by Anne Sarzin
In a unique inaugural project, the University of Sydney will encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school children to consider engineering as a career.
Funded by a $15,000 grant from the Federal Department of Industry, Science and Tourism, more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Year 10 from schools throughout Australia will attend an Engineering summer school to be held in January next year. They will stay in Sancta Sophia College, meet staff, attend lectures and conduct experiments.
"We want to inform them and get them excited about engineering," said the new Dean of Engineering, Professor Judy Raper. "This project will enable us to broaden our own horizons, opening up engineering to the wider community".
Professor Raper, who until recently served as Acting Dean of Applied Science and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of New South Wales, commenced her new duties in July at Sydney.
She believes that a successful deanship will depend on good people and time management, as well as progression in her own research. "Being Dean is daunting but not overwhelming. Iím quite robust," she commented. "Thereís a lot of goodwill and enthusiasm, which I hope to harness for the good of the Faculty."
As the first woman to be appointed Dean of Engineering at Sydney, Professor Raper knows she will be cited as a role model for young women. While not a "strident" feminist, she plans to recruit talented women students more actively.
"Engineering presents a range of rewarding career choices for both men and women," she said.
When making her own decision to study chemical engineering, Professor Raper had to contend with dire warnings that engineering was difficult. "That made me even more determined to do it," she said.
Professor Raperís vision for the future of Engineering at Sydney focuses strongly on the importance of developing "all-rounders", well-
balanced graduates with a knowledge and understanding of disciplines beyond the boundaries of engineering. She welcomes especially the introduction next year of double degree programs such as the combined Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Engineering, which will give students greater flexibility, business skills and time for extra-curricular activities.
Professor Raper obtained a Bachelor of Engineering and a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from UNSW, having written a doctoral thesis on the hydrodynamic mechanisms on sieve trays in distillation columns, an area of research relevant to the oil and petrochemical industries.
In a collaborative nuclear project with Cambridge University, she worked in the Atomic Energy Agency in Harwell, England, focusing on the formation of droplets from bursting bubbles, a phenomenon in nuclear waste storage.
Professor Raperís recent ARC-sponsored research in particle technology has resulted in significant advances in the war against pollution, as well as contributing to advances in areas such as minerals and pharmaceuticals.
She has developed techniques for measuring the particles present in pollutants, characterising the size, shape and structure of particles in water and air pollutantsóconsiderations that determine the efficacy of a range of products. Particle size, for example, is linked closely to performance in insecticides, because droplets of particular sizes kill specific insect pests.
Professor Raperís novel measurement technique, using light to determine the fractal dimensions or structure of agglomerates, has received international recognition and has practical applications in several industrial areas.
"In water purification for drinking purposes, for example, one attempts to make the pollutant particles grow by agglomeration," Professor Raper said. "The structure of the whole agglomerated mass determines whether it can be removed easily and we use fractal dimensions to measure that agglomerate structure."
Professor Raper has also worked on fluidised bed biofilters, particles in a reactor that are moved around by a high volume of air or gas. These have industrial uses, for example, in the destruction of odours in gas. She plans to exploit techniques such as tomography to achieve even better results from these biofilters.
Editorsí note: This article was reprinted, with permission, from The University of Sydney News, 14 August 1997.