Engineering PhD students awarded top honours

Our warmest congratulations to Dr Rodrigo Curvello of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Dr Qingbo Jia of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering for winning two significant Monash University 2020 graduate research awards.

Mollie Holman Award

Rodrigo Curvello

Dr Rodrigo Curvello has won the 2020 Mollie Holman Award for his thesis entitled ‘Engineered nanocellulose hydrogels for biomedical applications’, supervised by Professor Gil Garnier.

The Mollie Holman award is among the highest academic honours bestowed by the University, and marks the recipients as a doctoral researcher of the highest order. Each year, a maximum of ten medals are awarded to doctoral students, normally one from each faculty, who have fulfilled their degree requirements and presented their faculty's best thesis of the year.

The key findings included the introduction of plant-based nanocellulose hydrogels as a novel performant material for “mini-organs” growth and blood tests. Nanocellulose can massively decrease the costs in biomedical research, allowing the 3D culture of human tissues for disease modelling and drug screening. Reliable and high-quality blood diagnostics can also now be performed with cellulose gels in a sustainable and eco-friendly fashion.

Rodrigo’s thesis was ranked 5 out of 5 by two examiners, indicating an exceptional quality, significance and new contributions to the knowledge in his field. He has also published six papers including 5 in Q1 journals while completing his PhD.

Rodrigo’s efforts are even more remarkable given that he paused his PhD research at the height of the Melbourne pandemic lockdown to join the Chemical Engineering COVID-19 Task Force. The team developed a low-cost, rapid diagnostic test to detect antibodies against the new coronavirus, resulting in a patent application as well as national and international media coverage. Rodrigo was interviewed by four TV channels in Brazil, including major network Globo, reaching over 250 million people in South America.

“I’m extremely delighted to have received the Mollie Holman Award for 2020!” said Rodrigo. “My PhD project was very ambitious and challenging, with the objective to connect chemical engineering, materials science, and biology. The pandemic made 2020 even more difficult, therefore I see this medal as a priceless reward. I am grateful for the support of my supervisor Professor Gil Garnier, who always motivated me to try my best and never give up. I also acknowledge my colleagues, who made my PhD journey so pleasant and fun.”

2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation for Thesis Excellence

Qingbo Jia

Dr Qingbo Jia of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering has been awarded the 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation for Thesis Excellence for his thesis entitled ‘Development of high strength aluminium alloys for additive manufacturing,” supervised by Associate Professor Laure Bourgeois.

Qingbo’s PhD work presented a new method for the design of high-performance light alloys specifically for Additive Manufacturing, and applied this method to produce a new aluminium alloy with desirable properties. The impact of Qingbo’s work on the field has been immediate, as evidenced by the high citation rate (top 1-7%) of his publications. His thesis was judged as excellent and exceptional by the two examiners.

I’m very happy to have received the 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation for Thesis Excellence,” said Qingbo. “I hope to make an impact by designing high strength aluminium alloys for the additive manufacturing industry and therefore to promote lighter and stronger components design for the aerospace field. The developed alloy highlighted in my thesis is now ready for such applications. Thank you to all my supervisors for their unconditional support and guidance.”

Associate Professor Timothy Scott (Associate Dean, Graduate Research) said, “Congratulations to Rodrigo and Qingbo on their outstanding thesis outcomes and this well-deserved recognition of the quality of their research. Given the challenges of 2020, in which Rodrigo in particular dedicated his time and talent to contribute to the pandemic response, we are tremendously proud of their efforts and wish them well for their future endeavours.”