BETIME Nuhji is not content to be one of Deakin’s brightest young engineering researchers.
She wants everyone else to join in the fun - especially women.
A PhD student working in nanocomposites Betime is the loud, happy voice at Deakin University open days encouraging female Year 12 students to get into engineering.
“I chose engineering because it was a challenge and I love a little bit of a challenge,” she laughs. “I’m always curious about how and why things work the way they do. Science helps solve these questions.
“I came to Deakin on open days when I was still at school and found the lecturers to be really friendly. I got to see all the robots that they have here and I remember one going through a maze and I thought ‘that’s what I want to do!’
“When I started first year, there were about five or 10 women here and most of them were in environmental engineering, which means our units didn’t always meet up with there’s.
“So I thought ‘all right, I want more women here’. When open days would come up, I would be talking to a lot of girls. Those girls that I did talk to came the next year and that was brilliant.”
Despite her enthusiastic recruiting Betime accepts that it will be a while yet before the number of women in engineering gets even reasonably close to the number of men.
“I don’t think that people get enough information in High School about engineering,” she says. “Girls will look at it and think ‘I don’t want to do this to a car, I don’t want to pull it apart’.
“But the sort of work I am doing is way beyond that. It is very exciting science, it is about helping build the cars of the future. Nanocomposites will help make cars and aeroplanes safer and more efficient.
“If we have lighter, stronger materials, they will use less fuel, so they will be more environmentally friendly so you can feel like you’re really making a contribution to a better future.
“I am working on epoxy thermoset nanocomposites using a new technology developed in Australia - Quickstep - which has been used to date to make advanced carbon fibre composites for the automotive and aerospace industries. So basically what I am doing is mixing a nanoclay filler into an epoxy matrix. The aim is to get the nano sized particles of the clay to be dispersed evenly in the composite which should provide improved properties, such as strength and stiffness. However, when you incorporate this filler into the matrix, agglomerates or clumps usually form, which indicate that these platelets have not dispersed or separated well enough.
“The ideal structure is very difficult to achieve in traditional composite processes, and therefore I am researching the effect that Quickstep might have on the properties of the nanocomposites. We think that there are some features of the Quickstep technology that will help get over the problems with the nanoclay dispersion. First Quickstep is known for its ability to obtain fast heating rates compared to that of an oven or an autoclave. This will allow us to play around with the viscosity because this allows the polymer to flow more easily in and around the nanoclay. Secondly, the mechanical vibration feature of Quickstep will assist the polymer to penetrate in between each platelet separating them from one another.
“After we've solved the problem of getting the nano particles in the right form the next step is to incorporate fibres into the mix. There will still be the advantage of low weight, but the mechanical properties of the material will again be enhanced. The challenge here is to create strong interfacial bonding between the new nano matrix (epoxy with nanoclay) and the fibre, so that it can be recognised as one whole component, rather than individual parts coming together.”
Betime is still in the early stages of her PhD - she has only just begun her experimental work - but can already sense the huge opportunities to do groundbreaking research and a lot more proseltysing.
“I actually graduated in mechatronics but my supervisor, Bronwyn Fox, offered me a scholarship in nanocomposites,” Betime says.
“We will soon have a degree course in nanotechnology that Bronwyn is working on. I would really love to work with her on that, as a tutor perhaps.”
So Betime’s choice of Deakin University has been vindicated many times over.
It’s offered her a world of resources and opportunities, without having to leave home, or her favourite Geelong shops.
“I love shopping,” she says, “that’s my hobby, I am girlie through and through.
“All the people here know I am the expert on shopping in Geelong, they come to me for advice on where to go. But I love shopping anywhere, so long as it’s shopping.
“When I was making a choice about which university to go so, I also knew that the student/lecturer ratio was better at Deakin, that it was easier to have a face to face meeting with a lecturer.
“I have a cousin at another university and she has to make an appointment a month ahead to speak with a lecturer and by the time the month comes around, she’s forgotten what the question was!”
Betime is proud of her Albanian heritage - she visited Albania twice last year - but she’s a Geelong girl through and through.
“North Geelong Secondary College,” she says proudly when asked where she went to school.
“And I still haven’t left home, but I know that when I am finished my PhD, I want to travel.
“Then I want to settle down in somewhere like Europe and work in nanotechnology, maybe in some of the partnerships that Bronwyn is trying to set up there now.”
More serious, cutting edge research, more great shopping and a whole continent of young women to convert to engineering - Betime will be in her element.