Published on 27 October 2015
The University of the Sunshine Coast’s first PhD graduate in Engineering is working as an environmental scientist with a leading local consultancy to improve the sustainability of urban developments across the region.
Dr Jen Mullaney gained her doctoral degree at the recent USC Graduation Ceremony, four years after arriving from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, and six years after USC introduced its accredited engineering program.
Her thesis showed the value of using permeable pavements, rather than traditional non-draining pavement, to promote the healthy growth of street trees.
“My test site involved 32 paperbark trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia) planted along 100 metres of permeable pavement on the University’s boundary at Sippy Downs,” she said.
The trees were planted into four different pavement designs for the PhD research funded by the Sunshine Coast Council.
“I looked after and studied the trees for two years, measuring their growth and various indicators of water level stress,” said Dr Mullaney, 31, of Mooloolaba.
“My research found that allowing water to infiltrate into the soil beneath the pavement had positive impacts on the trees’ growth. The deeper the sub-base in the clay soil, the better.
“It also means this is a good way of mitigating stormwater runoff volumes in urban streetscapes.”
Dr Mullaney said her USC experience had been life-changing and she was delighted to now be living on the Sunshine Coast and working for local engineering firm Covey Associates.
“Moving here to study was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “My background is in geography and I was doing urban water management research and consultancy work in Dundee. Now I have a PhD in Civil Engineering and this wonderful lifestyle.”
Her principal supervisor, Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering Dr Terry Lucke, enjoyed seeing his student become USC’s first Engineering PhD graduate.
“The significance of Jen’s research is economic as well as environmental,” said Dr Lucke, who runs USC’s Stormwater Research Group.
“It has contributed to ongoing USC research into how to minimise pavement damage due to tree roots and poor water drainage, in order to reduce trip risks for pedestrians and pavement maintenance costs for councils and developers.”
— Julie Schomberg