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What does an 82 year-old conundrum have in common with aeroplanes?

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Friday, 20 May 2011


An 82 year-old scientific conundrum — why does aluminium have the exceptional properties of lightness and strength — has been solved by Monash University scientist Dr Philip Nakashima.

Announcing Dr Nakashima as the Barry Inglis Medal winner for his work on this, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said Dr Nakashima’s research has far reaching implications for the aeronautical industry and other commercial applications.

“Determining the true nature and shape of the inter-atomic bonds in aluminium has defeated scientists for more than 82 years, but not only has Dr Nakashima been able to measure them, he has also mapped their structure,” Senator Carr said.

“Scientists have tried to do this with aluminium since 1929, but successive attempts were at odds with one another - until Dr Nakashima’s breakthrough.

“Dr Nakashima’s work may enable engineers to maximise the strength of aluminium alloys, used, for example, in the wings of aircraft.”

Senator Carr said the announcement marks World Metrology Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Metre Convention in 1875. Metrology is the science of measurement and the Metre Convention is the basis for global collaborations in sectors such as trade, industry, technology, science and research and development.

The award, for individual excellence in measurement science in Australia, honours Dr Barry Inglis PSM, the National Measurement Institute’s (NMI) first chief executive.

Senator Carr also announced Dr Michael Biercuk of the University of Sydney as the winner of the NMI Prize for excellence in measurement techniques by a scientist under 35.

“This award recognises Dr Biercuk’s contribution to research in the most sensitive measurement of force to date the yoctonewton.

“This is an incredibly small force - about a million million billion times smaller than the force exerted by a feather lying on a table. And the measurement is a thousand times more sensitive than anything previously possible,” Senator Carr said.

“Both Dr Nakashima and Dr Biercuk are exemplary ambassadors for world-class measurement standards and techniques and I offer them my heartfelt congratulations.”

Media contacts: Aban Contractor, Minister’s Office, 0457 989 842 Yen Heng, NMI, 0418 616 118