Research in the Department of Engineering

The Department of Engineering is recognised nationally and internationally for its research.

The Australian Research Council’s Excellence in Research for Australia ranks our engineering research as above world standard and civil engineering research as well above world standard.

Department researchers are key players in several strategic initiatives in regional Victoria, including the Central Victorian Advanced Manufacturing initiative, and are involved in Cooperative Research Centres including SmartSat and SmartCrete.

Our research aligns with La Trobe’s Sustainable food and agriculture and Resilient environments and communities research themes.

Research areas

Our researchers work closely with industry to tackle the significant engineering problems of our time.

Our research is grouped into six key areas:

Area lead: Professor James Maxwell

Research in extreme engineered metals, ceramics and composites is driven by global needs for greater energy efficiency, sustainable materials use, and improved health and agriculture.

We address these needs by inventing advanced functional materials that enable the efficient production, storage and transmission of energy. We also create materials with extreme properties that enhance function while minimising material or energy waste. And, we conduct applied research, developing advanced bio-inorganic interfaces, cybernetic organisms, and self-replicating systems; devices that allow us to interact directly with the living world around us.

Our fundamental research focuses on creating new processes in advanced materials and manufacturing. For example, we investigate materials under extreme conditions, at ultra-high pressures or on ultra-short timescales, and we conduct experiments that lead to next-generation materials though massively-parallel materials discovery.

Area lead: Professor Hossam Aboel Naga

Over the last three decades, geotechnical engineering research applications have been expanded to include geoenvironmental and geoenergy challenges.

These challenges include designing containment or barrier systems to protect ground water from possible contamination by industrial and municipal waste; remediation of contaminated ground; mitigating the effects of climate change on infrastructure; harvesting shallow geothermal energy using deep foundations; and consolidating soft ground using thermal or chemical processes.

Our team contribute to this research area by exploring soil behaviour under multi-coupled physical/chemical actions.

We investigate the behaviour of saturated and unsaturated soils under different multi-coupled physical/chemical actions. We also undertake constitutive modelling, make advances in experimental techniques, and research heat and mass transfer through soil.

We work on ground improvement using chemical or thermal processes, and optimise underground structures including foundations, walls and tunnels, and engineer clay barriers.

Area lead: Associate Professor Ing Kong

Research on advanced polymer composites is being driven by a demand for new materials that can be used in cutting-edge technologies.

Our team is dedicated to both fundamental scientific and industrial oriented research, focusing on the design, creation, processing and performance of advanced polymer and functional composite materials.

Our research has applications in the biomedical, automotive, aerospace and defence industries.

We have expertise in functional polymer nanocomposites used in antibacterial, biocompatible, self-cleaning, stimuli-responsive and conductive solutions. We work on biodegradable polymer nanocomposites used for tissue engineering and bioinspired composites.

Our researchers also specialise in 3D printing of polymers and composites, 3D bioprinting of tissues, and development of polymer composites from waste materials, industry by-products and renewable resources.

Area lead: Dr Robert Ross

Robotics is no longer science fiction. Today, it has become an essential tool to perform repetitive, dangerous and dirty jobs across many industries.

At the same time, there is an increasing need for industry to make decisions based on accurate, timely and appropriate sensor data. In many cases, these fields overlap, with robots becoming a sensor platform to collect and analyse data.

Our team is dedicated to developing and using functional prototypes for industry. We have developed robotic systems for condition assessment within sewers, exploratory robots within wombat burrows, real time underwater image enhancement, Internet of Things for wildlife and pest control, and agricultural robotic pruning systems. We use our mechanical (3D printing, abrasive waterjet, laser and milling) and electronic (embedded design and PCB fabrication) prototyping capabilities to bring ideas to reality.

Area lead: Associate Professor Thuc Vo

Rapid developments in technology mean that it is now common to use composite structures, or laminated, functionally graded materials, in micro/nanoelectromechanical systems. These materials play a key role in communications, automated manufacturing and defence.

Our research team use computational methods to develop micro/nano structures for industry purposes.

We also specialise in using machine learning models in civil engineering. These models provide alternative design parameters when testing is not possible, reducing the time and effort spent in experiments and increasing the efficiency of many structural engineering applications.

Our researchers are experts in finite element methods and isogeometric analysis. We model and simulate laminated structures for size effects, predict structural response and performance using machine learning models, interpret experimental data, and formulate machine learning models to predict material properties.

Area lead: Dr Peter Moar

The digital age relies on the ability of experts to design, develop, test and deploy complex digital systems that underpin contemporary products and services.

Our research team has three decades of experience creating and deploying autonomous reconfigurable systems that operate in remote and hazardous environments – from outback Australia, to Antarctica, and space itself.

We have designed, installed and continue to operate a digital radar and radio system, known as TIGER, that detects and monitors space weather and the state of oceans.

We have delivered successful space qualified sub-systems for global space instrumentation missions, and used the imagery for monitoring the Earth’s delicate ecosystem.

We design space qualified instrumentation for space missions (including high-speed and high-power radio frequency), field-programmable gate array processing using artificial intelligence, real time signal processing, phased arrays and antenna design, and electromagnetic design.

Photo of Professor James Maxwell

La Trobe University provides the necessary environment for important discoveries to be made. It is a place where students and researchers can be creative, and try out new ideas that will profoundly improve the future of humankind.

Professor James Maxwell
Department of Engineering

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