Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 4 2017 Contents 10 Defence Issue 4 2017
EDICATING more than 30 years to
saving the lives of ADF members has
earned Zenka Mathys, of Defence
Science and Technology (DST) Group’s
Maritime Division, the 2017 Minister’s
Award for Achievement in Defence Science.
She received the award on 21 November for her
outstanding work developing fire protection systems
that have contributed significantly to the survivability
of Navy platforms.
Zenka is the third woman to receive the prestig-
ious award since its inception in 1988.
The Minister for Defence, Marise Payne, says
Zenka’s innovative research not only makes ships
more resilient to fire damage, it could save the lives
of Defence personnel who serve on them.
“The increased cost savings due to reduced fire
risk is significant, including the cost involved in
returning the platform to service after a fire incident,”
the Minister says.
Zenka’s role investigating the 2014 fires on board
HMAS Bundaberg and HMAS Waller led to the
implementation of an integrated survivability research
program, including the development of damage con-
trol equipment and enhanced personnel safety.
She says her lab can be on a ship or submarine –
wherever there has been a fire incident you can find
her and her team.
“I had the opportunity to put on my lab coat and
walk and crawl around all the burnt spaces on the
Armidale-class patrol boat HMAS Bundaberg, where
the platform was lost due to fire,” she says.
“An investigation team was appointed by the then
Head of Navy Capability, Rear Admiral Mark Purcell,
to determine the reason for the loss of the vessel.
“I led the DST team of researchers in understand-
ing of the spread of the fire and provided scientific
By Corporal Bill Solomou
Work on developing fire protection
systems earns scientist Minister’s award
AND WITH HARD WORK,
IT IS POSSIBLE TO
ACHIEVE MORE THAN
evidence that a similar fire could not occur at sea.
The impact of this work ensures the safety of the
crews of the patrol boats from the consequences of
fire when undertaking border protection duties.
“Submarines can also be work locations, as was
the case when we supported the HMAS Waller sub-
marine fire incident, where we again were walking
and crawling around the platform.”
Zenka examined the impact of the damage caused
by various ballistic threats and determined the effec-
tiveness of leak-stopping procedures.
“This had me in a wetsuit at HMAS Cerberus,
examining potential leak-stopping procedures to
enhance the damage control procedures for Navy.
There was water gushing everywhere.”
Growing up in Sunshine, Victoria, Zenka attended
the local public technical school where she was intro-
duced to woodwork and sheet metal, which opened
her mind to material design.
Zenka says she had a great science teacher who
encouraged her to pursue her passion for chemistry.
“I thoroughly enjoyed polymer chemistry at
university and this put me in good stead at DST
and working in composite materials,” she says.
In her early scientific career at DST Group, Zenka
researched the use of plasma treatment of fibres to
enhance the properties of composites.
“Dr Jim Brown, my group leader at the time, had
the insight that the flammable organic matrix of com-
posite materials was a significant issue and purchased
a cone calorimeter to measure the flammability
properties of materials, including ignition, smoke and
toxic gas production,” she says.
“And this was the start of my career in the fire
She says some of the highlights of her career have
been on projects where she worked in teams and
worked with some of the most knowledgeable scien-
tists within DST, academia and industry.
“It’s great when you see the research being
applied and making a difference for Defence and, in
particular, ensuring the safety of crews and the sur-
vivability of platforms,” she says.
Zenka is honoured and humbled to receive the
2017 Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence
“Receiving such a prestigious award recognises a
lifetime of research in the fire sciences area, both as
a participant as well as leading teams that have been
recognised as making a difference to Defence, and
has resulted in enhancing the safety of crews and the
survivability of defence platforms,” she says.
“I feel that I have set an example for my children
that being passionate and with hard work, it is possi-
ble to achieve more than you ever thought.”
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