15 June 2017

Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran, co-leader of the Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group at RMIT University, is a finalist for the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.

Associate Professor Bhaskaran, an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) recipient, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to research and innovation as an early career researcher—along with fellow ARC DECRA recipients, Dr Pengyi Yang (The University of Sydney) and Associate Professor Igor Aharonovich (University of Technology Sydney).

Professor Bhaskaran’s research team is developing novel stretchable and wearable electronics, which embed electronic devices made of nano-structured metal oxide films within flexible and transparent biocompatible elastomers.  Possible uses include wearable ultraviolet (UV) sensors, gas detection, and flat optics that would remove the need for bulky camera lenses.

“There are so many possibilities, it feels like we are standing at the edge of a whole new field with this technology, and there are exciting directions to follow,” says Professor Bhaskaran.

“UV sensors, for instance, could monitor the amount of UV exposure a person has during the day, and in the future, ideally produce an instant report that would be loaded to a smartphone device.”

Professor Bhaskaran began assembling her research team at RMIT University in 2010, in collaboration with another ARC-funded researcher, Dr Sharath Sriram. At the time, both researchers were Australian Postdoctoral Fellows, funded through the ARC Discovery Projects scheme.

During this time, Professor Bhaskaran also took maternity leave and was able to use the ARC’s eligibility exemption processes that allow for career interruptions, when applying for her current DECRA.

“The opportunities afforded by a DECRA fellowship and project support meant choosing to apply for it was a no-brainer for me. But more importantly, the application takes career interruptions into account. Without these provisions I would have been ineligible to apply.”

Since the award of the DECRA, Associate Professor Bhaskaran has been able to switch to a full-time research position to develop the technology of flexible transparent oxides further. Her team now has 8 affiliated academic staff, 2 research fellows, a research assistant, and 18 Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates.

Associate Professor Bhaskaran’s research has also benefited from several ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grants, awarded to collaborations involving researchers at RMIT University, The University of Melbourne and Monash University.

Although she only completed her PhD in 2009, Professor Bhaskaran has already won significant recognition for her research. In addition to this most recent nomination, in 2016 she was named among the Top 10 Innovators under 35 in the Asia region by the EmTech Asia Conference in association with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review.

The ARC is pleased to see some of Australia’s best and brightest researchers, including many ARC-funded researchers, recognised amongst this year’s Eureka Prize finalists. The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science. Professor Bhaskaran was announced as the category winner on 30 August 2017.