Queensland University of Technology
Electronic Materials for Tomorrow’s Technologies

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category:

SUMMARY

As a device physicist, I explore materials to investigate their electronic properties. With a focus on usability and sustainability, I particularly research materials that are inherently flexible and less toxic to the environment, to improve current and make future technologies better. By better understanding materials’ electronic behaviours, I design fundamental electronic components that can be used for soft, flexible, conformable, light weight, low power consuming, and easy to manufacture technologies. For example, soft sensors for detecting respiration rates, muscle movements, etc. In a typical week, I split my time between various activities. In addition to research, I prioritise time for teaching and developing the next generation of physicists, developing my leadership skills, and participating in communication and engagement activities. I find these extremely rewarding and as a bonus, they incite unique thoughts and perspectives that make my research stronger and more targeted to the world of today, and indeed, tomorrow.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Physics is all around us: it’s in everything we do and so many of the products we use to improve our lives on a daily basis. The components I create serve as platform devices that have extremely wide-ranging applications: printable organic LEDs that provide easier production of smart phone and television displays; biological sensing devices (biosensors), wearable biomedical devices, like patches that contain soft, flexible pressure sensors that measure respiration rates and muscle movements; and bioelectronic interface devices for integration of electronics with the human body. These technologies have global relevance, application and demand—my work supports their development and optimisation right here in Queensland.

My research is strongly aligned with two major sectors of Queensland: Advanced Manufacturing and Biotechnology [1]. 

ADVANCED MANUFACTURING: Considered a backbone to the economy, manufacturing is the third largest employer in Queensland. In 2014-2015, it directly contributed over $20 billion to the state’s economy [2]. The future of manufacturing is reliant on higher value and highly specialised manufacturing, such as smart devices and sensors, assisted technologies for an ageing society and biofabrication [3]. My research involves a variety of advanced materials to develop better electronic components with different functionalities. Social and economic demands also require greater efficiency and less toxic materials and production. My designs suit this, and as such, are industry friendly and highly attractive for advanced manufacturing of technologies. New knowledge and methodologies generated from my research contribute to Queensland remaining an advanced manufacturing hub.

BIOTECHNOLOGY: The platform electronic components I develop have wide-ranging applications in biotechnology. For example, salt sensors provide advanced, real-time point-of-care diagnostics, like dehydration level measured through sweat or electrolyte levels in the blood. These have many applications; one of which is improving the quality of care in aged care facilities. Those who have lost the ability to self-manage basic daily functions require constant monitoring and management. Incontinence, dehydration, and bed sores are very common. My work in salt and pressure sensors will enable sensing technologies that provide constant monitoring and alert carers when intervention is necessary, supporting better care in Queensland.

Other applications for wearable pressure sensors in biotechnology range from monitoring respiration rates, mapping swallowing motion for people suffering from dysphagia, and pressure mapping in footwear for podiatric investigations. 

OTHER SECTORS: Smart electronic devices that can interface with humans or other biological interfaces and have applications in technologies for defence, aviation and space, food and agriculture, health and medical, and environment and nature: all major science sectors of Queensland. 

I have brought industry and defence funding into Queensland to translate my work into real-world applications. 

Needless to say, with the prevalence of technology simply used for maintaining the modern-day lifestyles, my work is also helping to improve the quality of life of everyday Queenslanders on a daily basis.

1. https://science.des.qld.gov.au/research/sectors
2. https://science.des.qld.gov.au/research/sectors/advanced-manufacturing
3. https://cabinet.qld.gov.au/documents/2016/Dec/AdvMan/Attachments/Roadmap.PDF

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

The needs of today’s society are many, and diverse. It seems reasonable that a diverse critical mass working to address these challenges would be the best strategy. However, diversity is poorly reflected in STEM research—and very noticeably in physics. As a woman of colour happily, confidently, and successfully employed in physics, I am keenly aware of just how much influence I can have in promoting this field to others. I strive to play a substantial role in a much-needed evolution and changing story of female and ethnically diverse physicists. As such, I actively work to be seen making a difference in this space.  

In Australia, less than 10% of girls choose physics in high school [1]. That number falls further in tertiary education, and the trend continues: in one physics discipline (astronomy) assessed in Australia, it was found that 62% of women left the field between postdoc and assistant professor level, and a further 48% of those left before associate professor level [2]. To me, these are not just statistics—the reality is glaringly obvious. When I look across the room of undergraduate classes I teach, women are blatantly underrepresented; and when I walk down the halls of my own department, it is just me. The number of female physics academics across all Queensland universities are much lesser than number of male physics academics.

Yet, my journey is proof that following your passion can lead to a great job in an area of interest, and this is the story I share with others. I believe a person who has walked the path has more empathy towards the challenges faced by a junior in the same profession. I know that I can inspire young women and girls by showing them examples of where physics can take them. It has been shown that having mentors available to girls is effective in increasing their interest in STEM subjects [3]. I take every opportunity to mentor younger women and girls and help them realise their dreams. 

Through talking to girls in schools, I’ve learned that many of them gave up STEM subjects even though they found them very interesting. Most are worried about job prospects in the future. In reality, physics is an enabling subject that can lead to many successful careers. My conversations with others highlighted the urgent need for female mentors willing to support girls at different stages of their education and careers. This was my experience, too: a shared experience with a mentor made a huge difference in my perseverance and desire to stay in the field. However, with so few professional females in the field, finding female mentors who have successfully navigated the same challenges, and who are willing to share their stories, can be difficult. My willingness and capacity to provide mentorship is a genuine service that I am grateful to be able to offer to the next generation of female physicists, and the discipline of physics.

  1. https://aip.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1063/1.3137916, https://aip.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1063/1.5110078, https://aip.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1063/1.4794225
  2. https://theconversation.com/we-must-include-more-women-in-physics-it-would-help-the-whole-of-humanity-165096
  3. https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/girls-in-stem-the-importance-of-role-models/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7511552/
ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

Communication and outreach have always been priorities of mine. I embrace opportunities to connect with varied and diverse audiences, break down and articulate complex scientific concepts, and inspire future generations of STEM professionals. With understanding and consideration to the fact that every audience is different in many ways, I love developing analogies that utilise examples of the phenomena that my audience would experience in their everyday lives. Through my activities, I have interacted with >500 school students (across Australia, USA and remote India) and my interviews have reached thousands of people.  

Examples of my engagement activities include:

- ConocoPhillips Science Experience at QUT (2020, 2019, 2018): I was invited to give talks on STEM research and its impact on everyday lives. The effectiveness of my efforts is reflected in the fact that I was invited back for the same event. Through this forum, I was able to encourage ~100 year 9 and 10 students per year to take up STEM subjects. 

- QLD Rising Star, National Science Week, Townsville (2017): I travelled to remote QLD to promote STEM to audiences of different age groups. My tour included running science activities I had designed at Magnetic Island Primary School; taking part in a Q&A panel about careers in STEM to girls at Townsville State School; and a presentation to senior citizens at University for the Third Age on the impact of technology on everyday life. 

-  STEM Camps (2015, 2016): I hosted 16 Year 11 students from across QLD for a week, two years in a row. I designed activities and experiments to give the students a hands-on experience of working in a research laboratory. The activities were designed to show the relationship between lab research and end-user technology. Students made light emitting diodes (LEDs) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=334Yo2r4MQ8) and solar cells out of dyes sourced from colourful fruits and vegetables, such as beetroot, blueberry and strawberry.   

I have shared my story on being a woman in physics through: ‘Finding the Voices’ talk show (2019), a piece I wrote for Australian Physics magazine (2018), a talk for the National Youth Science Forum visit to QUT (2018), an interview for the Science Magazine Program, All India Radio Imphal (2018), the QUT Real Research Day (2016), and as a panellist on ‘At the cutting edge’, Women of the World Festival, Brisbane (2015), among others. I discussed my experience of transitioning into independent research as an early career researcher and provided tips, many of which I received from my mentors. These forums attracted diverse audiences, including general public and high school students, sometimes predominantly female, as well as field-specific audiences. 

I have given numerous talks at conferences and research seminars (e.g. 2017 Manufacturing with Advanced Materials Seminar Series). I have also served on conference organising committees and steering committees and been a guest/review editor for journals. I am an active member of Women in Technology. 

 

VIDEO