Faculty of
Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology

17 April 2019

The contribution, success and achievements of The University of Queensland’s Emeritus Professor David St John was celebrated by his colleagues and industry at a recent honorary symposium in his name at a conference in San Antonio, USA.

Professor St John has worked in materials engineering for nearly 45 years and has played a major role in a range of efforts across the University, including leading bids for research centres to working behind the scenes on funding, designing and building one of UQ’s most iconic buildings, the Advanced Engineering Building.

“Emeritus Professor David St John has truly been a mainstay of the materials science and engineering profession, not only in Australia but also on a truly global scale,” said current Defence Material Technology Centre CEO Mark Hodge.  

“The fact is David’s research has literally been a game changer in metallurgy and the understanding of treatment and performance of metal alloys, particularly in relation to solidification, grain refinement and casting.”

Professor St John has more than 10,000 citations, which have been highly ranked for their impact.

He established and became interim CEO and then a Director of the Defence Materials Technology Centre while also holding the position of CEO at the CAST Cooperative Research Centre.  

He also established the UQ Centre for Advanced Materials Processing and Manufacturing (AMPAM).

Under his leadership these centres generated over $150 million in research activity.

UQ Alumnus and RMIT Professor Mark Easton said one of Professor St John’s greatest achievements is the successful careers of the people he has influenced, mentored and supported.

Emeritus Professor David St John presented with a plaque by UQ alumnus and RMIT Professor Mark Easton at the Honorary Symposium Dinner.

“Another thing is that he is a master of collaborating and bringing teams together that work incredibly well together,” he said.

“And he always made sure it was fun.”

Professor St John said he first looked into doing metallurgy after he was told hardly anyone ever fails.

“I was working in the toy department of a department store over the Christmas holidays with a friend after completing first year of a straight science degree and he and I were commiserating that we didn’t want to major in maths, chemistry or physics, so what could we do?” he said.

“And another guy there said ‘do metallurgy, nobody ever fails.’ We both looked at each other and said ‘what’s metallurgy?’”

“Right from the beginning I realised I was going to love it because the microstructures of materials are very artistic in the varied patterns, colours and textures they display.

“For me, I think conceptually in pictures more than mathematically and developments in metallurgical analysis technologies keep presenting new visions of what’s going on inside metals, which has always kept me interested.”

Professor St John is now semi-retired and works a few days a week at UQ mentoring and supporting PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

“I keep thinking about being fully retired just to find out what it’s like,” he said.

“But, I really like what I’m doing at the moment and I’m really happy to keep working with my UQ colleagues.”