Marcus Pandy: beginnings

28 August

Regularly, veski takes you in conversation with our innovation fellows. We talk to them about a range of topics from where they got their start in science to what happens in their lab today.



For this 'in conversation' we chat to Professor Marcus Pandy who was awarded a veski innovation fellowship in 2004.

Marcus returned from the University of Texas at Austin to take up the role of Chair of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Melbourne.

We ask Marcus about the beginning of his love for physics and chemistry, working on robots, and the importance of mentors.


When did you first start thinking about studying science and engineering?

I was reasonably good at maths in primary school and I particularly loved physics and chemistry in high school where I had two very good teachers who nurtured my love for chemistry and physics, and science in general. 

Was there a particular teacher who influenced you?

My chemistry teacher, Mr Mason, was an inspiration. He was a great teacher and explained things really clearly. Even at 16 years old I could see here was a man who really loves what he does. My physics teacher, Mr Allan, was also a very good teacher. He was really well organised in the class and again clearly loved what he did and wanted us to understand physics.

What inspired you to study engineering? 

If I had to be thoroughly honest I would have to say I chose engineering because my dad was an engineer. 

What appealed to you about robotics?

It was the mid ’80s and everyone was designing and building robots to speed up manufacturing and help with automated production because we thought we could build robots to do everything for us and make our lives easier. That really appealed to me.

Tell us about working on the robot project in Ohio, MI. 

One of my professors at Monash knew about a great project in Columbus, Ohio, funded by the US Defence Department. It involved building a huge, walking robot to use in reconnaissance, in war situations, to transport messages. The robot had a computer on board which allowed it to scan the terrain in front of it so it knew where it was safe to put its feet as it walked in and out of ditches. It was a crazy idea but at that time there was a lot of interest and anyway, some crazy ideas turn out to be brilliant. 

How did robotics lead into biomedical engineering and biomechanics? 

The robot walked so I thought I would study locomotion - how animals run - because we wanted to build a second generation robot, as big as a couch, which could run at about 30 kilometres an hour. So we created a goat farm at the University of Michigan, to study how goats walk, run and jump. After a while I decided four legs was too hard and started studying animals with two legs - which is us humans - and slowly drifted out of robotics into biomechanics. I’ve never looked back.

How do you describe what you do?

My research is focused on understanding the function of the human musculoskeletal system: how our muscles and joints work together to produce movement. I study specific joints like the knee and address interesting questions such as: How do the ligaments inside the knee rupture? Why do people get joint disease and arthritis of the knee? How do our muscles load the joint? A better understanding of the basic mechanics of the musculoskeletal system will help guide the development of new surgical and conservative (i.e., physiotherapy) treatments for improving patient care.

What advice would you give someone considering biomedical engineering?

I’d encourage them to find out what biomedical engineers really do and ask around and research potential mentors via the Internet. It’s a very competitive environment and you need to work in a team that allows you to be productive, and publish in good journals, so you can build up your resume quickly. 


Next time, we will be in conversation with Dr Chris McNeill about the Victorian science infrastructure he uses in his research.

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