Media Releases
Bernie Goldie
10/08/2011

Scientist announced a Laureate Fellow for pioneering medical bionics research

A University of Wollongong scientist whose research with new bionic materials provides future hope for those suffering loss of nerve/muscle function, blindness, hearing loss or from epilepsy was today (August 10) named among a select group of Australian Laureate Fellows at a special function in Melbourne.

The honour has been bestowed upon Professor Gordon Wallace who is Executive Research Director at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and Director of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) which are located at the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) Facility at UOW’s Innovation Campus.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Fellowships are highly prized awards designed to develop and retain Australian skills. It will result in funding of more than $2.6 million over the next five years for a team of postdoctoral fellows and PhD students to work with Professor Wallace on his groundbreaking bionics research program.

The Laureate Fellowships in 2009 replaced the ARC Federation Fellowships of which Professor Wallace was UOW’s first and only recipient.

Professor Wallace, appointed a professor at just 32 years of age, today joins a small group of other world-class scientists honoured with an Australian Laureate.

Challenging the conventional wisdom that instability in polymer materials should be eliminated, Professor Wallace asserts that this instability can be used to advantage if understood, directed and controlled, allowing the creation of “intelligent” polymers – materials that sense and respond to stimuli.

In 1990, Professor Wallace established the world’s first intelligent polymer research laboratory and he is now widely recognised as a world leader in the development of these materials. In 2009, he was awarded the NSW Scientist of the Year Award (Chemistry).

Professor Wallace has also focused on combining nanotechnology with his research into intelligent materials and he is recognised an international leader in the emerging area of nanobionics, a field which bridges nanotechnology* and human biology. His team successfully used electrical stimulation to release nerve growth factors from polymers, significantly enhancing growth from nerve cells, with great potential for cell repair in damaged hearing and spinal cords. His involvement in this area has led to a strong collaborative relationship with the inventor of the Cochlear Bionic Ear, Professor Graeme Clark.

Along with collaborators, Professor Wallace also continues to explore the development of artificial muscles based on nanostructured materials.

Professor Wallace praised the fellow members of his research team in helping to gain this Laureate Fellowship. He made special mention of the late Emeritus Professor Leon Kane-Maguire whom he described as his great friend and mentor and a person who played an important role in this Laureate Fellowship becoming a reality.

Currently, Professor Wallace leads an interdisciplinary team of 75 researchers located within IPRI and about 140 researchers within ACES overall. The centres have established important collaborations with leading Australian and overseas research laboratories.

His latest award will help consolidate links with clinical researchers at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, in particular Professor Mark Cook in the area of epilepsy detection and control and with Professor Peter Choong on bone repair.

Since joining UOW in 1985, Professor Wallace has successfully supervised 60 PhD students. He is now supervising or co-supervising 15 PhD students. Professor Wallace has been a co-inventor on 25 patents filed in the field of conducting polymers.

[*Nanotechnology is simply the building of devices that are 1-100 nanometre in size – one nanometre is a billionth of a metre, so nanoscale devices are composed of just a handful of atoms and molecules.]

For further information contact Professor Gordon Wallace on 4221 3127 or Natalie Foxon on 4221 3239.

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