Fabricating the future


A research collaboration between Monash and the CSIRO is pushing new boundaries in engineering, a trend set to increase with a new multi-million dollar venture at the Clayton campus.

I t's a topsy-turvy world at the cutting edge of Monash University materials engineering. Light and relatively soft metals are being hardened up -- and the brittle made ductile.

Witness, for example, a piece of nano-structured magnesium that researcher Dr Rimma Lapovok uses to impress would-be students -- it's stretched thin like a piece of well-chewed gum.

However the serious stuff involves reconfiguring already useful titanium into a super-metal for medical implants. The working partnership of Dr Lapovok and joint CSIRO/Monash researcher Professor Yuri Estrin is turning it into a new nano-structured material that holds great hopes for medical implants.

Collaborations like this between Australia's premier scientific organisation and Monash is set to expand through a new venture that will define the future of manufacturing in Australia.

A $175 million New Horizons centre is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to co-locate and integrate around 300 Monash staff with 150 researchers from the CSIRO in a new building in the engineering precinct of the Clayton campus.

Scheduled to open in 2012 New Horizons aims to transform manufacturing in areas like biomedicine, transport, aerospace and mineral processing.

Already Professor Estrin and Dr Lapovok's work has created titanium twice as strong, more capable of resisting load, and crucially, more compatible with human cells.

In early tests it has been shown bone-forming cells grow several times faster across the titanium than over standard material, a result that points to extremely valuable uses in biomedical implants. The material could reduce the size of existing screws used in tooth implants (pictured), possibly in ear implants and later, new hip joints. Operations would then be less invasive and patient recovery quicker.

Professor Estrin has also forged links with Korea and Germany around the work, which will demonstrate in microcosm the sort of collaborative value being foreseen in the New Horizons project. It's no surprise that Professor Estrin and Dr Lapovok will be working there.

For information on New Horizons contact Professor Mark Wainwright at mark.wainwright@adm.monash.edu.au.