Research by subject area

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Product Design Engineering conducts research across a range of fields, displayed below by subject area.

Fluid and process dynamics

Bubble acoustics

The study of bubble acoustics incorporates many interesting fluid-dynamical and mathematical problems, with fascinating real-world applications. Few people realise that much of the sound we associate with water in motion, from the plink of a raindrop hitting a pond to the roar of the surf, is due to the formation of bubbles. Bubbles have a natural frequency of volumetric oscillation, so they can effectively ring like bells. These sounds created by bubbles are exploited in industrial and environmental instrumentation.

Whenever gases are injected into liquids in industry, there is a need to measure the size of the bubbles formed. Whether it is the processing of minerals such as copper, or the oxygenation of wastewater, bubble size matters. Often, measurement of the bubble-acoustic frequency is the only way to get these data. Bubble formation occurs in the ocean whenever waves break, and thus accelerates the dissolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Bubble-acoustic buoys are proposed to measure the rate of oceanic carbon dioxide absorption, a vital factor in the rate of global warming.

As well as making sounds, bubbles also respond to sound; intraveneously injected microbubbles are used in diagnostic medical ultrasound. Research is also underway into developing new targeted therapies for diseases such as cancer by causing bubbles to rupture in an ultrasound beam. Microbubbles can also enhance recently-discovered possible therapies such as the modulation of neural signals in the brain.

Contact Professor Richard Manasseh. PhD topics are available.

Project 365 Day 98 Bubbles

Development of flow simulation software

This research is focussed on the development of flow simulation software capable of simulating flows in and around structures that are free to move and deform. This is done using a sharp-interface immersed-boundary method, which reduces the complexity associated with mesh construction and deformation associated with more traditional simulation codes. It also means very large simulations can be conducted using high-performance computing facilities such as Swinburne's Supercomputer. The current implementation of this method has simulated flapping foil energy harvesters, the vibration of tube arrays, reciprocating flows through curved tubes and flapping fish fins.

Contact: Dr Justin Leontini

An example of fluid-structure interaction from Swinburne software
An example of fluid-structure interaction from Swinburne software

Fluid-structure interaction

‌Fluids like wind and water flowing past structures are ubiquitous in engineering and nature. Fluid-structure interaction concerns situations where the dynamics of the flow and the structure are coupled and need to be treated together. Our research is focussed on understanding the fundamental phenomena involved in these situations, in particular those that cause a structure to shake or vibrate, including vortex-induced vibration, fluid-elastic galloping and aeroelastic flutter. Swinburne’s Supercomputer is being used to create simulations to untangle these complex and highly nonlinear phenomena.

Recent projects include:

  • vortex-induced vibration of a diamond cross-section
  • three-dimensional structure in the wake of an elliptic cross-section
  • asymetric vortex shedding behind an oscillating cylinder

Contact: Dr Justin Leontini

Graph representing a vortex induced vibration

Hemodynamics

We have a number of projects attempting to understand blood flow and other biological fluid phenomena, including:

1. Numerical simulation of the cardiovascular hemodynamics

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of the world mortality, incorporates a wide range of cardiovascular system malfunctions that affect heart functionality. The hemodynamic loads exerted on the cardiovascular system are the leading cause of CVD initiation and propagation. In the last decade, cutting-edge CFD techniques have been widely used for cardiovascular functional assessment, a non-invasive tool for the early diagnosis and prognosis of heart dysfunction. Computer modelling is challenging due to the complexity of geometries, the blood flow pattern within the heart, fluid-structure interaction, and the large deformation of geometries over cardiac cycle. Research in this field at Swinburne includes:

  • numerical simulation of the left ventricle (LV)
  • numerical simulation of the artificial heart valves
  • numerical simulation of the coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)

2. Functional electrospun nanofiber membranes for air filtration applications

Nanotechnologies have opened opportunities across a range of industries. However, the implementation of nano-materials or nanoparticles (NPs - particles with diameters smaller than 100 nm), has also brought new risks and hazards due to their high reactivity and mobility as airborne contaminants. Bioaerosols made of compounds such as bacteria, fungi and viruses, may also be generated in air and represent a significant health concern. Electrospinning to produce electrospun nanofibers membranes for nanomaterials filtration application is used to address this. Our study is focused on the design of high selectivity for nanomaterials, offering low pressure drop and high quality factors, in different operating conditions such as fiber diameter and membrane composition.

3. Artificial vascular grafts

Native blood vessels are subject to failure, due to thrombosis formation. Therefore, research on tissue engineering led to the synthesis of artificial blood vessels. Electrospun fibrous scaffolds have the nature of native extracellular matrix that constitute the main part of native blood vessels. We are fabricating electrospun blood vessels and testing them with human endothelial cells.

Contact: Professor Yos Morsi

Ocean wave power

Wave research‌Unlike wind energy, there is no single established concept for generating electricity from ocean waves. The inherently reciprocating (to-and-fro) nature of waves, in which the speed of the water is never steady and constantly reverses, demands a more complex generation mechanism.

Many types of ocean Wave Energy Converters (WECs) are being developed and trialled worldwide, including several in Australia. These machines convert the ocean swell into power, a source of reliable renewable energy with great value to future electricity markets. Swinburne’s wave-power research includes studies of fundamental fluid dynamics inspired by wave energy conversion, as well as studies of potential environmental impacts, and a project on wave energy converter arrays or ‘farms’.

An array of WECs could act together as one collective machine, with significantly different behaviour to a lone device. This collective behaviour is not well understood, and this project uses a combination of mathematical modelling and laboratory experiments to deliver the ability to better predict the performance of small arrays of WECs. This project is supported by a $770,000 grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), led by Swinburne in partnership with two Australian wave-power companies and the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania.

Read more on our wave-power projects, and the ocean-related facilities within our Energy Transformation Laboratory. Via partnerships with other universities, Swinburne also has access to wind-wave and ice-wave channels and wave basins.

Contact: Professor Richard Manasseh

Swinburne on Scope TV

Professor Richard Manasseh explains how Swinburne University's wave channel facility is used for studies of the fundamental fluid dynamics of waves interacting with generic wave-energy converters.

Respiratory flows and high-frequency ventilation

Our research is focussed on understanding the fundamental gas transport mechanisms present in high-frequency ventilation, with the aim of optimising the process and improving the clinical outcomes for patients. Often in intensive care units, patients require assisted ventilation to breath. For patients with damaged or delicate lungs, one strategy is using high-frequency ventilation, consisting of very fast, very small inflations. The small amount of inflation means the patient's lung tissue is not overly distended, protecting it from further damage. However if only small amounts of air are added and removed each breath, how is carbon dioxide removed and oxygen provided? If the lungs are not emptied and refilled each breath, how are gases transported?

Contact: Dr Justin Leontini

Graphic representing the flow through a model airway exit
Graphic representing the flow through a model airway exit

Thermodynamics and phase equilibria

Understanding thermodynamics and phase equilibria provides the basis for improving existing and developing new mineral, metal and material processes. Our research spans different metals, oxides and sulphides systems and recent projects include:

  • Thermodynamic behaviour of precious and rare metals (Ge, Te, Se, Pd) during secondary copper recycling
  • Thermodynamic modelling of carbosulphidation of alumina
  • Phase equilibria of Fe-Ni-O-X system relevant to nickel production from laterite
  • Thermodynamic assessment of Fe-Cr-Ti-O-S system relevant to ilmenite processing

Contact: Associate Professor M Akbar Rhamdhani

Materials processing, manufacturing and solid mechanics

Additive Manufacturing of metals and plastics

Additive Manufacturing (AM) research includes development and characterisation of novel structures and components using metal based AM technologies of Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Direct Metal Deposition (DMD) and plastics based technologies of Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) and Stereolithography. Research projects have also been conducted in collaboration with CSIRO AM facilities including Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and the Cold Spray process. Work has focussed on the development of composite materials, process optimisation, and material behaviour and properties characterisation of AM produced parts. Recent and current projects include:

  • development of metal-polymer composites for fused deposition modelling
  • functionally graded materials and wafer structures by DMD
  • conformal cooling development for injection moulding application
  • mechanical characterisation of high strength alloyed by DMD
  • mechanical performance of titanium alloys processed by EBM
  • process optimisation of FDM by novel design of experiments
  • three dimensional multi-component model for Cold Spray additive process
  • high strain rate behaviour of alloyed processed by SLM
  • topological optimisation of parts processed by SLM
  • mechanical behaviour of auxetic structures manufactured by 3D printing

Contact: Professor Syed Masood

Advanced metal refining and impurities removal

Our research focuses on the development of new high temperature processes for refining, impurities removal, and production of metals with lower carbon footprint. Previous projects include:

  • impurities removal from Al melt for electronic/electrical conductor applications
  • novel solar grade silicon refining, electrically enhanced refining
  • novel multistage Al production through carbosulphidation process
  • removal of impurities from weathered Ilmenite through selective sulfidation

Contact: Associate Professor M Akbar Rhamdhani

Alternative and urban resources processing

Urban ores, industrial wastes/by products and low grade ores can be alternative sources for metals, particularly for high value, precious and rare metals. Our research focuses on different aspects on the recovery of metals from these resources. Our recent projects include:

  • precious and rare metals recovery from electronic waste: thermodynamic modelling, technoeconomic and LCA studies
  • metals recovery (Zn, Pb, Ni) from industrial waste
  • high temperature recycling of NdFeB magnet: oxidation of magnet at high temperatures
  • rare metals recovery from lighting and automotive applications
  • processing of weathered ilmenite: separation of chromite impurities
  • processing of weathered laterite as a source of nickel

Contact: Associate Professor M Akbar Rhamdhani

Aluminium smelting fundamentals

World aluminium production is dominated by the Hall Heroult process which is a high temperature electrolytic process. Research at Swinburne, in collaboration with CSIRO and major aluminium companies is focused on reducing energy usage by studying fundamental aspects of the process. Research at Swinburne has made contributions in developing new refractories and understanding how gas is evolved under the anodes (which has a large effect on the resistance losses in the process).

Contact: Professor Geoffrey Brooks

Energy absorption, deformation and mechanical behaviour of materials

This research includes a study of the behaviour of CFRP (Carbon fibre reinforced plastic). CFRP tubes are strong and lightweight and have been used in industry for years. Other material structures include honeycomb and foam, lightweight materials which can absorb a large amount of energy when they are deformed. They have been used as core materials in hybrid structures. We are also studying auxetic materials/structures. Current research includes:

  • deformation mode of CFRP tubes with various heights
  • mechanical behaviour of CFRP tubes with pre-cuts
  • deformation mode and energy absorption during axial crushing of hybrid aluminium tubes (ie. aluminium tubes filled with honeycombs/foams with different configurations)
  • deformation mode of inflated aluminium tubes subjected to axial loading
  • mechanical response of auxetic materials/structures (fabricated using 3D printing) subjected to dynamic loading

Contact: Associate Professor Tracy Dong Ruan

Lime-enhanced carbothermic reduction of chalcopyrite

This research involves laboratory scale tests to investigate lime-enhanced carbothermic reduction of chalcopyrite under controlled conditions (temperature, time, particle size, etc), extensive characterisation of the products and intermediates using XRD and quantitative electron microscopy, as well as thermodynamic and kinetic modelling.

Contact: Adjunct Professor John Rankin

Oxygen steelmaking

Swinburne has an international reputation for its modelling of the oxygen steelmaking process. Oxygen steelmaking is an important metal production process and the dominant route for producing steel, however, the extreme conditions in the process (above 1600°C) make it difficult to study. Various models developed at Swinburne (in collaboration with major steel companies) have been successful in predicting the rate of carbon removal, slag foaming and phosphorous removal, but there are still challenges in understanding the early part of the process which have a large effect on effective control of the process. Physical, kinetic and CFD modelling techniques have been used to study critical details of the process.

Contact: Professor Geoffrey Brooks

Solar metallurgy and solar thermal research

This research is focused on lowering the carbon footprint of metal production by utilising concentrated solar energy to process minerals to produce metals. Swinburne has a 42 kW solar simulator that allows intense solar fluxes to be duplicated under controlled conditions and carry out experiments above 1000°C. Of particular interest is the chemical kinetics and heat transfer characteristics associated with solar furnaces. Current and recent work include:

  • developing new routes to iron production through solar thermal processing of iron ore composites
  • high temperature properties of molten nitrite for solar thermal storage application

Contact: Professor Geoffrey Brooks

Structure and properties of magnetic materials

This research area focuses on understanding the structure and magnetic properties of magnetic materials. Current research includes study of permanent magnet Strontium Hexaferrite (SrFe12O19) particles produced using sol-gel method which is well known for its high coercivity due to its magnetocrystalline anisotropy. Other research includes the effect of magnetic cluster and magnetic field on polishing using magnetic compound fluid. The understanding of effect of magnetic field on magnetic fluid and its application to improve surface finish is very important for industrial applications.

Contact: Dr Yat Wong

Surface treatment for biomedical applications

This research focuses on developing new routes to enhance biological performances, and long-term mechanical stability of titanium alloy implants with sufficient bioactive and antibacterial ability, as well as tissue integration capacity. Current research involves design, fabrication and surface modification of titanium alloys with desired characteristics, and evaluating biocompatible coatings incorporated with antibacterial agents in terms of their biocompatibility and bacterial toxicity. A fundamental understanding of the structure-property relation is essential for developing new materials and new biomedical devices.

Contact: Dr James Wang

Machine dynamics and control

Sensors for Ladle Metallurgy

Ladle metallurgy plays a critical role in the production of high quality steel. The control of the process is difficult because of the extreme conditions in the vessels. At Swinburne, we have placed emphasis on developing new sensors for the process, including vibration, sound and vision systems. These systems have been tested in industrial trials and new techniques developed for analysing the signals produced, to provide useful control signals for industry.

Contact: Professor Geoffrey Brooks

Product and Engineering design

Wearable protective equipment

This research area aim is to research and develop wearable safety gear to help mitigate the severity of injury. It covers designs, materials and smart structures for wearable protection equipment/gear for persons at risk of injury due to impact or other potential hazards likely to cause personal injury. The research incorporates engineering science and design, materials research such as 3D printing, 3D modelling and simulation, and experimental design and testing. It also encompasses surrogate design, test methods and test equipment design and development, the application of threshold injury criteria in the design process, and demonstration of performance. Recent projects include:

  • facial impact protection for cyclists
  • wearable impact protection for persons at risk of injury from falls

Contact: Associate Professor Pio Iovenitti