Meet the expert: Exploring civil engineering with Joe Gattas
Playing with origami and LEGO as a child were formative experiences for Dr Joe Gattas.
Now an Associate Professor in UQ’s School of Civil Engineering, Dr Gattas was fascinated by the ways intricate components could be combined to revolutionise the appearance and function of his youthful creations.
An innate interest in civil engineering
“What really attracted me to civil engineering was exactly the same as what many of my students would have been attracted to,” says Joe.
“A keen interest in buildings, a keen interest in housing, LEGO, working with my hands to put something together – they all led me to study civil engineering at UQ."
"But civil engineering is not just buildings and bridges. Civil engineering is everything around us, designing for people and the environment.”
As Joe became more focused on his niche interests in the industry, he dived deeper into the concept of lightweight deployable structures.
“It’s a really exciting area where we look at ways we can use geometry to find new ways of building,” he says.
“They could be building systems that are lighter, that are easier to manufacture, that are cheaper, and that are more interesting than conventional systems."
“An easy way to understand it is by the term we use, which is ‘origami-inspired engineering’. Think about a paper plane or an origami crane. When you fold a sheet you can improve the performance or appearance of that object, without actually adding weight or new materials."
“We can fold metal, we can fold composites, we have timber that will adapt," says Joe.
"We’re constantly looking at ways we can improve the performance of what it is we’re designing.”
What Joe enjoys about civil engineering
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Joe’s area is that it’s an industry where long strides are taken in a short time.
As materials, knowledge and methods of construction all improve, objects that were outside the realms of possibility a few short years ago suddenly become distinct possibilities.
While not every student will have the same niche interests as Joe, he knows that many of the fundamentals about design elements and project objectives are common across civil engineering. He also knows that, as much as he challenges his students to think differently, they also encourage him to do the same.
“Teaching is rewarding in ways I wasn’t expecting,” says Joe.
“My own expertise has to develop to keep up with the cohort. Every year without fail I will have students challenging my own understanding of certain topics. Whether by instinct or design, they will find aspects to ask me about that require me to improve my own knowledge."
“As a result, my expertise in different areas is well beyond what I could have hoped for if I solely dedicated myself to study, and it also means I am finding new ways to deal with obstacles because students’ perceptions help me evolve.
“Some of my proudest moments are working shoulder-to-shoulder with award-winning students. The ability of UQ students to design and fabricate is top-of-the-world," says Joe.
“My students have won design prizes, design competitions, and travelled overseas to present to international juries. Every time they come back with a trophy, I’m an extremely proud teacher.”
Meet some other UQ academics or learn more about the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours).