Professor Marcela Bilek
Creating entirely new materials using her novel technique to attach biologically functional molecules to surfaces and designing materials for use in energy related technologies, has won Professor Marcela Bilek a suite of prizes and made for a fulfilling career in materials science.
After completing her Bachelor of Science with first class Honours in physics at the University of Sydney, where she won the University Medal, Marcela went to the University of Cambridge in the UK to do her PhD research on the plasma synthesis of materials for microelectronic applications.
“I was always interested in understanding how things work and this curiosity drove me towards science in early high school. I also had a desire to see my work applied to benefit humanity. The fact that new materials play a major role in driving new technologies led me to choose materials research,” said Marcela.
Her first foray in materials research in her Honours year used cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy to understand the interfaces in semiconductor hetero-structures of gallium arsenide (GaAs) and aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs). Marcela worked with the late Professor David Cockayne at the University of Sydney in a collaborative project with Telstra, who were aiming to utilise these materials in new communications technologies and supplied the samples for study.
Now Marcela is a Professor in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney herself, with her current work concentrating on biomaterials and materials for use in energy related technologies.
“As I’ve always enjoyed all science disciplines, I love the multidisciplinary work I do in the biomaterials arena. My work on these biomaterials gives me a rich and diverse experience, providing endless opportunities to learn new things, through interactions with my wonderful colleagues in the life sciences, chemistry and engineering,” she says.
Marcela’s research focuses on the development of plasma based synthesis and materials processing technologies, specifically using energetic ions from plasma to tailor the properties of materials. Her new biomaterials have many applications, such as making implantable biomedical devices – like hip and knee replacements or stents in the heart – that are biocompatible and can also stimulate optimal tissue responses in the person who has the implant, helping to reduce the problem of implant rejection.
“I love discovering new materials and combining experimental work with theory to develop a deep understanding of the materials properties and the processes used to create them,” said Marcela.
“I enjoy the fact that my work is an international endeavour and that I spend between six and eight weeks per year – depending on the needs of my young family – working at the world's top facilities with eminent scientists in the field. The work is interesting and so are the people.
“While humanity faces new challenges such as the need to produce green energy, meet energy efficiency targets, and detect biomarkers for early disease diagnosis and regenerative medicine, there will always be a need for new materials to enable the solutions. For this reason I believe materials science will lead to exciting and very relevant careers for the foreseeable future.”