2018 Norton Jackson Material Science and Engineering Medal

When Research Associate Dr Sam Rudd learnt he’d won the 2018 Norton Jackson Material Science and Engineering Medal he was celebrating the arrival of his firstborn Ryan in hospital with his wife Roya.

He says the medal has capped off an amazing personal and professional journey.

Dr Rudd is at the Future Industries Institute investigating the semi-metallic properties of conducting polymers and their potential for industry. The research was detailed in his PhD Impact of Doping on Semi-metallic Polymers.

“The research I conducted during my PhD revealed that conducting polymers could be used to detect and monitor fertilisers in real time within soil,” Dr Rudd says. “This is new and quite significant.

“Currently and in the absence of a technological solution, farmers rely on their experience to judge the timing of their fertiliser application which means the process is often sub-optimal and, supported by sending samples to a laboratory for analysis, is a process that is inefficient, time-consuming and expensive.”

Dr Rudd’s research has identified that polymers might hold the key, giving farmers and agricultural companies ability in situ to detect fertiliser and water levels below the ground’s surface.

The research has already led to a collaboration with Adelaide-based SME Sentek and a joint patent has been lodged for the Australian, European and US markets.

“Our joint innovation represents a step change for precision agriculture, potentially enabling farmers to control their application of fertiliser by providing actionable data in real time,” Dr Rudd says.

Dr Rudd paid tribute to the great support he has received from supervisor Associate Professor Drew Evans.

“I cannot imagine having a better supervisor, advisor and mentor than Drew,” Dr Rudd says.

“His guidance helped me in all the time of my research and none of this would have been possible without his generous advice, continued support, encouragement and his immense knowledge throughout my PhD study and related research.”

Assoc Prof Evans commended Dr Rudd’s efforts in bridging fundamental scientific discoveries with relevance and application in industry.

“This project is as much about the way it has been run as it is about the breakthrough itself,” Assoc Prof Evans says.

“Dr Rudd has brought the team at Sentek into the early stage research to shape how he has conducted his experiments. The result is new fundamental understanding that has direct relevance to industry. This gives industry a real sense of its value, and how it can benefit their business.

“Taking such a pragmatic approach to research and impact is a key reason why Dr Rudd has been recognised with the prestigious Norton Jackson medal.”