The University of Newcastle, Australia

A cleaner future powered by chemistry

Professor Rob Atkin collaborates with partners across Europe and the USA to be at the forefront of energy-efficient working fluids.

Professor Rob Atkin has always been fascinated by the natural world, and has a deep-seeded desire to understand "how things work". Atkin admits that chemistry was not his best subject in high school but he became passionate about the subject as he came to understand its role in shaping the future of the planet.

As a recipient of an ARC Future Fellowship at the University of Newcastle (UON), Atkin has emerged as a leading physical chemistry researcher with a strong commitment to teaching. In his current research at the world-class Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), Atkin focuses on materials that will have economic and environmental benefits across multiple industries.

"At the moment I'm concentrating on developing new working fluids – battery electrolytes, intelligent lubricants, solvents for biofuels and in bioreactors – which are high performing and more environmentally friendly than currently used materials. We are doing lots of work with ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents."

The goal of Atkin's group of 15 researchers is to develop the next generation of smart materials to produce high value products.

"There's a lot of potential for industrial and engineering collaborations in the electronics and automotive industries, medical devices, and so on... I'm also interested in developing processes for turning coal in to a more environmentally acceptable fuel".

Rob AtkinWhile Atkin's research addresses real world problems, it is built on a foundation of fundamental research, a systematic method of study that looks at the building blocks of science and facts prior to practical applications.

"The deep understanding that comes from fundamental research produces quantum leaps in performance that are not usually possible when trial and error approaches are employed".

Collaborative relationships play a key role in Professor Atkin's work globally with long-term partners in Sweden, Germany, the UK and, increasingly, in the USA.

"Forging strong industrial collaborations in research is a current objective and we are seeing increasing interest from forward-looking commercial partners who understand the benefits of research."

Professor Atkin believes being an active researcher and collaborator also gives him more to offer his students.

"The students who choose to come here really do come here to learn and work. The students we produce are globally competitive. The University of Newcastle offers exceptional education and support."

Throughout his career, Professor Atkin has maintained constant funding support from the Australian Research Council, published over 90 journal articles that have received almost 4000 citations, and is highly regarded for his work in atomic force microscopy and neutron scattering.

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