Pioneering RMIT Engineer becomes first Australian to win prestigious George Whitby Award from American Chemical Society

Pioneering RMIT Engineer becomes first Australian to win prestigious George Whitby Award from American Chemical Society

Professor Namita Roy Choudhury, Head of Chemical & Environmental Engineering in RMIT's School of Engineering, has become the first Australian to win the 2024 George Stafford Whitby Award for Distinguished Teaching and Research.

The award, which is cosponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and Cabot Corporation, honours teachers and academic scientists for distinguished, innovative and inspirational teaching and research in chemistry and polymer science.

Choudhury said she was honoured to receive the award, which recognises innovative research to push the frontier of science.

“I am feeling truly honoured to receive this award from American Chemical Society (ACS) Rubber Division, amongst the diverse group of eminent scientists,” she said.

“The award is a culmination of dedication, hard work and collective power of passion and dream of the Biomimicry team at RMIT. Certainly, we see that we are breaking the mould and see ACS is recognising scientific achievements without any border.” 

Choudhury's research is focused on design and developing biomimetic smart and tough hydrogel materials for the future.  

Tough gels are a necessity for stretchable electronics, robotics, regenerative medicine and many healthcare products, but it is difficult to obtain softness and toughness simultaneously in a single material that is also responsive to environmental cues.  

“Rubber, in general, is considered to be a commodity of such global importance that it is included on the US and EU's lists of critical raw materials.”

“Due to a projected future shortage of natural rubber, there is significant research going on to derive natural rubber from alternative abundant agricultural resources, other than the rubber tree.”  

“Interestingly, the Biomimicry team at RMIT has been also working on making highly resilient protein-based elastomers through biotechnological routes from non-plant-based renewable resources for several years,” she said.  

Protein-based elastomers are found in arthropods including fleas, fruit flies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and cicadas. They are critical for jumping, locomotion, energy storage and sound production mechanisms such as in cicadas. 

“In essence, we are extracting or hacking the genetic code of native ‘Resilin’ elastomer from the insect family and combining them into the design of a unique super elastic protein,” said Choudhury.

Her innovative approach has the potential to bring about significant advancements in the field of biomedical engineering and contribute to the development of new and effective medical treatments.

08 May 2024


Professor Namita Roy Choudhury collecting her award on stage. Professor Namita Roy Choudhury collecting her award.

This isn’t the first time her research has had a major impact. Early in her career, Choudhury collaborated with Bridgestone on understanding the consequences of surface modification of carbon black and its interaction with elastomer and reinforcement mechanism on their performance and durability of rubber products like automotive tyres and window seals.

Later working with Castrol Australia, Choudhury developed the concept of the role of the stratified elastomer in forming a thin, lubricating film layer on the engine, which was fundamental to the development of Castrol’s ‘Magnatech’ lubricant for automotive engines, and of significant industrial importance, with applications in both engineering and bio-medical fields. 

Eventually she became a senior research leader working with industry to make everything from engine lubricants many of us use in our cars today, to better rubber window seals and cutting-edge biomedical technology to help bind wet wounds.

Her latest research in protein biomimicry, inspired by incredible native elastic protein ‘Resilin’ - that allows fleas to jump greater than 150 times their height and mosquitoes to beat their wings 600 times per second - to produce a new flexible gel for degenerated disc repair and bio adhesive materials for surgery applications, where it can tackle the difficult task of binding wet wounds.  

Recently, upon invitation from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and together with her colleagues Professor Naba Dutta RMIT and Professor Julie Liu from Purdue University, she has coedited and published a book on “Biomimetic Protein based Elastomers: Emerging Materials for the Future” in 2022.  

Choudhury said that it was her diverse career experiences that made her teaching, research and way of working unique. 

“I strive to push the boundary, deep dive into a territory that has immense future potential and make an impact,” she said.

“This journey of discovering the experience and experiencing the discovery, is challenging but also rewarding.” 

During her trip to the US to receive the award, Choudhury had the opportunity to interact with the North American scientific community, including attending an ACS technical meeting. She said she was struck by the societal relevance of the research being conducted.

“I noted that the major focus of the scientific community in the US has also embraced the current geopolitical threat, climate change risk and critical raw material supply shortage issue of commodities of global importance,” she said.

“Consequently, it has steered the researchers to search for a solution to sustainability -whether it is raw materials or environmental pollution before it is too late.”

Choudhury said she still has lots to achieve in her career, particularly in the field of soft materials for health care and renewable energy. 

“Using bioinspired approaches, our team is pushing the boundaries of material development from petroleum-based resources to completely renewable resources that give us a sustainable future,” she said. 

“In the spirit of this award, I also want to use this platform to empower our next generation cohort to take risk and explore the unknowns ahead of us.”

“My ambition is the team will reach great heights, with more discoveries with our tireless dedication to excellence and passion in research in this area at RMIT University, which brings excitement, pride and prestige to the University and for Australia in general.”

Choudhury acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council for her research.


Story: Finn Devlin

08 May 2024


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.