium

Adam Micolich, PhD
Head of Nanoelectronics Group
School of Physics
UNSW Australia

The 2015 Theo Murphy Australian Frontiers of Science symposium focused on Materials for the 21st Century—From design to application, and was held in Melbourne on 9-11 December. This is one of two series of events funded by the Theo Murphy (Australia) Fund with the aim of bringing together the best young scientists to build community and discuss the latest advances in their field. This was the fourth in the Frontiers series and the first devoted to materials science and engineering, a diverse topic that attracts scientists from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds.

The three day meeting began with an interesting workshop given by Tanya Ha, on communicating science to non-scientists with a focus on short introductory pitches to industry representatives. This was a great prelude to an industry engagement, poster session and cocktail reception held in the evening, which offered a chance to make new contacts in the Australian business community and learn about the interests of other delegates at the meeting.

The following two days featured eight scientific sessions on topics ranging from materials for energy and the environment and computer-aided materials design to soft matter and biomaterials and advanced manufacturing. Each session had three talks by delegates followed by longer Q&A style panel discussions exploring issues around the session topic and key associated opportunities. These panel discussions motivated some lively discussions in coffee breaks, and led to some interesting new connections and ideas for collaborative projects among the delegates.

One of the eight sessions was devoted to the important topic of gender equity in materials science and engineering. The session featured talks by Dr Nicola Gaston, author of a recent book Why Science is Sexist, and Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea from the steering committee of the Academy’s Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative. The panel discussion afterwards highlighted a number of the issues facing women in materials research and touched on several paths toward increasing productivity by enhancing the diversity of our scientific workforce.

A highlight of the meeting was the symposium dinner held at Melbourne zoo, which included watching the zoo’s Sumatran tigers feast on some rare local beef during pre-dinner drinks. The keeper gave some interesting insights into tigers and the joys of looking after them, and demonstrated her excellent throwing arm, managing to catch one of the tigers by surprise with a flying fillet to the forehead (the tiger was rather happy with the unanticipated arrival). Professor Veena Sahajwalla gave the after-dinner speech talking about her career, the importance of working with people you like, and the challenges of juggling a happy life with a busy job.

Overall, the meeting was a great opportunity for the 71 delegates to learn about research at the frontiers of materials science and engineering and make new connections with young scientists with allied research interests from across the country. The latter is particularly vital to ensuring that materials science remains a strong contributor to innovation and economic output in Australia.

© 2021 Australian Academy of Science