Building Bridges across Continents: My Inspiring Visit to UOW Australia with WREN
In May 2023, I had the great opportunity to travel and visit the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia. The invitation comes as part of an academic mission funded and organised by WREN, aimed to foster international collaboration, initiate new research partnerships, and promote gender equity in the field of STEM. The visit was together with Prof. Julia Mendes from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil, and WREN’s Brazil Representative. Throughout our stay, we engaged with academic researchers, visited their laboratories and presented my area of research to the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at UOW.
The day had finally arrived like a dream come true – I was going to Australia, to UOW Australia. At 9:10 am, I boarded a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Sydney Airport, and luckily, the immigration process went smoothly. The flight journey was pleasant, arriving at 7:30 pm, at Sydney Airport. Dr Marcella Bernardo, WREN’s Event Coordinator and UOW research fellow, picked me up from the airport and drove me to the hotel in Wollongong City for check-in. It was the first time I met Marcella in person, and she turned out to be a wonderful lady. As a person who grew up in the hot weather of Malaysia, the weather felt extremely cold and windy. On our way, we stopped at a mall near Wollongong town to grab some dinner before eventually checking into my hotel.
I had breakfast at the hotel and then went for a walk at Wollongong Beach. Later, I met my cousin and his family, who lived in Wollongong. We had a great seafood lunch at Steamers & Grill and visited their house in the suburb of Woonona. I rested at their place and returned to my hotel room after having tea. In the evening, I went out for dinner with Julia and Dr Emily Yap, the Chair of WREN and research engineer from UOW. Julia and I had the opportunity to visit UOW Australia through WREN. We enjoyed a nice Thai meal and then returned to the hotel to rest, as the next day marked the beginning of our official business at UOW Australia.
After breakfast, Julia and I went for a walk around Wollongong Beach. We visited Flagstaff Point Lighthouse and took a long walk along the Wollongong Beach coastline. When we returned to the hotel, I got ready to go to the UOW Wollongong campus. It was my first day there, and Julia and I took the free public bus to reach the campus. I was filled with excitement. After a 15-minute ride, we arrived at the beautiful campus with its lush greenery. I felt truly blessed to be there—it was a dream come true. Marcella welcomed us at the entrance and guided us through the campus. We made sure to capture photos with the iconic UOW logo as evidence of our visit. We continued our walk to the SMART Infrastructure Facility, where Marcella and Grace Kennedy, a co-founder of WREN and lecturer at UOW, generously shared their office space with us. Once settled in, we went for lunch at the cafeteria. Nearby, there was also an on-campus bar called UNIBar. It was unusual for me to see such a setup, as we don’t have something similar in Malaysia.
Today, I had two appointments. The first was a meeting with Dr Aziz Ahmed, an academic researcher in the field of sustainable additive manufacturing, among other interests. The meeting with Aziz was very fruitful, as we shared the same research interests. He showed me his research lab and the impressive 3D printing equipment they had. I was mesmerized by their large-scale printers, and we agreed to start a joint grant collaboration, PhD supervision, and FYP student co-supervision. This collaboration is something we need to work on when I return to Malaysia.
My second visit for the day was to the Sustainable Building Research Centre (SBRC) at the Innovation Campus. Julia joined me and we took the public bus again from the Wollongong campus to the Innovation Campus, which took about 20 minutes. At SBRC, we were greeted by Dr Jingjing Liu, the WREN Secretary and researcher at SBRC, who showed us around and explained in detail the sustainable innovations implemented there. They had impressive features such as green walls, natural lighting, window sensors, inclined ceiling design, recycling initiatives, solar roofs, recycled rubber tiles, labs, and energy efficiency management in buildings, among others. I was highly impressed and excited because their projects aligned closely with my Capstone Project on Sustainable Houses. I found it fascinating that they were using recycled timber, while my research project focused on using rice husk composite to replace timber. It opened the possibility for a future research collaboration that I needed to consider. I intend to invite Jingjing to give a guest lecture on Green Building Index (GBI) for my Sustainable Engineering module. Overall, the visit to the SBRC was incredibly valuable. Once back on Wollongong campus, Marcella, Emily, Julia, and I had dinner at the UNIBar. Emily kindly offered to give us a ride back to our hotel.
On this day, we visited the Shoalhaven Campus in Nowra to explore UOW’s Industry 4.0 Hub. The journey to Nowra took a little over an hour where we made a pit stop at the town of Kiama for breakfast. Marcella, our chauffeur for the day and tour guide, also took us to see the Kiama Blowhole, where we quickly snapped some pictures. The scenery was mesmerizing and breathtaking.
Upon reaching the Shoalhaven Campus, we were greeted by Emily, who took us to the Industry 4.0 Hub. It was a sophisticated facility equipped with high-tech equipment such as advanced printers, laser cutting machines, collaborative robots (cobots), and simulation-based welding equipment utilizing Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. I even had the opportunity to operate a cobot and perform a “pick and place” task as part of a research project, titled “An Investigation of Operators’ Performance with Collaborative Robots (Cobots) in Industry”. Additionally, I tried their Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality tools, such as welding simulations using Augmented Reality with Soldamatic equipment and the Microsoft HoloLens 2 for digital work instructions.
Later in the evening, we went out for dinner with Dr Maina Portella Garcia, co-founder of WREN and Principal Materials and Welding Engineer at APA. We dined at a Lebanese restaurant called Samaras.
I started the day with my usual morning walk along Wollongong Beach. In the afternoon, I went to the campus by bus for our WREN Strategy Meeting. All the ladies in the WREN Committee attended, with Dr Vita Wonoputri, WREN’s Indonesia Representative and lecturer from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Dr Shiva Pedram, Vice-Chair of WREN and researcher at UOW, and Flávia Tuane Ferreira Moraes, WREN’s Communications Coordinator and PhD student from Brazil and currently visiting CentraleSupelec in France, joined us online. It was a highly productive discussion on WREN’s future plans and directions. We all had dinner at the UNIBAR. Afterwards, Julia and I stayed back to watch Marcella and Maina’s soccer game at the university, which was a fantastic experience.
Today was the day of the research seminar, where I presented my research project, titled “Innovating Sustainable Composites with Reinforced Natural Fibres for a Greener Future”. I delivered the presentation with confidence, and everyone showed keen interest in my research. After the seminar, we had lunch at the café, and I took the opportunity to visit the Innovation Campus again. This time, I explored Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) and Translational Research Initiative for Cellular Engineering and Printing (TRICEP). At TRICEP, I witnessed various high-tech and advanced bio ceramic and metal 3D printing. I was amazed by their level of advancement.
In the evening, our WREN team had dinner together at Kneading Ruby, an Italian restaurant. After dinner, we indulged in some desserts, and the WREN ladies surprised Julia and me with some special gifts. I felt incredibly special and blessed by their hospitality.
Today was our day out in Sydney. We decided to experience a train ride to Sydney and participated in a Free Walking Tour. We strolled through Sydney’s historical sites, taking in the rich heritage of the city. The day was filled with exploration and sightseeing. We immersed ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere of Sydney, enjoying the iconic landmarks and learning about the city’s history. It was a memorable experience that added to the overall richness of our trip. As the day came to an end, we returned to Wollongong by train, reflecting on the wonderful time we had in Sydney. We were grateful for the opportunity to visit such a culturally rich and diverse city.
It was my very last day in Wollongong, and I could hardly believe how quickly the time had flown. But thanks to Marcella’s thoughtful planning, my morning was not wasted. She organized a hiking trip, or as they call it here, bushwalking, in Kiama. It turned out to be a remarkable experience, allowing me to immerse myself in the breathtaking beauty of nature.
As we ventured into the lush landscapes, I couldn’t help but reflect on the importance of achieving a healthy work-life balance. This excursion served as a reminder that taking time for ourselves, enjoying the wonders of nature, and embracing new experiences are essential for personal growth and becoming a well-rounded, stress-free researcher.
After our memorable adventure, it was time to bid farewell to Wollongong. I packed up my belongings, checked out from the hotel, and made my way to the airport. As I glanced back at the city, a mix of emotions washed over me. The memories and experiences I gained during my visit will forever hold a special place in my heart.
From the warm welcome at Sydney airport and greeted by Marcella, to experiencing the camaraderie of the WREN network, every moment has been truly remarkable. Exploring Wollongong’s stunning beaches, enjoying delicious meals with colleagues, and engaging in fruitful discussions with renowned academics at the University of Wollongong—all these encounters have left an indelible mark on my professional and personal journey.
As I board the plane and watch Wollongong fade into the distance, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities and connections forged during this visit. The collaborative initiatives and partnerships that have been established will undoubtedly contribute to the advancement of sustainable materials and the empowerment of women in engineering.
I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to the University of Wollongong, the Women’s Research Engineers Network, and all those who made this visit possible. The warmth and hospitality I experienced will forever remain etched in my memory.
Although my time in Wollongong has come to an end, the knowledge gained, friendships formed, and the profound sense of inspiration will continue to shape my academic pursuits. Farewell, Wollongong. Until we meet again, may you continue to thrive and inspire generations of researchers and explorers to come.