But success will rely on increased support from government and business, along with greater awareness from the general community.

Since joining IMEA, Rodan says she has developed a passionate desire to promote the fascinating work of professionals who are often engaged in the “back room” of workplaces carrying out research in laboratories or academic institutions.

“These are the people we turn to when there is a disaster or disruption to our lives,” she says.

“Materials experts are the ones who help us understand when a bridge or chairlift collapses and some other unexpected event occurs. We are jolted into facing the fact that the modern world we take for granted is very much a man made one that is fallible and things can go horribly wrong.

“In every aspect of the man made world there is someone who has invented the material, refined it, extended it, found new uses for it, or replaced it with something new.

"This process has created the wheel, the steam engine, the aeroplane, the computer, the microchip, the bionic ear, and is racing ahead with the current revolutions in micro and nano technologies as well as in the bio materials spheres. Without materials know how there would literally be no civilisations at all.”

Rodan, who has a Masters in Organisational Management, joined IMEA after many years experience in legal and financial organisations.  

“Just think of the Romans and their materials engineers who invented materials for building apartment blocks, aquaducts, and strong roads for their armies to march on and rule the world.

"Likewise every civilisation from the earliest times learned to work with metals and materials to create weapons, invent new medicines, and fashion new materials for building, military and cultural uses. 

“The industrial revolution in England created modern urban societies arising from the inventions of materials. The modern world is now accelerating even further with technological revolutions and synthetic materials including foods being developed in laboratories.”

Rodan sees positive collaboration as a key indicator of success with experts recognising the many advantages of working in teams to solve problems.

“Today medical and other advances are taking place with collaborations between disciplines that traditionally were seen as stand alone; such as dentistry, medicine, agribusiness, physics, chemistry and materials engineers to name a few.  

“Some simple examples include the use of the material titanium in tooth implants. Discovered by accident in experiments with dogs, it soon became apparent that titanium had the capacity to bond with bone and this eventually led to its use to form tooth implants far superior to traditional implants.

"Likewise hip replacement technology is using the combined know how of medicine and materials experts to develop artificial replacements that are less likely to fail. 

“The Australian Government has earmarked a number of areas in materials research as ones it wants to foster in this country. Bio materials is one and nanomaterials another.

Both are materials related as well as interdisciplinary. There are all kinds of opportunities as well as existing practical applications arising from both, and of course the most famous example is the successful cochlear implant story in Australia. 

“The cosmetics industry is already using nanomaterials in their beauty products to stave off ageing due to exposure to the sun. Before too long, the famous Australian zinc cream white streaks on summer faces will be no more.

"Nanomaterials are being used to create totally transparent creams that are effective against the sun, yet quite impossible to see.”

Household building materials are also being transformed using nanomaterials. The University of Technology in Sydney is part of a consortium, which is developing a house using nanomaterials.

The project is designed to promote the concepts of nanomaterials and their capabilities as future building materials for domestic use. 

Rodan believes all areas of materials technology in Australia could be better supported, especially when compared with the US, Europe, Japan and other Asian countries.

“It certainly is true that over the past forty to fifty years there have been shifts of emphasis from what could be termed the more traditional materials like iron and steel towards the newer and more synthetic kinds of materials, like light alloys, composites, polymers and so on – and of course now also towards the micro and nanomaterials.

"The reason for this is that as technology develops and progresses, and new inventions in materials technology become available, manufacturing shifts towards those materials. They are often cheaper, lighter or more flexible and durable.” 

Rodan says she would like to see better promotion in schools of materials research as an interesting career option. Universities are now merging materials departments with others as numbers of students decline. 

“Governments and university governing bodies are failing to address the shortages, and given that teaching materials engineering requires expensive equipment, they tend to favour cheaper and more popular tertiary courses like law, business and IT. 

“The long term view is not a promising one for Australia’s technological future as good students and researchers look overseas for lucrative research and development posts.

“Of course governments TALK about creating ‘high tech’ areas where Australia can shine and compete on an equal footing with overseas countries, but this happens in very few but highly publicised areas.

"The vast majority of materials research is poorly rewarded under funded and lacks recognition.”  

IMEA welcomes new members and can be contacted on www.mateng.asn.au

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