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Shining a light on a hidden profession

Peter Dargaville and Tim Gale

Its impact is undeniable and ubiquitous, yet engineering is too often an invisible pursuit.

Alumnus Dr Tim Gale (BE 1986, PhD 1996) invites us to take a moment to consider the elements in our everyday lives that feature great engineering.

Perhaps it’s the bridge you drove over on your way to work. Or the device you are reading this article on, or the building you are standing in right now.

In the case of Dr Gale, who is a biomedical engineer, his expertise is more likely to appear in objects that save and sustain us, such as a machine to help you breathe when your body cannot, or a device that can restart your heart.

One of his best-known pieces of work is in a life-saving infant ventilator manufactured in the UK using technology developed by University of Tasmania and Royal Hobart Hospital researchers.

The software tool to control the oxygen saturation (SpO2) of a patient on a ventilator recently won a prestigious Queen’s Award for Innovation.

For Dr Gale, it began with a phone call more than a decade ago.

It was Professor Peter Dargaville, a clinical researcher with the University of Tasmania’s Menzie’s Institute for Medical Research and the Tasmanian Health Service.

“Peter wasn’t just looking for someone to make a device for him, he was looking for a collaborator to work with him on the research project,” Dr Gale recalls.

It’s the sort of opportunity that the researcher and Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Engineering relishes because it combines his interest in medicine and engineering.

In fact, Dr Gale came close to following in his parents’ footsteps and becoming a doctor of a different kind.

As a teenager, he applied and was accepted into Medicine at the University of Tasmania, but ended up opting for Engineering because he was attracted to the practical and creative elements of the profession.

He completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering before a stint working in the automotive industry.

A move to Melbourne soon followed, where Dr Gale landed a role in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

“I did some work with the wool industry looking at what happens to the material when you compress it at really high densities for export.”

In the mid 1990s, he returned to Tasmania to do his PhD in Medicine.

“I investigated defibrillation of the heart and working with a company that makes implantable devices I designed what was considered the best way to predict what would happen when you defibrillated someone’s heart.”

He subsequently began working as an Anatomy and Physiology lecturer at his alma mater, teaching medical and science students.

“Here, I worked with colleagues to examine the physiology of small boat sailing, including working with the Australian Olympic team.

“We developed a sailing simulator, which we could use to measure what was happening physiologically, but it was also useful for teaching people to sail.

“It was commercialised and sold around the world.”

He also worked with the Australian Antarctic Division as a remote sensing scientist looking at movement of the ice sheet in Antarctica.

Dr Gale said even though engineering was a somewhat hidden profession, it was an incredibly rewarding, creative and diverse career that had the potential to impact many lives.

As his career so clearly demonstrates: “the opportunities in engineering are endless.”

Image: Peter Dargaville and Tim Gale

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Published on: 10 Jun 2021 10:49am