Materials engineer | Youth Central

David, 24

David finds his work interesting and likes the fact that one day it could make a real difference to the way we use and create energy. Although a PhD student, he is one of a few scientists in the world studying how to make solar energy systems more practical and efficient. He says that his field of science could take him anywhere and in a few years plans on living and working overseas, continuing his research into solar energy.

Fact file

Job description: Building solar cells, preparing chemical solutions, testing theories, compiling and analysing results, writing papers and journal articles, attending meetings with supervisors and other PhD students, preparing for conferences, giving presentations at conferences.

Subjects studied: Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Specialist Maths, Maths Methods and English.

Further training: David has a double degree from Monash University with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and a Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University (5 years). David's is currently undertaking his PhD at the School of Physics and Materials Engineering at Monash University, (it will take a total of 3 to 4 years to finish). David has been in the Army Reserve for six years and undertakn numerous Army Reserve training courses.


"When I was at high school, I didn't really want to go to uni. I was more interested in joining the police force or the army", says David Menzies.

David's experience proves that things always don't end up how you think they will. Now only 24 years old, Dave has a Commerce degree and an Engineering degree (with Honours) behind him, and is finishing his PhD.

Always interested in the outdoors, and an avid bushwalker and motorcyclist, Dave never thought he'd end up doing what he's doing now. "I'm researching how we can make solar energy cells more efficient. Instead of using the old glass cells, I'm studying small plastic cells that are more practical than the glass ones and can be used in more situations."

PhD research

Dave's PhD research is being conducted at Monash University and brings two technologies of the future together - solar energy and nanotechnology. While we're all familiar with solar energy (for instance in our calculators and, sometimes homes), nanotechnology* is cutting edge and real science fiction material!

The solar cells Dave is studying are just 2 centimetres square and use a tiny electrode that is 25 x 10-9 metres. In other words - microscopic! His research involves testing if the solar cells work better under different conditions. His goal is to produce a solar cell that can work more efficiently and in more practical ways than the more traditional types of solar cell we're used to. This means that small, plastic solar cells could be used anywhere - stuck on your jacket to power your discman as you walk to school, recharging your laptop computer as you use it or charging and running appliances like fridges.

Although he is still technically a student, Dave says his research is just like a job. "I start at about 8 each morning. I meet with my supervisor and other PhD students and I work in the lab with a research doctor." He says he likes being able to work by himself on research he finds really interesting. "I'm guided by my supervisors rather than having to drive profits. I can work on my own terms and focus on my own goals." Next year, Dave will be heading off to Paris, Singapore and London where he will be speaking at conferences and meeting with other researchers who work on solar cells.

As well as finishing his undergraduate degrees, Dave has kept himself busy and earnt some handy pocket money by joining the Australian Army Reserve. He says he's spent most summer and winter breaks away with the Army and enjoys being outdoors, which as an infantry soldier, he has had plenty of opportunity to explore.

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology describes activities at the level of atoms and molecules (much smaller than the width of a human hair) that have applications in the real world. Devices built on this scale are so tiny there are all sorts of possibilities for their use. While they may still be some time away, sci-fi ideas such as miniature robots that could attack blood clots are more science than fiction. Nanotechnology has the potential to be used in many situations, and is relevant to different types of scientific research. You'll find materials scientists, mechanical and electronic engineers and medical researchers all working on developments using nanotechnology.

Job specs

Materials engineers investigate the properties of metals, ceramics, polymers and other materials and develop and assess their commercial and engineering applications.


A materials engineer may perform the following tasks:

  • Study the structure and properties of metals and other materials
  • Develop methods for processing minerals through to manufactured materials
  • Investigate methods for shaping and fabricating materials, and study methods for joining materials,
  • Improving existing materials and evaluating new ones
  • Participate in the design of products using advanced materials
  • Investigate material failures
  • Study ways to extend the life of materials
  • Establish procedures and methods to protect materials against deterioration and to assess their durability
  • Study possible improvements to production methods, report on the nature and uses of materials and advise on manufacturing techniques and quality control systems

Personal requirements

  • Enjoy science, technical and engineering activities
  • Able to identify, analyse and solve problems
  • Able to work as part of a team
  • Good communication skills
  • A capacity for creative thinking

Getting started

Find out more about a career in materials engineering:

Materials Australia (National Office)
Suite 205, 21 Bedford St North Melbourne, VIC 3051
Tel: (03) 9326 7266

Engineers Australia
Engineering House 11 National Cct Barton, ACT 2600
Tel: (02) 6270 6555

Find out more about this career path at (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).