Professor Sally McArthur

Director of Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM)

About Professor McArthur

  • Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering, International College of Biomaterials Science and Engineering
  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)
  • Fellow of the AVS Science and Technology Society
  • Named one of the top '50 women at the cutting edge of science in Australia' by Cosmos Magazine in 2023, a list developed with support from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).
  • BioMelbourne Network Most Valuable Woman in Leadership
  • Established the Medical device Partnering Program (MDPP) in Victoria
  • Played a key role in the establishment of the Australian National Fabrication Facility in Victoria (ANFF-Vic) an open access facility for academic and industry researchers to gain expert support with fabrication technologies
  • Developed and led major grants worth over $35 million, including from the Australian Research Council, the Victorian Government and the US Air Force, as well as projects funded directly by industry.
  • Extensive experience in developing industry-academic research collaborations

Professor Sally McArthur is a biomanufacturing expert who uses engineering principles to improve human wellbeing. Her extensive experience in developing industry-academic research collaborations has helped industry develop new products and services in the medical, environmental and health sectors.

Discovering the art of science

It was Professor McArthur’s high school art teacher who suggested she study materials engineering, after noticing during pottery classes that the budding scientist was more interested in the composition of ceramic glazes than making pots.

‘I was fascinated by how the different chemicals came together to make a glaze with specific colours, textures and properties that could all be manipulated by knowing what each component of the system contributed,’ Professor McArthur says.

‘Since that time I’ve realised just how much of our quality of life is controlled by our ability to apply materials and manufacturing solutions to issues as diverse as healthcare and communication technology through to environmental remediation and energy generation. Silicon-based semiconductors, solar panels and even window glass coatings, are all part of our everyday lives and they have all been optimised and continue to be optimised by researchers like myself who look to develop the fundamental knowledge and translate it into manufacturing knowhow.’

Behind all Professor McArthur’s work is a drive to improve human wellbeing and the world around us.

‘My goal is always to see how we can turn research-led innovation and translation of knowledge into impact across society. How can we develop new products that will in turn help a business thrive, help someone to live their life on their own terms, have the opportunity to develop a new skill and gain employment? All because we developed new research knowledge that could be translated into new materials, new products, or new manufacturing opportunities.’

Working with industry to improve the world

Throughout her career, Professor McArthur has worked with start-ups and scale-ups to implement her research and manufacturing knowhow into industry, leading a range of initiatives to develop new end-user ideas to prototypes and match industry with the right research capabilities.

She joined Deakin in 2022 as Director of the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) after working at universities around Australia and the world.

‘IFM is the largest materials-focus research institute in Australia. Becoming it’s Director represented a great opportunity for me to explore how we could use our scale at Deakin to drive impact and address some of the biggest challenges facing the world today – how to balance our desire for technology and products with the environmental impact of their manufacturing and production,’ she says.

‘While my personal research focuses on surface engineering and creating new materials and products for the healthcare sector, within IFM we look at a much broader field of materials and manufacturing where we balance our desire for new materials with unique function with our desire to create a circular economy where materials and manufacturing processes enable us to take recycled materials, pull them apart into their component parts and reuse or repurpose them into new products or components.’

The Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM)

We sat down with Professor McArthur to find out what IFM does, the main projects the Institute is working on, the areas of study for Higher degree by Research and what IFM hopes to achieve.

About IFM

What distinguishes IFM from other research institutes in this field?

Our scale and diversity – we have a unique mix of capability aligned with capacity to do large scale projects by bringing people together. Our researchers come from all over the world and from many different research areas, including engineering, chemistry, textile science and molecular modelling and we can draw on the wider Deakin community to complement our strengths and build complete solutions for partners. IFM has always been an exemplar for how research organisations can build and lead a culture of impact and industry collaboration within a university and a region.

How can potential partners work with the Institute?

We love hearing about the ideas that clinicians, engineers and other researchers have and the challenges businesses and people face in their in their local environments. We regularly meet with many different groups and individuals to gain insight into the latest developments and their experiences – just get in touch with us at IFM.

IFM Projects

What are some of the major projects IFM is working on?

Our materials science and engineering solutions are helping to lower carbon emissions, value add and reduce lifetime costs of structures through the development of concretes incorporating carbon nanotubes with enhanced strength, durability and functionality; low-cement concretes employing high-replacement percentage calcined treated PFAS-contaminated soils; novel, embeddable self-sensing cements with miniature sensors for structural and durability health monitoring; thermoelectric energy harvesting and electrical energy storing construction materials for net-zero energy use buildings; ultra-high performance nano-modified cement and concrete composites with advanced functionality.

Our researchers have pioneered research into novel electrolytes and alternative battery technologies such as sodium and metal-air batteries. Working with a number of industry partners, and through the ARC Training Centre for Future Energy Storage Technologies, the IFM team continues to lead advances in these areas, with applications for transport, renewable energy storage and sustainable recycling of critical energy materials. Another group at IFM is focusing on new battery materials and developing high energy density electrodes, through the new ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Safe and Reliable Energy.

Our multi-disciplinary team, consisting of textile engineers, fibre technologists, material scientists, physicists, chemists, biologists and polymer scientists is focused on driving innovation toward new circular materials and technologies. Much of this research is carried out in the IFM-led ARC Research Hub for Future Fibres. In partnership with several highly innovative companies and international research leaders, the Hub is accelerating transformation of Australia’s traditional manufacturing industry to a vibrant future-fibre oriented advanced manufacturing sector.

Higher Degree by Research

What disciplines are you looking for in your HDR students and how can prospective students engage with IFM?

We’re always looking for students with chemistry, physics or engineering backgrounds, with a passion for making an impact in their work. We love having students join us who want to solve big challenges and like working in a team but are also able to envisage a future where they are driving changes in industry and our wider community.

How do HDR students contribute to the work IFM is doing?

HDR students, alongside post-doctoral researchers, drive the majority of IFM’s research. They bring fresh ideas, collaborate with industry partners and often ask the really challenging questions.

The future of IFM

What do you think will be some of the most exciting or ground-breaking uses of the Institute’s research in 10-20 years’ time?

Recycling, reusing and repurposing materials is one of the greatest challenges for our society today. We must have developed the processes and products that can turn waste into new, high value products, while at the same time we need to have reduced our dependence on fossil fuels as sources for new materials and energy. This is what the circular economy is all about.

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