Home' Careers in Engineering and Construction : 2010 Contents NATAGE H008
THE AGE Saturday, September 11, 2010
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Engineering, mining & construction
Professor Tanya Monro says if you can generate, control and
manipulate light, you can do a lot of things with it.
Lasers have been with us for 50 years
now and have become an integral,
if invisible, part of our daily lives.
But DVD players and eye surgery are
just the beginning, according to
Professor Tanya Monro, director of the
Institute for Photonics and Advanced
Sensing at the University of Adelaide.
''I came to Adelaide in 2005 as part of
a partnership between the University of
Adelaide and DSTO, the Defence
Science and Technology Organisation.
''The idea was to develop a centre to
do research into fibres that essentially
did things that fibres don't normally do.
''Obviously DSTO has an orientation
to defence, but we've grown that to
work in health, in defence, in the
environment and in a range of areas.
Essentially it is about the idea that if you
can generate, control and manipulate
light, you can do a lot of things with it,
much more than sending photons from
One project, sited here at Fisherman's
Bend, has developed fibres for
monitoring corrosion in the hard-to-
reach parts of aircraft.
''In that work we have developed the
world's first distributed chemical sensor
based on an optical fibre,'' explains
Professor Monro. ''Using the length of
an optical fibre we can tell what's going
on and where it is.''
There are many potential medical
uses for fibre sensors, Professor Monro
says. ''We've recently invented a new
way of detecting viruses. Imagine if you
could find out straight away what it is
you've got, imagine what a tool like
that could do for control of epidemics
''This forms part of a suite of activities
we are doing, from the virus sensor to
smart bungs for wine barrels. If you
want to be able to detect things on a
very small, molecular scale, you want to
interact the light with that sample.
''We have developed a new kind of
fibre that allows light to be guided
along it, but also allows it to have
''Imagine you have an ordinary
optical fibre --- think of it as a pipe, light
bouncing around inside it. Shrink that
pipe until the bit that guide the light
becomes smaller than the wavelength
of the light. The light is still guided, but
instead of being like a pipe with things
bouncing around inside, it is more like it
is on a rail. The light can be guided by
the rail but is largely outside the
Professor Monro loves breaking
down the traditional silo walls of
''One of the greatest tensions in the
world of science is that we have swung
from the Renaissance Man to the Uber-
specialist. The majority of outcomes of
scientific endeavour are essentially from
the firings of creativity. A lot of the
'aha!' moments are from looking
laterally across and realising what we
get if we combine this with this.
''What I am trying to do is create
trans-disciplinary teams, bringing
people in combinations that don't
normally work together, so they can
focus questions not on what they can
measure, but on what they would like
to measure and develop new ways of
measuring things. Which is ultimately
what engineers and physicists do.''
Engineering and Design Opportunities
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