Engineering an Australian future Wednesday, 07 February 2018

Australia’s engineering future looks that much brighter thanks to three budding engineers who came up with a biochar filter and fertiliser, a robotic window cleaner, and a bioplastic – and won awards for their efforts.

The CSIRO has announced the winners of the 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards as Minh Nga Nguyen, Oliver Nicholls and Angelina Arora. Chief executive of awards partner CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall, believes, “the world is changing faster than many of us can keep up with,” but he added that science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] can guide the future through innovation.

"Around three quarters of all future jobs will need STEM and we're absolutely committed to helping school students develop these skills so they can shape Australia's future,” he said.

Minh Nga Nguyen, who has aspirations of becoming an environmental engineer won the Investigations category with a biochar product created from agricultural by-products like corn husks, bamboo scraps and rice waste. It has the dual capability of filtering water and then being uses as a fertiliser. The process reduces the effects of contaminated water and pollution.

Oliver Nicholls is the winner of the Engineering category who used his knowledge of physics, maths and design to create an autonomous robotic window cleaner. The design is aimed at reducing injury and decreasing commercial costs. Following rigorous prototyping, testing and evaluation it is showing commercial viability.

The winner of the Innovator to Market award was Angelina Arora who developed a bioplastic made from prawn shells and the sticky protein from the silk of silkworms. Totally biodegradable, the plastic was tested for strength, elongation, clarity, solubility, deconstruction and endurance. Arora also tested other plastics made from potato, corn and tapioca. Her goal is for the bioplastic to replace current plastic shopping bags and other packaging to reduce environmental impacts on land and in the ocean.

Award Winners


First: Oliver Nicholls, Barker College, NSW, Autonomous robotic window cleaner

Second: Lachlan Bolton, Redeemer Baptist School, NSW, Future Board

Third: Jack Chapman, St Leonard's College, VIC, Electroduino-mechanical bionics Hand


First: Minh Nga Nguyen, Sydney Girl's High School, NSW, Recycling waste into biochar: a sustainable agricultural wastewater filter and fertiliser

Second: Caitlin Roberts, The Friends' School, TAS, The protease inhibiting effect of almonds

Third: Ella Cuthbert, Lyneham High School, ACT, Is honeybee silk antimicrobial?

Innovator to Market

Winner: Angelina Arora, Sydney Girls High School, NSW, Shrimp shell bioplastics: A new solution to the world's growing plastic problem.