RMIT Professorial Academy

The RMIT Professorial Academy serve as ambassadors, advising on issues of importance to RMIT and the community, driving thought leadership and impact.

About the academy

The RMIT Professorial Academy was established in 2018 to bring together RMIT’s best minds in research, education and engagement to:

  • Serve as a source of advice on issues of importance to RMIT’s future and the communities we serve;
  • Stimulate strategic conversations across RMIT and externally through Fellows acting as Thought Leaders; and
  • Advocate and campaign for value creation and impact as Ambassadors.

The Academicians are known as Fellows of the RMIT Professorial Academy.

The Fellows have been appointed through recognition of their sustained outstanding performance and awarded with the Distinguished Professorship title before being inducted into the Academy.    

Distinguished Lectures

The RMIT Distinguished Lecture Series is sponsored by RMIT Professorial Academy (the RMIT Academy), which aims to:

  • Promote excellence in research and innovation, learning and teaching, and engagement; and
  • Engage with industry, community, business, government and the public through leading open strategic discussions on key issues of relevance to the local, Australian and global communities.

New frontiers in vaccines and nanotechnology

21 June 2023, presented by Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski

Given the immune system changes with age, increased longevity often brings increased susceptibility to infections and cancer. Males and females further often show different immune system profiles in response to vaccines. 

To optimise the application of vaccines and therapies across the lifespan, we need to both understand how current vaccines work in different individuals against diseases such as COVID19 or Flu in human clinical trials, as well as defining how fundamental features of vaccine components such as nanoparticles (size, shape or protein corona), affect their interactions with the immune system. Such studies include using big data tools for studying new beneficial non-specific effects (NSEs) of vaccines. 

We further have a specific interest in helping women with ovarian cancer, the most lethal gynaecological malignancy, across the spectrum of needs, from earlier diagnosis to more effective treatments, as well as the long-term aim of developing cancer vaccines, collaborating broadly across disciplines.

The connection between metallurgy and nature

Mon 7 Nov 2022, presented by Distinguished Professor Ma Qian

Nature is the greatest metallurgist. All metals we know or use today were part of the stars in the universe at one time or another: fabricated by nature, for example through the merger of neutron stars. Metallurgy has continued to evolve from the ancient art of extracting metals from ores to materials science and engineering, which now includes the study of the physical, chemical, and aesthetic properties of metallic materials at different length scales, as well as the design and manufacture of novel metallic materials.

Today, metallurgists continue to learn the art and science of metallurgy and fabrication from nature, down to the atomic level compared to the original mythical connection, thanks to our enhanced understanding of nature.

This lecture explores the connection between modern metallurgy and nature through a series of examples, incl. Voronoi patterns, macroscopic igneous rocks, microscopic columnar crystals in 3D-printed metallic materials, and the dual role of substrate materials in ice nucleation in nature and metal solidification.

Urban design, transport, and health: Are we creating healthy and sustainable cities worldwide?

Wed 10 Aug 2022, presented by Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti

This talk will describe the journey and present the results for our key questions: Do we have the city planning policies in place to deliver healthy and sustainable cities worldwide? And are there inequities in access to health-supportive environments within and between cities? Our work was recently published in The Lancet Global Health series on Urban Design, Transport and Health.  

Optical microcombs: measuring almost anything – from earthquakes and tsunamis to the gases in our atmosphere to planets of distant suns.

17 May 2022, presented by Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell

From accurately tracking and estimating our Google Maps journeys to using biomedical imaging to gain detailed images inside our bodies, being able to measure things precisely underpins almost everything we do. 

In 2005, two physicists were awarded the Nobel Prize for developing an approach – the optical frequency comb – to measure almost anything with unprecedented precision. This approach gave us the GPS we use on a day-to-day basis, however, it was also expected to change the way we measure many other things, from the gases in our atmosphere to the discovery of earth-like planets in distant solar systems. 

Seventeen years on, the world-changing potential of optical frequency combs remains largely untapped, mainly due to their large size and complexity. Photonic chip technology – technology that can miniaturise entire lab benches onto a chip the size of a fingernail – may hold the answer. Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell discusses how photonic chip optical frequency combs could lead to 3D analysis of living organisms, map and monitor the geological structure of our lands and oceans, and allow brain-like machine learning to transform the behaviour of autonomous drones and satellites. 

Ageing Futures: quality care and decent work

30 November 2021, presented by Distinguished Professor Sara Charlesworth

The crisis faced across the OECD in the provision of aged care was made visible to the broader community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In making the link between the quality of care and the working conditions of the frontline workers who provide the care, the lecture draws on a body of collaborative research conducted over the last decade. 

Funded by the Australian Research Council and the Canadian Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council these different projects provide multi-level insights into the ways in which the interaction of gendered care, employment and migration regimes can produce both unacceptable care and unacceptable forms of work. 

These research findings also point to the systemic changes required to ensure that frontline workers have the economic security and time to enable diverse cohorts of older adults to age with dignity.

Cancer, ageing and vaccines

26 October 2021, presented by Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death for women globally. Early diagnosis is key to improve survival, but there are currently no reliable screening biomarkers for early stage disease. Moreover, after initial clinical responses to first-line treatment, in most women the cancer comes back, often resistant to the first-line drug platinum.

We have found new diagnostic biomarkers, and collaborate with nano-engineers to develop innovative devices so women can in the future be easily and reliably screened at GP clinics or at home. We further work with clinicians and chemists developing new drugs and immuno-therapies to treat platinum resistant cancers.

Since most patients are older women, we further investigate the unique characteristics of the immune system of older individuals. These fundamental big data 'omics' bioinformatics studies are also providing new insights on how to optimise vaccines to protect older adults, for example against influenza and COVID19, as well as cancer itself.

Why Wi-Fi matters: the past, present and future of a social technology

8 September 2021, presented by Distinguished Professor Julian Thomas


From café culture to home schooling, remote community networks, and smart cities, Wi-Fi is an invisible but fundamental element of contemporary life. Loosely regulated, low-cost, and largely overlooked by social researchers, this technology has driven the rise of the smartphone and broadband internet, and is now a vital element in the next wave of automation. During the pandemic, household Wi-Fi has been critically important for connected households, enabling new ways of working from home and maintaining social links.
At the same time, the closure of libraries, campuses and other public Wi-Fi locations has exacerbated disadvantage for people without ready access to the internet. This talk reviews the history of wi-fi, showing how a technology originally designed to connect cash registers came to play an important social role. It describes Wi-Fi’s immediate prospects, including its relations to high speed 5G cellular services, and its possible longer-run social futures, which may hinge upon its uniquely decentralised and inclusive capabilities for automation.

Transforming Australia's Biosolids Industry: advancing the next generation of waste

25 May 2021, presented by Distinguished Professor Andy Ball

The ARC Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource, based at RMIT’s West Bundoora Campus, brings together Australia’s leading biosolids researchers and key industry and government stakeholders to advance the management, transformation and reuse of biosolids in agriculture.
The Centre's focus is 1) capability and knowledge building, 2) research development, extension and training, and 3) sustainable strategic partnerships.
The expected outcomes of the Centre are to develop a group of new, highly-trained industry-ready researchers, and advanced solutions in three major themes: improved technologies, enhanced products, and sustainability. This will provide significant benefits in the economic value of new applications and market opportunities as well as deliver cost-savings – all in an environmentally friendly manner. This presentation will examine the rationale and expectations of the 5-year research and training program.

Managing workers’ health and safety in complex supply networks: The construction industry experience

21 March 2021, presented by Distinguished Professor Helen Lingard

Construction accounts for 9% of the national workforce but 12% of work-related fatalities. Every year some 12,600 compensation claims are accepted from construction workers for injuries and diseases involving lengthy workplace absences. SafeWork Australia identifies supply networks as a national action area for work health and safety (WHS) improvement and construction as a priority industry. The complex nature of the construction industry’s supply network requires WHS risks to be identified and managed across multiple organisational boundaries and interfaces. In this lecture, RMIT Distinguished Professor Helen Lingard will present findings from an ongoing program of research examining organisational, structural and cultural challenges inherent in managing WHS in complex construction supply networks. The lecture will consider how best to integrate WHS into construction planning and design and present lessons relating to clients’ use of commercial mechanisms to embed WHS requirements in the commercial frameworks used to deliver projects.

 presentation title screen listing the name of this event and the date

Accountability & the Office: Historical Factory to Contemporary Covid-19

10 November 2020, presented by Distinguished Professor Lee Parker

From the emergence of the Industrial Revolution factory to today's multi-storey office building, the office has permeated organisational, economic and social activity for over 200 years. For profit, non-profit and public sector organisations, it has become a major site of clerical and professional labour, and a centre of strategic management, management control, service delivery and accountability discharge. Its location, configuration, functions and processes vitally impact organisational activity and outcomes. This presentation reveals the historical and persistent influence of scientific management on the office and its role as a site of internal and external surveillance, control and governance. Behind frontstage facades of innovative design, backstage agendas of cost efficiencies and client impression management will be unveiled. In today's covid-19 environment, the implications for occupational health and safety of corporate investments in open plan, hot desk and Activity Based Working designs and the pressures for their re-engineering and relocation, will be evaluated.

 presentation title slide providing title of event and date

Engineering Cyber-Physical Systems: A nature-inspired simplexity approach

29 September 2020, presented by Distinguished Professor Xinghuo Yu

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) represent a broad range of complex, physically aware engineered systems which integrate information and communication technologies (ICT) into physical systems for efficient and effective automation and control. A typical example is a smart grid which allows affordable and secure power supply and use while helping reduce carbon footprints. Recent fast ICT advances have made situation awareness possible for better management and operation of CPS. This has also led to explosive growth of spatio-temporal information and complexity. An innovative way of thinking and doing is needed to tackle these large-scale complex problems efficiently and effectively.

In this talk, we will first review recent developments in CPS and their challenges. We will then advocate for a novel problem-solving paradigm, the so-called simplexity approach underpinned by a 'simple solutions for complex problems' philosophy, to deal with large-scale complex CPS. Several nature-inspired methodologies such as AI, swarm intelligence and complex networks will be examined for modelling, control and optimisation of CPS. Some real-world problems, such as money laundering network detection and autonomous microgrid network for power supply from our own research projects, will be used as case studies.


Precision medicine, positioning satellites and turbo-charging the internet - all printed on a chip the size of your fingernail

3 September 2020, Presented by Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell

My team works with technologies that have the potential to help every Australian stay healthier, safer, and more connected than ever. They are developing systems to diagnose and treat diseases, they’re turbo-charging the internet with ultrafast fibre optics and they are creating technologies for precise positioning of everything from self-driving cars to satellites.

How are we doing it? We’re using integrated photonics - the successor to microelectronics - where both electricity and laser light can be captured and controlled on a chip the size of your fingernail, all at a price of only a few dollars.

This technology is surprisingly adaptable and yet scalable to mass manufacture. In this lecture I will show how this technology is also accessible to even quite small companies, right here in Australia and I will share my vision of building a technology manufacturing base to advance our position as global leaders not just in science and technology but also industrial commercialisation.  


Molecular and Nano Engineering of Gold for Environmental and Biomedical Applications

3 October 2019, Presented by Distinguished Professor Suresh Bhargava

* due to technical limitations, we are unable to provide a transcript of this presentation. If you are experiencing difficulties viewing this video please contact Distinguished Professor Suresh Bhargava for more information.

Building upon his know-how on the development of gold-based materials, Prof. Bhargava has developed gold-based molecules and nanoparticles for cancer treatment and mercury sensing, respectively, combining research excellence with research relevance.

Prof. Bhargava’s research introduces a highly promising family of gold-based drugs which are found to be highly cytotoxic against various cancer cell lines with high selectivity. This patented family of gold-based drugs can provide a safe treatment to cancer patients with minimal side effects compared to current medicines.

Using gold at the nano level, Prof. Bhargava has created advanced materials for mercury detection and abatement technology. This patented technology is capable of measuring toxic mercury levels in harsh industrial processes and effluent streams


Combating the epidemic of "super-bugs"

3 July 2019, Presented by Distinguished Professor Elena Ivanova

The threat of a global rise of untreatable infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria calls for the design and fabrication of a new generation of biomaterials. Following the discovery of the efficient, bacteria-killing nature of insect wing surfaces, the properties of these biological nanostructures have recently become the subject of intense investigation, promising to play a large role in combating the emerging, worldwide epidemic of "super-bugs."

The formation of bacterial biofilms has been prevented for many years through adapting the physical and chemical properties of a variety of medical tools, particularly the surfaces of instruments and implants. Recent studies of insect wings have shown that they are covered with nano-pillared arrays lethal to most species of pathogenic bacteria. Rather than relying on a combination of physical and chemical properties to combat biofilm formation, the mechanism of the antibacterial activity of nanostructured surfaces has been described in terms of purely physical, "mechano-bactericidal" effects. So far, several synthetic bactericidal surfaces, e.g., "black silicon," was synthesised as an analogue of an insect wing's protective surface and was reported to induce a biocidal effect, physically "bursting" the small, Gram-negative and Gram positive bacteria while leaving the host's large eukaryotic cells intact; however, the precise role of this and other nano-architectures in fighting pathogenic bacteria remains a complex mystery to be solved.

As a pioneer in biomimetic antibacterial surfaces, Distinguished Professor Elena Ivanova has developed an innovative concept of eco-friendly bactericidal nanostructured materials, which are capable of physical killing of all types of bacterial cells including “super-bugs”.


Creating Efficient and Beautiful Structures

13 March 2019, Presented by Distinguished Professor Mike Xie

Distinguished Professor Mike Xie and his team have developed an innovative design methodology to remove under-utilised material from structures, producing highly efficient and strikingly elegant designs. This technique can significantly reduce the weight and the associated energy consumption of aircraft and motor vehicles. In this lecture, Mike will show a wide range of practical applications of his bi-directional evolutionary structural optimisation (BESO) method, including spectacular buildings and bridges, unmanned aircraft, mechanical metamaterials and structural connections. Mike will also demonstrate how such organic designs can be effectively realised using advanced manufacturing technologies including 3D printing. The new design methodology and advanced manufacturing technologies will change the way we design and construct our future built environment.


Creating healthy, liveable, sustainable cities