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Research and research culture

Industry connections

Since its establishment, Monash Engineering has had a close relationship with industry. Evidence of this can be found in some of Foundation Dean Ken Hunt’s earliest annual reports. While summarising the activities of 1963, Hunt remarked that the services of several members of his staff were sought as technical consultants to outside organisations. This interaction between Engineering Faculty staff and industry practitioners shaped much of the early research undertaken by the Faculty of Engineering. In 1965 Hunt reported that ‘numerous research colloquia have proved very successful, and sometimes controversial, and have attracted many, as visitors and participants, from outside the University.’. Not only was the number of publications that the Faculty was producing each year growing rapidly, but Engineering at Monash was building a strong reputation within industry.

The strong connection between the early Engineering Faculty and industry is at least partially explained by the reality that many of the early staff came to the Faculty directly from industry. Speaking of the early staff of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Frank Lawson commented that ‘the first few people appointed to the department were Harry Lehrer from the chemical industry, John Agnew from the petroleum industry, myself from the metallurgical industry’. He noted that of the first four staff who comprised the Department of Chemical Engineering in 1963, there was only one PhD holder between them. Lawson points out that this reflected the reality that many of the early appointments to the Faculty came to Monash from industry rather than from academia. This had important implications in terms of the way research was carried out as well as the strong links that existed between Monash Engineering and industry.

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Collaboration with mining industry (audio)

Many of the research projects in which the Faculty engaged arose from problems and issues that were identified in an industrial context. Because of their strong connections with industry, individuals in the Faculty were looked towards to explore these problems and ultimately, via research, to propose solutions. For example, problems identified by the mining industry directed much of the research that Frank Lawson undertook during his early years at Monash. 

David Boger is an example of another academic staff member within the Faculty whose research was also, at one particular time, driven by a problem identified by industry. Boger recalls how a colleague and friend working at ICI called him one day and said, ‘Some Alcoa people have arrived here with a problem and I think you might be able to help them.’ The issue was related to a problem the aluminum company Alcoa was experiencing with their waste production. For Boger, that phone call altered the course of his research. Boger began consulting to Alcoa and then, along with one of his research students, developed a ‘dewatering’ process that was central to dealing with the waste problem Alcoa had identified. Eventually, Alcoa implemented the process Boger and his team had researched and developed. As Boger recalls, ‘our part in that was the science and establishing the feasibility of doing it. They went and did it and spent millions of dollars doing it.’ It was this type of interaction – where industry identified problems and partnered with the Engineering Faculty to address them and implement solutions – that characterised a significant amount of the research undertaken within the Faculty.

This problem solving relationship was the earliest form of collaboration between the Faculty of Engineering and industry. It is an important relationship that continued to consolidate as the Faculty expanded. In the late 1980s when the findings of the review committee into engineering education across Australia were released in the form of the Williams Report, Monash Engineering fared particularly well in terms of its research and its connection with industry.

Industry groups consistently looked to Monash Engineering for solutions and assistance and to form partnerships to explore specific problems. For example the research activity of the Institute for Transport Studies has been an important point of collaboration between Monash and various industry and government groups. Originally formed with the appointment of Ken Ogden in 1969, this research group, which is part of the Department of Civil Engineering, has been critical in undertaking research in the fields of transport technology, travel behaviour, road safety and transport/traffic engineering. The application of this research to the transport industry as well as to government and regulatory bodies has been hugely significant for all involved in the collaboration as well as for the wider community.

There are many other current examples of the important research collaborations between the Faculty of Engineering and industry groups as well as areas of research that have clear applications in a practical context. Over the 50 years of Engineering at Monash, the breadth and depth of these areas of research has expanded exponentially. This can be seen in the current research projects, strengths and interests of each of the Faculty’s departments:

Biological Engineering 

Department of Chemical Engineering

Department of Civil Engineering

Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering

Department of Materials Engineering 

Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

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