2005 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2005

David Boger

David Boger

As a young man at the University of Illinois, David Boger was offered a swag of lucrative chemical engineering jobs. Instead, his pioneering spirit took him to the newly established Monash University and a career in fluid mechanics.

It was the right move. Today the research teams he created are solving industrial problems large and small – eliminating the tailing dams synonymous with mining and inventing new ways to use minute droplets of fluids in nanotechnology devices. Along the way he discovered a new kind of fluid that now bears his name.

For a lifetime of pioneering work in fluid mechanics, first at Monash and then at the University of Melbourne, David Boger receives the 2005 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Water flows consistently and reliably. It doesn’t unpredictably turn to a paste but as you add particles to water, its properties change. Tomato sauce, paint, toothpaste, peanut butter, and mining slurries are good examples. They can behave as both solids and liquids and this can cause all sorts of problems – from getting the sauce out of the bottle, to blocking production lines or oil pipes. In essence, as you add particles to water it turns from being a Newtonian fluid to a non-Newtonian fluid and its flow becomes unpredictable.

David realised he needed tools to predict how these fluids would behave so he synthesised ‘perfect non-Newtonian’ fluids, which are elastic but have constant viscosity. In 1974 David presented his first paper on the new fluids. It was so influential in the field that his colleagues named them Boger fluids. At first the discovery was purely theoretical. But soon the practical applications appeared.

Because engineers in the mining industry prefer to work with predictable fluids that don’t suddenly block up pipes, most mineral slurry is highly diluted, requires large and expensive processing vessels, and the end result includes large volumes of liquid waste. Millions of dollars could be saved by the mining industry if the slurry is concentrated – provided it keeps flowing.

David could see that his new-found knowledge of non-Newtonian fluids could model and predict exactly how mineral slurry would behave. The mining companies could then design pipes, pumps and processes that used concentrated slurry and wouldn’t block.

These ideas were proven when David worked with Alcoa at their Kwinana alumina plant which was producing vast lagoons of bauxite residue (a caustic red mud). A six year investigation showed they could redesign the plant to remove the water but still keep the waste flowing. Now, with the help of one of David’s students, Alcoa has taken the further step of pumping waste CO2 through the caustic mud, sequestering the carbon and producing a less caustic waste that could potentially be re-used.

Not only did David’s work help save the company $10 million a year, the technology has now been transferred to many alumina plants around the world and dramatically improved the environmental footprint of alumina production.

Today, Boger fluids are contributing to the custom design of fluids: inks for inkjet printers that can be delivered onto paper in incredibly fine droplets; insecticide chemicals that spread evenly on leaves; and new drug delivery systems using microfluidics and nanotechnology.

Of equal importance, David’s work has led to Australia developing a substantial research capability, The University of Melbourne’s Australian Research Council Particulate Fluids Processing Centre is just one example. This centre now boasts three Federation Fellows, two of whom were coaxed back from the USA. In addition, several of David’s students are now leading research teams pursuing applications of Boger fluids across the country and the world.

What’s next for David Boger? “My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the achievements of the people we’ve nurtured over the last thirty years. Apart from my Gippsland farm and fly-fishing, my last big challenge is in mining.” “I believe the ideas we first developed for Alcoa can be applied to almost any mining operation. We’re now working to help the mining industry to eliminate tailing dams, and instead, convert their liquid waste into dry waste and useful products.”

Autobiographical Details

  • 1939 – Born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, USA
  • 1961 – B.S.Chem.Eng, Bucknell University, USA
  • 1963 – M.S.Chem.Eng, University of Illinois, USA
  • 1965 – Ph.D.Chem.Eng, University of Illinois, USA
  • 1965-1971 – Lecturer, Chemical Engineering, Monash University
  • 1970-1971 – Research Fellow, Chemical Engineering, University of Toronto
  • 1971-1980 – Senior Lecturer, Chemical Engineering, Monash University
  • 1976-1977 – Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Delaware
  • 1980-1982 – Reader, Monash University
  • 1980-1981 – Adjunct Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Delaware
  • 1982-present – Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • 1988-1990 – Deputy Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • 1990-1992 – Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • 1991-1999 – Deputy Director, Advanced Mineral Products Centre
  • 1991-2002 – Chairman, Trade Waste Acceptance Advisory Committee, Melbourne Water Corporation
  • 1992-2002 – Research Program Leader, CRC for Bioproducts
  • 1996-1999 – Board Member, GK Williams CRC for Extractive Metallurgy
  • 1997-1999 – Head, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • 1997-present – Advisory Board Member, Special Research Centre for Multiphase Processes, University of Newcastle
  • 2000-present – Laureate Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • 2000-2004 – Director, ARC Particulate Fluids Processing Centre
  • 2002-2005 – Nanyang Professorship, School of Mechanical and Production Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • 2004 – Distinguished Scholar, National Science Foundation Particle Engineering Research Centre, University of Florida
  • 2005 – Visiting Professor, National Science Foundation Particle Engineering Research Centre, University of Florida
  • 2005-present – Adjunct Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Florida
  • International consultant for over 90 companies worldwide including 3M in the USA, Xerox and Alcan International in Canada, Statoil in Norway, and Tata RD&D Centre in India. Australian companies include BHP Billiton and Orica. Director of two companies – Divize Pty Ltd and Rheological Consulting Services Pty Ltd.

Career Highlights

  • 2004 – Gold Medal of the British Society of Rheology
  • 2004 – Named by the Institute of Engineers Australia as one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Engineers
  • 2003 – Centenary Medal of the Commonwealth of Australia
  • 2003 – Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award
  • 2002 – Victoria Prize
  • 2002 – K L Sutherland Memorial Medal
  • 2000 – Chemeca Medal, Institute of Chemical Engineers
  • 2000 – Flinders Medal, Australian Academy of Science
  • 1999-2003 – BHP Fellow
  • 1998 – CSIRO External Medal
  • 1995 – Alcoa (USA) Environmental Excellence Award
  • 1995 – Walter Ahlstrm Environmental Prize, Finnish Academies of Technology
  • 1994 – Australian Society of Rheology Medallion
  • 1993 – Eureka Prize for Environmental Research
  • 1985 – Royal Society of Victoria Medal for Research
  • 1983 – Annual Award of the British Society of Rheology

Professional Affiliations

  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Science, and Council Member
  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
  • Fellow, Institution of Chemical Engineers UK (1986-2003)
  • Member, Institute of Non-Newtonian Fluid Mechanics, The University of Wales
  • Member, American Society of Rheology
  • Member, Australian Society of Rheology (Immediate Past President)
  • Member, British Society of Rheology