Double act

When it comes to research, Professors Bogdan 'Bodzio' Dlugogorski and Eric Kennedy believe two minds are better than one.

Professors Bogdan Dlugogorski and Eric Kennedy looking toward the camera

The pair started at the University of Newcastle within two weeks of each other in 1994 and immediately forged what has become not only a firm friendship but a highly successful professional partnership.

Dlugogorski and Kennedy are leading researchers and directors of the University's Centre for Energy, and jointly supervise a team of 20 research students. Dlugogorksi is a chemical engineer and Kennedy a chemist.

It was a shared interest in the science of fire that first brought them together. Ironically, Dlugogorski's research focus was in suppressing fire while Kennedy's was in starting it, specifically through catalytic combustion.

At that time there was a national imperative to replace ozone-depleting halon compounds as the commonly used fire suppressant. The two teamed up on a project researching alternative chemicals for fire mitigation and ways to convert stockpiles of halons into useful, less dangerous chemicals.

They have since joined forces on numerous projects, including groundbreaking research on dioxins released during combustion.

Their work in this field began in the mid 1990s with a BHP Billiton funded project to minimise the formation of dioxins in the sinter plant at the now closed Newcastle steelworks. That research led to the pair establishing a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of the highly intricate task of measuring and analysing dioxins.

As Dlugogorski explains, it is the scientific equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

"It is one of the most difficult and sophisticated analyses in chemistry," he says. "Dioxins are highly toxic and the concentrations are extremely small. You can have one molecule of that pollutant in a billion or a trillion other molecules."

Currently, they use this technology to analyse the potentially toxic pollutants formed when biomass that has been contaminated with pesticides is burnt. The project, spanning both energy and fire safety research, is funded by the Australian Research Council.

What makes their partnership work is deep mutual respect for each other's research. Kennedy credits Dlugogorski with outstanding analytical and mathematical skills and a sponge-like ability to absorb highly technical information. Dlugogorski, in turn, describes his colleague as an intuitive quick thinker and a first-class chemist.

"Bodzio and I don't always approach a problem from the same perspective," says Kennedy, "but by combining our specialist expertise we produce a better outcome."

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