Professor Joe Shapter joins AIBN

4 May 2018
Professor Joe Shapter

The Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology is delighted to welcome Professor Joe Shapter, a world renowned leader in surface science and scanning probe microscopy.

“It’s great to get such an internationally recognised scientist here at AIBN, who will expand the high quality nanotechnology research that we’re famous for,” says AIBN Director Professor Alan Rowan.

Professor Shapter, who has also been appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research Infrastructure at the University of Queensland, has moved to UQ from Flinders University where he served as Dean of the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. He also headed Flinders’ involvement in both the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF) and the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

At AIBN, Professor Shapter will continue to pursue the development of novel nanomaterials for use in biosensors, solar cells, and other applications.

“I have joined the AIBN to be part of a world leading research environment and am looking forward to building fruitful collaborations with many AIBN colleagues,” he says. 

“The combination of nanomaterials and bioengineering present fantastic opportunities to have significant impact in a wide variety of important issues.”

Recently, Professor Shapter and his colleagues at Flinders University made headlines for their work on the development of a new polymer derived from industrial waste, which can be used to clean up oil spills.

Specifically, the polymer is made from waste cooking oil and sulphur waste from the petroleum industry. Led by Dr Justin Chalker at Flinders, the researchers devised a way to react the sulphur with the oil in the presence of nanoscale grains of salt so that the polymer forms around the salt. Then, when the salt dissolves, nanoscale holes remain in the polymer. As a result, the polymer acts like a sponge that can absorb oil from spills. The oil can then be squeezed out, allowing the polymer to be reused. 

Professor Shapter explains that the size of those holes has a big impact on how much oil the polymer is able to absorb. His group took high resolution images of the polymer to determine its nanostructure and make sure it would be able to absorb as much oil as possible.

“It’s basically waste being used to collect waste,” he says. “You can put it in the ocean, let it absorb the oil and scoop it up again.”

The paper has been published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems.