Dr Mark McHenry has returned from an inspiring and highly productive seven months in the United States as a Fulbright scholar.
The School of Engineering and Information Technology academic was located at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico where he was given virtually free rein to explore blue sky and translational research in the areas of renewable energy and water efficiency.
“The lab facilities and expertise gathered together at Sandia was phenomenal. Basically it housed a thousand engineers and science researchers given the keys to the kingdom – a great bunch of people doing amazing things,” Dr McHenry said.
“I was able to work on a wide range of projects, from portable desalination to testing the ability of different polymers to reduce evaporation in cooling towers, something never tried before.”
Dr McHenry said he had been involved in approximately 20 publications over the past year and is working a queue of papers for future publication.
One of his US projects involved designing and analysing a lightweight, portable desalination system.
“One of the major burdens for a person or team working in a really remote location is fresh water. If you don’t have access to a reliable well, you’re forced to carry a sufficient amount, which depending on how long you’re in the field can be a space and weight issue,” Dr McHenry said.
“So we looked at using new technologies to see if we could construct a desalination system that was lightweight and efficient, and ended up looking at various graphene filters and lightweight renewable energy batteries and micropumps that didn’t even exist a year ago.”
“I’m very interested in looking at really simple concepts that can have an impact with a generally low cost.”
Now that Dr McHenry is back in Perth, he is pursuing a number of projects, including work in Africa.
He said he recently collaborated with organisations that work with night fishermen in Africa to design an LED light that could reduce their reliance on expensive and cumbersome kerosene lamps.
“The design our team came up with had the added advantage of allowing the fisherman to put the light into to water, and is safer, more environmentally savvy, and adds to local energy security and creates jobs,” he said.
“Again, it’s a simple idea with a potentially significant upside.”