Collaboration key to success for Alumni Award winner
Professor Darren Martin is a global leader in research and the commercialisation of polyurethanes, polymer nanocomposites and renewable nanomaterials. In addition to many high impact publications, his research has led to several licensed and granted patents, with a proven track record in end-to-end innovation.
Professor Martin leads the Martin Group – part of the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology – where he takes fundamental discoveries in materials science and biology and progresses the science, engineering, regulation and translation of these technologies for the benefit of Australia. Professor Martin is also the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the successful UQ start-up company TenasiTech Pty Ltd.
He has a PhD in Science (1996) and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Materials Science (1993) from UTS.
Darren, what is one key lesson you learned at UTS that is still relevant to you today?
My PhD was completed at UTS, but as part of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Cardiac Technology – which also involved Royal North Shore Hospital, UNSW Biomedical Engineering, CSIRO Melbourne and others.
My project was about developing new bio-stable polyurethane materials for improved pacemaker lead insulation. My PhD candidature was a brilliant education in doing good science and developing new biomaterials technologies, but also in working in multidisciplinary, multi-node applied research teams. I discovered the joy of ‘functional teams’ at UTS!
What motivates you to achieve your goals?
Materials Science and Engineering is an enabler. I fell in love with the idea of designing and developing new materials to help solve wicked problems in 1989, and the only thing that has changed since then are the projects, people and stakeholders we get to engage with – and that I don’t go into the lab quite as often!
The shared joy of developing better materials and products is still a ‘drug’, because oftentimes it takes a decade and many minds and hands to make it work. That big shared experience is pretty cool.
What change – in your industry, community, or society at large – would you like to help create in the next ten years?
We are at an important stage of development in a longstanding partnership between academia and an Indigenous corporation, working on new sustainable materials derived from spinifex grass.
I am determined that we commercialise this technology in a manner that acknowledges and incorporates traditional Indigenous knowledge, and with a partnership ethos that provides a legal framework for shared future commercial benefits and Indigenous economic development.
What did you enjoy most about your time at UTS?
UTS was a newly-formed university (formerly NSWIT) and so our Materials Science degree had very small, friendly cohorts and many of the lecturers had substantial industrial experience. During those undergraduate years, I formed durable life-long friendships with five of my classmates. In fact, two of us ended up getting married to the sisters of two of the others! I would consider those four years to be among the most enjoyable years of my life.
What was your first job after graduating?
A postdoc at UNSW Biomedical Engineering, continuing on from the PhD work but with more focus on implanting the new polyurethane biomaterials into sheep to assess their biostability – that is, resistance to degradation and cracking.
By the end of that postdoc I was part of a team pitching to investors to spin out a new company, and many years later these materials made their way into millions of patients worldwide. That is very satisfying.
What was one turning point that changed your career, your life, or both?
Definitely getting married to my lovely wife Georgina in 1993, together with the births of our children – Camille in 1998 and Fraser in 2000. They are the adhesive that makes it all work.
Have you had to adapt and upskill throughout your career? How?
For my career, the collective experience in building strong, trusting and durable relationships with commercial partners has been very critical and at the core of what we do, but I have always been keen to attend extra training sessions and workshops where possible. One of the most valuable courses I completed was on the Enneagram Personality Test, which I found very helpful with understanding and managing teams.
What do you think are the most valuable skills for new graduates entering the workforce?
Adaptability – particularly now with COVID – good clear communication and emotional intelligence. You can intuitively navigate your way forward even in the most challenging times if you have these tools.
What is the biggest challenge facing your sector, and how should it be addressed?
Right now it’s COVID, without question. And for Australian universities, a careful and discerning re-think about how we enhance engagement between higher education and industry, with a strong focus on enabling economic growth, new industries and jobs. How do we best support an innovation ecosystem that truly rewards hard work, bright minds and functional teams? If we can answer that question and get all of the key stakeholders cooperating, we might start to see some positive outcomes from what has been the biggest test facing this generation.
This UTS Aluminated series features trailblazing UTS 2020 Alumni Award recipients Dr Paul Beinat and Professor Darren Martin. They offer insights into their professional achievements, challenges they have overcome, and the secrets to their success.