Dr Luke Djukic
Aged nine, Luke Djukic went on a family trip to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, and the massive space shuttles, planes and rockets made an indelible impression on his young mind.
With his dad, a high school science teacher in western Sydney, Djukic got to see the latest digital equipment and computers and try out science experiments on the weekend.
Fast forward a decade and Djukic enrolled in a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering at UNSW in 2002. “It really captured my imagination that I would actually design and make planes and rockets,” he says. “I had visited other universities but thought UNSW had great facilities and campus and was the best place to be.”
The highlights of his time at uni included flying around with the aviation students in light planes and measuring data and instrument readings, and then designing a plane in a group project and testing their model in the University’s wind tunnel.
At the end of his third year, he also did a three month internship with the Co-operative Research Centre for Advanced Composite Structures (CRC-ACS), a research and development company that provides technology for the aerospace industry. This led to an Honours thesis.
“I wasn’t working on some technology that would never be used. I was working on a real project; a new composite joining method that they needed for building aircraft right now!” he says. “This gave me a lot more motivation.”
This enthusiasm translated into a sterling performance and Djukic came first in his graduating class, obtaining first class honours and winning the University Medal. Although he tried for a short period after getting his degree to work in an aerospace job, he decided very quickly that his heart lay in continuing research.
So Djukic applied and received a Faculty of Engineering scholarship, as well as an additional top-up grant from CRC-ACS to continue researching composite joining for his Doctorate.
I wasn’t working on some technology that would never be used. I was working on a real project; a new composite joining method that they needed for building aircraft right now!
“Doing a real world task for a real objective helped me through the highs and lows everyone experiences doing a PhD,” he says. “It was a real test of perseverance but I always had a clear objective of becoming a researcher in cutting edge technologies in the field of composite materials.”
During this time he also worked as a research assistant for UNSW and CRC-ACS on a US Air Force research contract. He got to visit the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Ohio to see the application of his research.
At the end of his degree, Djukic enjoyed a role of Associate Lecturer at UNSW where he worked on CRC-ACS projects, and then moved into a full-time position at CRC-ACS as a research engineer working in the aerospace and oil and gas industries with Australian and international partners. Within three years, he was promoted to senior research engineer.
In 2014, Djukic joined Evolution Tankers, a company that designs and manufactures transport tankers out of carbon fibre reinforced polymers. Compared with competitor technologies, they have higher payload capacities, less associated fuel emissions and greatly improved corrosion resistance.
“The future looks promising as we are now expanding to new markets and are just about to export tankers to Europe for the first time,” he says. “It gives me quite a buzz to think of all the widespread applications of carbon fibre composite materials in many other industries.”
Since his graduation, Djukic has kept in close contact with UNSW, working on joint grant applications, taking on interns and collaborating with professors and other research staff. “My door is always open to any staff and students from UNSW,” he says.