Learn more about the ARC Research Hub for Future Fibres from Hub Director, Professor Joselito (Joe) Razal and Hub Manager, Dr Matt Boyd.
Tell us about the ARC Research Hub for Future Fibres
Joe: The Future Fibres Hub is funded by the Australian Research Council for five years. We are collaborating with a number of industry partners, and several more are in the pipeline. Our aim is to create fibres that not only offer functionality but also emphasise sustainability. When we mention ‘sustainability’, we are referring to its application throughout the material’s lifecycle – from raw materials and production processes to material application and the eventual end-of-life stages. This approach also allows us to explore material reuse and repurposing. The Future Fibres Hub is dedicated to promoting the circular economy, which is highly aligned with our work here at the Institute for Frontier Materials.
Matt: Think of it like three circles intersecting in a Venn diagram. The Hub is the intersection between private industry, government and Deakin University. Our two main goals are to advance research knowledge and provide solutions to industry. Additionally, the Hub plays a crucial role in nurturing the talent of early to mid-career researchers.
What sets IFM apart when it comes to expertise in materials science?
Joe: IFM is the largest materials research institute in Australia, boasting a critical mass of researchers, academics, students, technicians, and engineers dedicated to cutting-edge fibre materials research. Our uniqueness is not only recognised in Australia but also on a global scale. This distinction is why we are chosen as the host for this ARC Hub.
Matt: We’re the largest and most advanced fibre research group in the Southern hemisphere without question.
Joe: I think there are three distinct factors that truly set us apart. Firstly, we benefit from centuries of collective knowledge and experience amongst the researchers dedicated to the field of fibre materials. Secondly, we possess state-of-the-art facilities tailored for research across the entire fibre value chain. This enables us to undertake projects ranging from small-scale experiments to large-scale endeavours. Our recently unveiled Future Fibres Facility provides unparalleled capacity for extensive research in fibres and textiles, meeting the needs of our industry partners need to enhance their global competitiveness.
Lastly, our location plays a pivotal role. How many other research institutes enjoy such incredible proximity to industry partners, where they collaborate directly with university researchers on the same premises? One of our partners employs over 400 individuals in advanced manufacturing and is located just a few hundred metres from our offices.
Tell us about the research team.
Matt: We have a world-class, multi-disciplinary team, consisting of textile engineers, fibre technologists, material scientists, physicists, chemists, biologists and polymer scientists. They share a collective focus on driving innovation towards new circular materials and technologies.
As Director of the Hub, Joe possesses a compelling vision for the trajectory of our research. His Future Fibres research group has more than 100 individuals, each contributing to an important and exciting mandate. This mandate aids in the transformation of Australia’s traditional fibre industry into a forward-looking, advanced capability sector.
Joe, tell us about your specific area of research.
Joe: My background is in chemistry, and I have been engaged in diverse research on fibre materials since my PhD studies. I have explored various aspects of advanced fibre materials, ranging from raw material design and formulations to the development of sustainable processes, spinning technologies, cutting-edge textiles, and applications. Among our accomplishments, I most excited about our breakthroughs involving novel fibres and liquid crystals derived from two-dimensional nanomaterials. These groundbreaking materials continue to uncover new and exciting applications in various fields, including energy, sensing, defence, and space.
How does IFM work with its industry partners?
Joe: Within the Future Fibres Hub, most of our team consists of research academics and engineers who maintain regular interactions with our partners, some of whom are even embedded within our partners facilities. We hold monthly and quarterly meetings, in addition to organising events like ‘Lunch and Learn’, to ensure continuous knowledge sharing among all team members. This approach guarantees that everyone is involved in the process of seeking improved solutions and contributes to the collaborative environment.
Matt: Our partners designate their own investigators who collaborate with our researchers, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. This approach ensures that everyone is one the same page, enabling us to establish common goals and collectively determine project directions.
It’s a strategy that magnifies our impact!
How will the ARC Future Fibres Hub carry on the work previously done?
Joe: This marks our second round of funding for Future Fibres Hub granted by the ARC. While it does not directly continue the work of the previous Hub, Deakin stands out as unique due to our capability to retain several industry partners from the initial ARC Hub for this second Hub.
I firmly believe that our success in securing funding for this second round of ARC support speaks volumes about Deakin, IFM and our partners. Our capacity and capability to lead in conducting this vital research truly set us apart.