Go Girls are Go for Global Hacking Challenge

Hackathon brainstormingThe International Women’s Hackathon is an annual event held on university campuses around the world, empowering women to become leaders in computer science and solve challenges affecting women.

“In my Computing and IT classes, I can see there are very few girls compared to boys. I see women who could have flourished in STEM fields choose other fields. They believe that they somehow do not belong in STEM,” says Nitika Mathur, University of Melbourne coordinator of the Hackathon and current Master of Science (Computer Science) student.

To combat gender stereotypes and expectations, the Hackathon used the theme of women in STEM to guide their programming projects. By developing a website which facilitated mentoring for girls in STEM, one team addressed the lack of role models in STEM disciplines. Other projects tackled youth issues, creating an iPhone game that challenges users’ ability to drive a car while texting. This game raises awareness about the difficulty and danger of using mobile phones while driving.

“I’d definitely call it a success. Participants learn a lot, interact with each other and can build their network. They had a lot of fun and were proud of what they had accomplished over the weekend,” says Nitika.

Despite the computing and information science focus, the Hackathon was also open to students with little programming experience. “Some were apprehensive about the project, but they were still able to contribute a lot to their team. A commerce student later told me that she was glad she decided to participate. If it wasn’t for the focus on women, she would never have participated in a hackathon,” says Nitika.

The success of the Hackathon was also evident in the event’s growth, attracting a greater number of female hackers than last year. In 2013, the event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. This year, the Hackathon grew to include 85 campuses in 13 countries, and an estimated 2000 participants.

In the University of Melbourne division of the Hackathon, Women in ICT Society with the help of IEEE Women in Engineering student affinity group organised the event, with additional sponsorship from the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) and the Department of Computing and Information Systems (CIS).


Full steam ahead for Robogals CEO Nicole Brown

Bachelor of Science (Civil Systems) student Nicole Brown never imagined she would be overseeing an international organisation by the age of 21. Yet now she is Global CEO of Robogals, an organisation on a worldwide mission to change the gender imbalance in the engineering profession.

Headquartered at The University of Melbourne, Robogals was founded by Engineering graduate and former Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng. Nicole took on the Global CEO role in 2013. As CEO, Nicole oversees an international network of volunteers who visit schools and inspire girls to take on careers in engineering, science and technology.

Nicole said that the new role brought with it a steep learning curve.

“Taking over the role from Marita was quite a big step but I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

“I love the opportunity to promote women in engineering and the chance to empower girls to do something that is not traditionally advertised toward them.”

“I’m learning so much more then I thought I would in a million years, especially at this age. It is daunting, but I have a really good team around me; a team of university students who share the same passion I do and who are working together to make a difference.”

Nicole is currently presiding over a period of unprecedented growth for the organisation. She said the rate of growth had been unexpected, with a large number of contacts from universities around the world getting in touch with her in order to start new Robogals chapters.

“We’ve currently doubled our chapter base in the UK, which is really impressive.”

“We’re one step away from starting chapters in the Philippines and Cape Town in South Africa, as well as about seven other universities around the world.”

Nicole said that she loved the opportunity to meet students from around the world who were passionate about increasing the participation of women in the engineering field. She also said it was not only engineering students who were now joining Robogals.

“We currently have members who are Arts students that are studying to be teachers, we have artificial intelligence students in the UK and others in America that are studying to be astronauts.”

Nicole said that she came to engineering by accident, that throughout high school she was initially planning to study physiotherapy. However during an aptitude test she found she enjoyed working with shapes and orientation. Her careers counselor asked Nicole if she had considered engineering.

“From there I never looked back,” she said.

Nicole said that she was initially unsure of which area of engineering she wanted to specialise in, and that as such, she loved the opportunities offered by a Science degree at Melbourne.

“I thought I could do the Bachelor of Science at Melbourne because it gives me that opportunity to try different things. I was able to continue French for two years and to do a management subject.”

Nicole was also able to secure a Women in Engineering, ‘Dream Big’ cadetship at the Melbourne office of engineering firm Brown Consulting, which offered her real world experience in many different areas of engineering, from Civil, to Town Planning and Surveying.

Nicole soon discovered that Structural Engineering is her area of interest. She will soon embark on her Master of Engineering (Structural) at The Melbourne School of Engineering, all while continuing on as Robogals CEO alongside her work at Brown Consulting.

Nicole said that her Robogals experience has inspired her to pursue a managerial career in engineering, and to continue working with Robogals, and on women in engineering initiatives once her tenure as CEO is finished at the end of 2015.

“Robogals has been invaluable. I’ve learnt so much about things I had never imagined.”

“I’ve seen that all the countries we work in are at different stages in their understanding of opportunities for women in engineering.”

“In my opinion Australia is in one of the best situations. Many companies are now accepting the fact that there is a lot of potential for female engineers and we need to do something to increase awareness and opportunities for women.”

To find out more about Robogals, visit http://www.robogals.org/

Cardiac quest: Insights from stimulating the heart’s geometry and function

Professor Edmund Crampin
Professor Edmund Crampin

Professor Edmund Crampin discusses his research into creating a computational model of the human heart with Dr Shane Huntington in the latest edition of UpClose,  entitled “Cardiac quest: Insights from simulating the heart’s geometry and function”.

Professor Crampin is the Rowden White Chair of Systems and Computational Biology at the University of Melbourne, where he is Director of the Systems Biology Laboratory at the Melbourne School of Engineering, as well as being an Adjunct Professor in the Faculties of Science and Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

His research uses mathematical and computer modeling to investigate regulatory processes and pathways underlying complex human diseases. Current research projects in the Systems Biology Lab focus on building mathematical models of heart cells to understand the development of heart disease, and developing computational approaches to study the network of molecular interactions underlying the development of cancer. The Lab is also involved in projects in biosensor design, biomarker identification, and development of computational tools and standards for integrative systems biology.

Read the transcript or download the mp3 online.

3D Printing could be in a cafe near you

3D printing; house of cards; plastic; machine; MAP; Katie Ewing; Jin Png; Meet3DIn 1436, we had the Gutenberg Printing Press. We could produce large amounts of writing cheaply and quickly. In 2014, we have 3D printing. We can now produce three-dimensional figures cheaply and quickly, based on computerised models. You could create a replica of your favourite sculpture. You could print a three-dimensional model of your business logo. Or maybe you have a passion for creativity and would like a new way to create your own jewellery. The applications of 3D printing are boundless. Despite this, many people are still unaware of this emerging technology.

Katie Ewing and Jin Png, founders of Meet3D, aim to change this.

“People may have heard about 3D printing, but have never seen a printer live. We’re establishing a simple and fun on-ramp to the world of 3D printing,” says Katie.

By showcasing 3D printing in Melbourne cafes, Katie and Jin hope to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology. “With Meet3D, anyone who grabs a coffee or eats brunch in a café can learn about 3D printing,” says Jin.

Recently, the pair demonstrated 3D printing in conjunction with the University of Melbourne’s House of Cards. Producing Rodin’s Thinker, the café’s personalized logo and many other models, students and staff were fascinated by the technology. In early May, Meet3D will showcase 3D printing with Kere Kere in Southbank, where Katie and Jin hope to reach a broader crowd, including professional workers and tourists.

Currently, Katie and Jin are applying for the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), which helps budding entrepreneurs get innovative ideas off the ground and into the marketplace. By providing financial support, mentoring and networking opportunities, MAP is a unique way to help small businesses find success.

“MAP will help us realize our business and become better entrepreneurs. There is a lot that goes into a business and MAP is teaching us how to do this,” says Katie. The team receives support from Paul Mignone and the ITS Research Department. Empowering people to become ‘digital blacksmiths.’ They hold drop-in sessions every Monday for people interested in learning more about 3D printing.


Climate change public seminar – IPCC Working Group III: What’s in it for Australia?

Head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Professor Sandra Kentish will joint a panel of experts to discuss climate change at a free public seminar, entitled IPCC Working Group III: What’s in it for Australia to be held on Thursday May 8, 2014, 6.30 – 8.15pm in the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Theatre, Professor’s Walk, Arts West Building, the University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus.

Other speakers will  include: Dr Roger Dargaville, Energy Systems Analyst, Melbourne Energy Institute, Associate Professor Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, Dr Damon Honnery, Faculty of Engineering, Monash University and Professor Ross Garnaut, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow and Professorial Fellow in Economics, the University of Melbourne.

The seminar will draw on the latest publication of the IPCC Working Group III, ‘Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change’.

The report presents all “relevant options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere”.

Presentations and Q&A will address its key findings and what they mean for Australia.

This is the first of a series of events in the Climate and Energy Seminar Series hosted by the Australian-German College of Climate and Energy Transitions, in partnership with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and the Melbourne Energy Institute.

Please register your attendance online.


MSE alumni win Fullbright Scholarships to study in US

Dr Dean Freestone will travel to Colombia University in New York to further his research in epilepsy control.
Dr Dean Freestone will travel to Colombia University in New York to further his research in epilepsy control.

Two of the Melbourne School of Engineering’s alumni have won Fullbright Scholarships to undertake professional development in the United States.

Water resource manager Dr Tony McLeod has received a Fulbright Senior Scholarship. He will compare the water management challenges of the Colorado and Murray Darling river basins at the Getches-Wilkinson Centre for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Dr McLeod completed his Bachelors and PhD in engineering at the University of Melbourne and is a General Manager at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in Canberra. Dr McLeod said that the systems share many challenges and opportunities and he will work to prepare an analysis that will inform policy in both the US and Australia.

Biomedical Engineer, Dr Dean Freestone, has received Victoria’s Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar. He will further his research into controlling epilepsy using electrical stimulation.

Dr Freestone graduated with a PhD in Engineering from the University of Melbourne in 2012. He is now working with St Vincent Hospital’s Department of Medicine and with the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

“The scholarships support recipients for professional development in the United States, up to the value of $40,000. University of Melbourne’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Engagement) Sue Elliott said that the scholarships highlight the University of Melbourne’s world-class research and global focus.

“Fulbright Scholarships support outstanding graduates and recognise the potential international impact of their research aspirations.”

Can we still make things? – the future of manufacturing

In this month’s edition of Voice, Annie Rahilly and Zoe Nikakis ask engineering experts what manufacturing in Australia will look like in the future. The answer is firmly: hi-tech, collaborative and innvotion-based.

Australia, and Victoria in particular, have long been places that make things. From the massive Ford plant in Geelong to Ardmona tomatoes and SPC canned peaches, to boutique clothing operations like Queensland’s Black Milk, manufacturing and the encouragement to ‘buy Australian’ has always been part of the nation’s cultural identity.

It’s an expensive way to be proudly Australian though, and the costs are increasingly making Australian manufacturing unviable.

Dr Colin Burvill from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Mechanical Engineering says the future of Australian manufacturing, and engineering more broadly, relies strongly in what he calls “continuous innovation”.

“Innovation, invention and the associated design skills that enable practical realisation are crucial to retaining local manufacturing,” he says.

“We are losing the major automotives from Victoria and while this is problematic, the concern should be for the workforces. In particular, the highly trained people whose skills should not be lost, whether those skills are used directly in other industries or to assist the training of the next generation.

Paul Minty from the Melbourne School of Engineering (MSE) says a competitive manufacturing sector is still viable.

“Two people may buy the same machine but one asks, how can I make this machine operate better? How can I optimise its performance? This is innovation. Having an idea and realising it.

“Australia has a full range of such innovation skills to offer. At MSE, staff build the machines, apply them to manufacture and understand how the equipment will work.

“In the quest to improve quality, manufacturers can increase volume and shorten the time to market. In my associations with industry, I have seen how clever manufacturers invest in upgrading machinery and tools to increase batch runs that result in products being made quicker and cheaper,” he says.

“By going back to the essence of engineering, small businesses can adopt new tools and technology with positive results. Engaging with new research is key to this continuous improvement.”

Dr Alan Smith is the senior manufacturing lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. He agrees there is an imperative for engineers, and particularly the future engineers he teaches, to change and adapt throughout their careers.

“As engineers, invention is part of what we do and it is all wrapped in disciplines and systems,” he says.

“We must retain our expertise to keep improvement going through product innovation, invention and design.”

To change the ways engineers and manufacturers innovate and invent new methods, first the way in which they are taught must change.

This future, where students must be innovators and inventors as well as specialists in specific disciplines, is one the University of Melbourne is actively pursuing by changing the ways in which it teaches students.

Successful innovation and invention also means supporting different ways of undertaking research projects.

At Melbourne, research innovation, not just in manufacturing but also across sustainability and resilience challenges and other complex global problems is increasingly being explored by collaborative teams of experts from across different faculties.

Where once a project may have been solely engineering’s territory, to be truly innovative now requires multi-disciplinary teams comprising experts from faculties as diverse as Information and Computer Technology, Science and Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

The University is in many ways supporting this new way of working on multi-disciplinary projects, and the teams required to undertake them, including by creating a new facility designed from the ground up for this purpose.

The project, known as the Carlton Connect Initiative, will help accelerate the transition to the economy of the future, says Project Director Charlie Day.

“Victoria is moving from a product-based economy to a knowledge-based economy,” he says.

“The sustainability challenges around issues such as water, energy, food and liveable cities are areas in which we have globally-recognised strengths, and we need to think about how to build on those.

“We are planning to co-locate academics with industry and government experts to work collaboratively to drive innovation in these fields.”

Mr Day says to successfully nurture these future innovators, partners are needed to help with the translation of ideas into reality.

“If we get this right now, it will create the opportunities for the new businesses that will underpin our future prosperity,” he says.

“Companies must not be afraid to engage with engineers; they can learn from being on the ground in industry gaining practical experience and industry can learn from engineers about problem-solving.”

Mr Day says implementing an equal exchange system between universities and industry is a plan worth considering.

“The benefits are positive as overseas programs have demonstrated,” he says.

“But research and industry need to be matched. Industry doesn’t need raw scientific research but research that connects with them. Better links are needed.”

One of the great developments in manufacturing in the past few years, 3D printing, was a result of industry-engineering alliances, and has already resulted in advanced manufacturing practices.

“Academics are forced to focus 15 years into the future. Industry is forced to look at next week’s problem, Mr Day says.

“Structurally we need to look half way.”

The article, “Can we still make things’, by Annie Rahilly and Zoe Nikakis, first appeared in Voice, Volume 10 Number 4, April 14 – May 11 2014.

Using crowdsourcing to boost EV battery system invention

Electrical and Electronic Engineering PhD student Valentin Muenzel and his supervision team have launched a crowdsourcing initiative to maximise the impact of an invention for a highly advanced battery system for electric cars.

Through a collaboration with ideas crowdsourcing start-up Marblar, Valentin and his supervisors Iven Mareels, Doreen Thomas, Marcus Brazil and Julian de Hoog are offering bright and creative minds the opportunity to contribute towards improving the technology itself as well as finding alternative applications for it.

In addition to the thrill of turning cutting-edge research into innovative and world-changing products, Marblar supporters also earn digital marbles that allow them to share in the financial rewards, if the technology becomes a commercial success.

The underlying battery system technology invented by the Melbourne School of Engineering researchers represents a novel approach to integrating the hundreds or thousands of individual lithium-ion battery cells that form the basis for large battery packs widely used in applications such as electric cars or stationary energy storage.

Conventional battery systems represent a weakest-link type problem, whereby the weakest battery cell limits the energy capacity of the entire system. By allowing each individual battery cell to be dynamically switched between being connected to the main power side, a secondary side or disconnected altogether, it is possible to overcome this weakest-link type issue and notably increase the useful capacity of the system.

The system allows electric vehicle manufacturers to discard the traditional 12V car battery, which in current electric vehicles is still required for backup purposes, providing weight and cost savings.

Any interested undergraduate or graduate students, alumni or other creative thinkers can read about and contribute to the technology on the Marblar.

Katherine Frase discusses digital content in education

Fundamentally, we all want the same thing when it comes to education and our children. How do we encourage young people to get the best education for their future careers? What role does digital content have to play?

In the first Dean’s Engineering and IT Public Lecture for 2014, Dr Katherine Frase discusses the potential of digital content to drive better learning outcomes. As Vice President and Chief Technology Officer in IBM’s Public Sector, Dr Frase offers real-life examples and insightful interpretations concerning technology and education.

By using the controversial example of technology in an educational setting, Dr Frase outlines how digital content is becoming the norm in the classroom.

“Students are not expecting to unplug themselves when they arrive at school. Instead, we can use digital power to predict student needs and communicate with them in an engaging manner,” she says.

Combining this with an increased ability to monitor and anticipate student needs, Dr Frase asserts instructors and teachers are better positioned than ever to drive better learning outcomes and advance their students’ future.

Presented by thought-leaders, industry experts and senior academic staff, the Dean’s Engineering and IT Public Lecture series are designed to stimulate public interest while debating the future of engineering, information and technology in relation to society.

Dr Tuan Ngo’s team wins national Defence Materials Technology Centre award

Dr Tuan Ngo and his team
Dr Tuan Ngo and his team

Dr Tuan Ngo from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering and his research team have taken out a national award for their work in creating new protective materials to enhance the safety of military vehicles.

The Capability Improvement Award was presented at the recent Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) conference in Canberra on 26 March. The prize was awarded for the team’s Armour Applications Program, focusing on developing new materials and optimised systems to enhance blast and ballistic protection as well as mobility of the Bushmaster and Hawkei military vehicles.

The team has developed novel material testing and characterisation techniques and a multi-scale simulation framework for modelling ultra-high strength armour materials and vehicle structural components subjected to extreme mine blasts and ballistic attacks.
The group has been working in close collaboration with industry partners, the Thales Group, to develop a unique structural optimisation algorithm to reduce weight and increase mobility for military vehicles. Dr Ngo has also developed new innovative hybrid composite structures which can significantly enhance the protection of vehicles, structures and humans against shocks and impacts.

The team also includes University of Wollongong, DSTO, ANSTO, Blue Scope Steel, Bisalloy and Swinburne University.

At the conference, Federal Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert, also announced an extension of funding for three years, for the DMTC, of which the University of Melbourne is core participant.

“This will enable the DMTC to continue to drive the creation of Australian industry capability and Australian jobs in advanced manufacturing and associated technologies,” Mr Robert said.

The DMTC assists Australian defence industry to develop world leading technology, which provides Australian industry with the potential to compete in the global defence marketplace.

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