Monash Materials Science Turns 50!

- Materials
- Video by Declan Sands.
This year, Materials Science and Engineering celebrates 50 years of groundbreaking research, innovation and graduates. A party was definitely in order.

On October 30, alumni, students and staff gathered at the Clayton campus to celebrate five decades of Materials Science and Engineering at Monash University.

This year marks 50 years since the department of Materials Engineering was approved by the Monash University Council in 1969, before the official course launched in 1971 with 16 students.

Founding department chair Ian Polmear and other former department heads, including Peter Thomson, George Simon and recently departed Nick Birbilis, along with new acting head Neil Cameron, showed up in force alongside former and current staff, postgraduate students and recent graduates.

“I can’t believe we got here so quickly,” said Nick Birbilis on the night, who is also a double graduate of the department (B.Eng and PhD). “The collection of people ... is just remarkable – the ‘who’s who’ of Materials over the last 50 years. I don’t think you’ll see this crowd put together again.”

Before the department was approved way back in 1969, courses in Materials Science and Materials Engineering were traditionally taught within Metallurgy departments. While many overseas universities hurried to set up materials science and materials engineering departments in the late fifties, Australia didn’t follow suit until 1967, when Monash University appointed a metallurgical engineer, Dr Ian Polmear, as the chair of Materials Science.

Ian moved quickly, travelling to England and the United States to study the emerging field of Materials Science. Upon his return, he purchased the faculty’s first electron microscope and Instron testing machine. In 1970, January 1 marked the official launch of Australia’s first Materials Engineering department.

While early years were mostly spent creating the curriculum for the course, Ian and his team, which included Reg McPherson, Peter Thomson, Brian Cherry, Brendon Parker, Bruce Young, Keith Kent and Peggy O’Leary, also had to promote a course that had never been attempted in Australia. Sixteen students enrolled in 1971 and by 1980 the department had the largest research group in the faculty. The rest, as they say, is history.

The department has since gone through numerous incarnations, even merging with the physics department for several years, before officially becoming Materials Science and Engineering in 2013.

Today, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, MSE is in the top 50 Materials Science and Engineering departments in the world.

October’s anniversary celebrations also coincided with the release of the Monash Materials Science and Engineering 50th Anniversary book, which was gifted to key staff, students and alumni.