Distinguished Professor Mike Xie, Director of RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials, is having an incredible run of winning awards.
Xie has been named AGM Michell Medal winner for 2017 by Engineers Australia, for his work developing innovative building techniques that are being adopted worldwide.
Earning the highest Australian honour in mechanical engineering, Xie said, was "beyond my wildest dreams, as I have always regarded himself as a civil engineer".
The judges found Xie demonstrated a "long-standing eminence in the science and practice of mechanical engineering, with a good balance of ingenuity (and) a vast range of theoretical knowledge".
The Medal comes on top of earning the prestigious 2017 Clunies Ross Innovation Award in June.
Xie is recognised globally as one of the most important contributors to the original development and subsequent worldwide adoption of evolutionary structural optimisation (ESO) and the more robust bi-directional (BESO) techniques.
The organic and strikingly elegant shapes produced by ESO/BESO have been used in landmark buildings around the world.
Xie’s techniques made it possible to quickly obtain many of the amazing forms originally designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi for the iconic Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona.
And leading Japanese architects have used ESO/BESO to design spectacular award-winning buildings - including the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha and the Himalayas Centre in Shanghai – which have had a huge impact on new approaches to structural form-finding.
Xie said he is passionate about trying to solve complex problems with simple approaches.
RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Martin Bean CBE, said the Clunies Ross Innovation Award was a wonderful recognition of Xie’s many years of collaborative research.
"Mike’s innovative ideas have been shaping the world – quite literally – for decades," Martin said.
"The millions of tourists who gaze in wonder at the Sagrada Familia each year may not realise his critical role in bringing to life Gaudi’s incredibly complex designs. This is just one example of his outstanding research impact.
"This award is a well-deserved acknowledgement of his sustained focus on creating practical solutions to shared challenges, and we are all very proud of Mike for this achievement."
Professor Calum Drummond, RMIT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President, also congratulated Xie on his award.
"The more complex a material or a structure is, the more expensive it is, so one of the most important things about Mike’s innovation is that he focuses on simplicity," Drummond said.
In line with RMIT’s traditional approach to research and innovation, Xie prioritises research with practical application.
"He is creating value for others outside the academic community," Drummond said.
"He’s actually developing tangible products that people can use to improve their lives."
Xie and his colleagues in the Centre for Innovative Structures and Materials have developed simple but versatile techniques for creating structurally efficient and aesthetically pleasing designs.
“Beauty evolves in the forms as a by-product,” he said. “We use very simple geometry as the starting point and it turns out so organic and beautiful.”
Inspired by the evolutionary process of “survival of the fittest” in naturally occurring structures such as bones, shells and trees, ESO/BESO is now widely used in engineering, architecture, biomedicine and materials science.
“BESO techniques provide architects with a tool that has now been implemented in many design software packages to create more efficient structures,” Xie said.
He has worked with major Australian companies such as Arup, Boeing and Thales to design lightweight, high-performance structures and materials.
His techniques make it possible to significantly reduce the weight and associated energy consumption of motor vehicles and aircraft, as well as enable strikingly elegant bridge and building designs.
By integrating the techniques with additive manufacturing technology – an area of focus for RMIT through its Advanced Manufacturing Precinct and Advanced Manufacturing and Fabrication
Enabling Capability Platform – Xie has produced many 3D printed models as well as large prototypes.
“Ten years ago when I did presentations, people would say ‘Oh, nice pictures, but it can never be built’,” Xie said.
“But with the rapid development of 3D printing, we can actually realise all these designs and test out ideas very quickly.”
Dr Andrew Maher, Chief Digital Officer of global engineering consultancy Aurecon, said: “You can put a map together of people who are innovating with 3D printing at the industrial scale, who are redesigning processes, and a lot of those people link back to Mike’s research.
“As the technologies catch up to Mike’s ideas, they will be industrialised and we will see things not just repeated the same way again and again and again, but designed differently according to their particular conditions.”
Over the past 25 years, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering has presented the Clunies Ross Awards in recognition of the outstanding application of science and technology that provides economic, social or environmental benefit to Australia.
The awards commemorate Sir Ian Clunies Ross, a giant of Australian science and former Chair of CSIRO.
Story: Pauline Charleston