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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

11 July 2023

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When going to uni runs in the family

Having a career is important, and so is being close to family, says JCU Bachelor of Engineering student, Jenna Attard. Her family ties have also helped her find the perfect topic for her Honours thesis in chemical engineering.

In Jenna Attard’s family, studying at JCU is almost a tradition, even though everyone has chosen to focus on a different field. “My eldest sister studied medicine, my other sister studied dentistry and my brother studied civil engineering,” Jenna says.

Before leaving high school, Jenna had briefly considered studying civil engineering as well. “I was definitely a maths and science girl. I just loved problem solving, and chemistry was probably my favourite subject as well,” Jenna says. “So, that's why I chose to do chemical engineering.”

Now, as a fourth year Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) student with a major in Chemical Engineering, Jenna has just finished Part 1 of her Chemical Engineering Design subject. “It's actually a year-long project split into two halves,” Jenna says. “I've had to design an electrocoagulation reactor, which is a type of industrial wastewater treatment unit.”

Purifying industrial greywater

Jenna says that this project was a group challenge. “We first had to do research on different types of water purification technologies, and then assess which ones would be able to purify the industrial greywater that needed to be treated,” Jenna says. “Then we had to do equipment design for all units involved in the plant, including sketches. The report was actually larger than my Honours thesis proposal.

Jenna's task in the group was to create the drawings for the device.  "That wasn’t easy, and it took me a while, but it was an interesting challenge,” Jenna says. “After all, I love everything that that has to do with chemistry because it's the building blocks of everything, and it explains a lot of what happens every day in our world.”

Jenna Attard.
Sugar cane.
Left: Jenna Attard (supplied); right: fresh sugar cane.

A novel method for refining sugar

Now that the proposal documentation has been submitted, Jenna has moved on to work on her Honours project methodology. “When I saw the option for a sugarcane-related topic, I knew I had to choose that one. Around my hometown, there is sugarcane everywhere, and my Nunno (grandfather) is a cane farmer,” Jenna explains.

“My thesis is on bagasse, which is a fibrous waste by-product from sugar production. Bagasse is usually burnt in the boilers of the sugar mill for energy production,” Jenna says. “I am researching if we can use bagasse to create biochar, which is a type of activated carbon, as an absorbent to remove the colour during raw sugar production.”

This means that raw sugar could be decolourised into white sugar in the same plant where the sugar cane is crushed. Jenna says the method she is developing may be more energy efficient than the method currently in use to refine white sugar, and it would also not need any fossil fuels.

“If my method is viable, it could contribute to a more sustainable industry and create more local jobs in Queensland’s cane growing regions,” Jenna says.

Job-ready for 2024

Jenna will submit her Honours thesis before the end of this year, and she also has taken some initial steps to secure her dream job. After working at a copper smelter in Mount Isa in 2022, Jenna realised that there is a future for her in mining.

Jenna also received a Hall Contracting Science and Engineering scholarship, where she learned more about the day-to-day life of an engineer. "Among other things, I had to calculate how much concrete they needed for a job and liaise with their suppliers, making sure everything was within specifications," she says.

“At the start of this year, in our first lesson, our course coordinator told us we would have to start applying for graduate positions if we wanted to start a graduate job in early 2024,” Jenna says, adding that she was happy that her course coordinator had made sure that everyone was aware of this.

“I've just had a couple of interviews with mining companies and should be hearing back from them very soon. I'm in the middle of the recruitment process, basically,” Jenna says. “Now is the time when everyone's trying to snatch up the best graduates for next year.”

Starting a career in mining

Studying at JCU meant that Jenna was only an hour and a half away from her family home. Now she’s hoping to find a workplace that allows her to gain experience without being too far from her loved ones.

“Some of the mining positions that I have applied for were in Western Australia, but I really want to stay in Queensland,” she says. “A couple of the positions are only a few hours’ drive away from my hometown. That would be a fantastic opportunity for me.”

No matter which position she is going to choose, Jenna knows that the hard work she has put into her studies will have paid off when she starts working in her dream job in early 2024.

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