The brightest engineers improving our world have been recognised by create’s Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers 2020 awards. 

30 engineers were awarded across 10 categories including building & construction, community, utilities, manufacturing & automation and more. The innovations tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges to improve process, safety, sustainability, and efficiency.

“Innovations ranged from macro-scale pieces of infrastructure like railway stations and sports stadiums, to micro-scale technology like atomically thin materials,” says Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.

Here’s a closer look at the winners:

Pandanus Leaf-Inspired Cantilevered Stadium Roof

Scott Rathie, Senior Structural Engineer, Arup

Category: Building & Construction

Inspired by the leaf of a pandanus tree, Rathie developed an innovative structural system for Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Rathie first experimented using origami to mimic the behaviour of the leaf and develop it into a workable solution for the stadium roof. 

The result was the use of folded plates to stiffen the cantilevered roof instead of using trusses, whilst still providing enough strength to withstand cyclonic winds. 

This solution eliminated the need for horizontal ties on the outside of the roof, which allowed the design to satisfy the architectural intent of creating the stadium’s emblematic “kites” cladded on the roof backstays.

Rapid Construction of Central Station Northern Colonnade and Canopy

Michael Chernyavsky, Senior Structural Engineer, Aurecon

Category: Building & Construction

Works to upgrade Sydney’s Central Station for the new metro have continued whilst the station remains almost fully operational, posing a range of construction and engineering challenges.

Chernyavsky and his team engineered a solution to construct the new northern colonnade and canopy over a major thoroughfare without impacting pedestrians entering and exiting Australia’s busiest train station. They designed precast concrete colonnade and steel-framed roof segments that could be rapidly installed during a 4-hour window at night whilst train services have stopped.

“By designing prefab components with four simple connections for rapid on-site installation, we eliminated the need for temporary works or falsework that would otherwise interfere with commuters,” Chernyavsky told This Is Construction.

AI-Powered Camera for Moving Plant Blind Spots

Dr Nathan Kirchner, CTO, Presien

Category: Oil, Gas & Mining

Borne out of Laing O’Rourke’s R&D team, Kirchner and the team at Presien have developed an AI-powered camera with computer vision to identify workers in blind spots of moving plant and equipment.

The camera is connected wirelessly to alarm systems that alert the driver and any other team members of the workers presence through visual, audio and haptic feedback.

Toolbox Spotter has been trained by over 100,000 hours of video footage of worksites to learn how to identify workers and their behaviour. 

“Toolbox Spotter sees objects, understands what they are, and what actions to take, seamlessly and in real-time, with no special tags or markers or changes in normal site operating procedures,” the company told This Is Construction.

Robotic Crawler for Rock Tunnel Safety Inspections

Daniel Rechichi, Senior Engineer ROV Design, The Water Corporation

Category: Ultilities

Rechichi developed a battery-powered robotic crawler that can enter tunnels as small as 1.6 m in diameter to conduct a safety assessment prior to worker entry.

The crawler assists crews entering unlined rock tunnels by allowing them to first inspect the tunnel remotely via high quality cameras. It then accompanies crews into the tunnel and provides lights, power, cameras, communications and safety equipment. 

The crawler has four-wheel drive, an articulated body for tight cornering and can even clear small boulders and debris with its hydraulic blade.

Optimisation Software to Reduce Energy Use of Building Plant

Iain Stewart, Founder, Exergenics

Category: Building & Construction

Through clever application of machine learning to collect and analyse data Stewart has developed software that creates digital twins of chilled plant. This allows building operators to test various control strategies under a range of scenarios. 

An optimisation algorithm extracts the ideal equipment loading for all possible cooling loads and ambient weather conditions. 

Combined with IoT (Internet of Things) equipment sensors, the software allows real-time optimisation and performance tracking to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 35,000 kg/year for a typical large office building.

Iain Stewart, Exergenics. Photo: create.

An Automated Model to Identify High-Risk Water Leaks

Nicholas Deeks, Technical Director Hydrology, GHD

Category: Consulting

Nicholas Deeks, Technical Director Hydrology, GHD

Hunter Water Corporation approached GHD looking for a solution to high-pressure water mains leaks. 20 large leaks occur per year risking property damage, road flooding and water service interruption.

Deeks developed a solution by creating software to automatically apply data into multiple scenarios to identify the highest risk areas. By applying the algorithm to spatial data for the entire Hunter region, the equivalent of 57,000 2D models could be created to process 35 billion flood hazard combinations.

This created a database of potential consequences for every water main segment, allowing Hunter Water to identify the high-risk mains that required extra monitoring, renewal or replacement.

“Traditional manual methods used to build each flood model aren’t possible for 57,000 models. So I needed GIS tools and processes to automate the build,” says Deeks.

Other Winners


Dr Shuaiwen Leon Song, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney

AI-powered accelerator system for cloud-based immersive VR experiences.

Meg Panozzo, Engineer, Arup & Founder, ConnectSTEM

ConnectSTEM is a membership program that facilitates education, collaborative partnerships, and storytelling to address gender imbalance in engineering.

Dr Anusha Withana Lecturer, University of Sydney & Inventor, Tacttoo

Thin, flexible and disposable electronic tattoo for the vision impaired that generates a high-resolution tactile sensation on the skin.


Jeffrey Fisher, Data Scientist, Advanced Analytics and AI Solutions, GHD Digital

Novel neural network framework to predict localised rainfall and estimate the probability of sewer pump station overflow up to six hours in advance.

Bradley Hocking, Program Lead, Asset Management Systems, Shoal Group Pty Ltd 

An asset management system framework (AMSF) that provides consistent asset information and optimises organisational asset management aligned with the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO55001.

Electronics and Communications

Dr Nitu Syed, Research Fellow, RMIT University

A new way of synthesising atomically thin sheets of piezoelectric gallium phosphate using ultra-thin gallium phosphate film and a low-temperature liquid metal printing technique.

Sruthi Kuriakose, PhD candidate, RMIT University

Replacing silicon for electronic and opto-electronic gadgets with alternate materials to downscale key electronic device components and create synthetic sensory organs like artificial retina.

Stephen Bornstein, CEO, Cyborg Dynamics Engineering

Artificially intelligent system that can identify protected objects, people and symbols, such as hospitals, in near real-time for military operations using computer vision at very high probabilities.

General Industry

Dr Kyaw Lwin, Overhead Wiring Design & Review Lead, Metro Trains Melbourne

Lwin contributed to several overhead wiring innovations on Melbourne Metro’s Caulfield to Dandenong section. 

This included the development of Melbourne’s first 66 kV insulator overhead wiring cantilever arrangement, eliminating the need for protective bonding cables and reducing material usage and installation times.

In addition, Lwin and his team developed the first braced dual anchor mast arrangement, and Melbourne’s first use of a Tensorex spring tensioning anchor system for overhead catenary and contact wires, resulting in a sturdy and compact anchor assembly requiring no heavy weights or guide rods.

Stacey Daniel, Founder, Board Presence

Developed a range of tools to encourage engineers to sit on corporate boards, to help improve evidence-based decision-making and to work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Anne Koopmann-Schmidt, Founder, Lead Like You

Created a program called Strengths in Diversity that fosters a diverse culture in organisations by focusing on talent and shifting focus away from characteristics such as age, gender and cultural background.

Manufacturing & Automation

Dr Farshid Pahlevani, Senior Research Fellow, University of New South Wales

World-first, single-step recycling process that transforms steelmaking slag and coffee waste into a sustainable source of agricultural phosphorus, which could deliver globally significant environmental and economic benefits.

Brett Casson, Founder, Retraction Footwear

World’s first commercially available fully 3D-printed thong to reduce waste and improve comfort.

Adolfo Fernandez, Technical Director, Aurecon

Designed a program that incentivises carbon savings, provides mechanisms for buildings to self-optimise energy consumption, creates a commercial model where projects are funded by operational savings and enables a platform where researchers have a testbed for innovation.

Mining, Oil & Gas

Kevin Chong, Specialist Reliability Electrical Engineer (RioExpert), Rio Tinto

Designed and implemented a data visualisation and analytics platform that brought together asset condition data into a single online platform for condition monitoring and identifcation of early signs of asset failure.

Professor Jun Huang, Professor, University of Sydney

Produced a new amorphous silica-alumina catalyst with stronger acidity than any other silica-alumina material created before to reduce the amount of coke left behind in hydrocarbon production and further decrease carbon dioxide emissions from coke-burning during oil refinement.

Research & Academia

Dr Michael Mortimer, Industry Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University

In collaboration with McLean Care, developed Hector VR, a virtual reality (VR) driving simulator for older drivers that helps them make informed decisions about relinquishing their licence.

Professor Hala Zreiqat, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, University of Sydney

Developed and patented a class of 3D-printable synthetic bone substitutes that are simultaneously bioactive, strong and resorbable capable of healing large bone defects, and withstanding the stresses and strains of weight-bearing parts of the body like the spine.

Dr Benham Akhavan, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

Developed a highly robust plasma coating that mitigates issues associated with firm bone bonding in implants by mimicking the surrounding tissue increasing the likelihood of an implant fusing to the host bone and reducing the chance of rejection or infection.


Dr Qilin Wang, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

Developed technology that maximises the energy recovered from wastewater by using a byproduct of the wastewater treatment itself, free ammonia, to produce biogas.

Associate Professor Nicky Eshtiaghi, Associate Professor, RMIT University

Developed an innovative design toolkit to optimise wastewater sludge pipeline systems that can predict pressure drops to an accuracy of 10 per cent.

Young Engineers

Dr James Gilbert, Lead Engineer — Advanced Instrumentation & Technology Centre, Australian National University

Led the design and construction of a $2 million precision radial velocity spectrograph for discovering extra-solar planets, called ‘Veloce Rosso.’

Dr Rona Chandrawati, Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales

Developed enzyme-containing implant technology to locally produce nitric oxide at the right place, in the right dose, and at the right time to aid wound healing, dilating blood vessels, and lowering eye pressure in glaucomatous eyes.

Dr Wenyue Zou, Postdoctoral Researcher, RMIT University

Developed a photoactive ink that generates a unique colour response to specific UV wavelengths to produce low-cost wearable sensors that monitor exposure to UV radiation.