In defence of a tall poppy
A fascination with technology from an early age has set Bradley Ferguson on a career path that now sees him working at the cutting edge of defence research.
A University of Adelaide graduate with a Bachelor degree and a PhD in Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Dr Ferguson is a Senior Engineer with defence company Tenix, based in South Australia.
At Tenix, Dr Ferguson is involved in the research and development of multi-million dollar next-generation electronic warfare systems. Electronic warfare uses electromagnetic radiation to provide support to and defend friendly forces, with applications such as radar detectors and radar jammers.
For his PhD, Dr Ferguson studied a form of radiation-Terahertz radiation, known as T-rays. The skills he developed during his PhD are now being drawn on in a range of projects for defence.
His current work involves digital signal processing-using digital techniques that were impossible even 10 years ago-and laser-based microwave photonics. He was the technical manager responsible for the development of an advanced digital receiver for the detection of radar signals. Because of its extremely high sensitivity, such equipment could allow future defence forces to detect enemy radars at much longer ranges than is currently possible, providing significant advantages.
"During my undergraduate degree I didn't really expect to end up working in a defence company. However, when I was presented with a number of options after graduation, it was the defence companies that offered the most exciting work, at the forefront of technology, solving important problems," Dr Ferguson says.
"Engineering runs in my blood. My father is an engineer and my three younger brothers have all studied engineering at the University of Adelaide. I've always been fascinated by technology and how things work, so engineering held a strong appeal for me."
Dr Ferguson excelled during his studies at the University of Adelaide, graduating at the top of his undergraduate class in 1997. He earned a Premier's Scholarship and won an Australian Postgraduate Award in 2000. He also won the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 2001 to study at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
"My Fulbright exchange to the US was truly life-changing," he says. "I was able to study with the top researchers in the world in my field and present my research at several elite conferences, providing fantastic networking opportunities. In addition to the research benefits, the cultural experience of visiting places like New York, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as the friends I made, was absolutely priceless."
On his return to Adelaide, Dr Ferguson completed his PhD and was awarded the Postgraduate Alumni University Medal-the highest award of its kind at the University of Adelaide for excellence in postgraduate research.
He says one of the highlights of his time at the University was being asked to give the graduation address at his own PhD graduation ceremony.
"It was quite an honour to address the graduates in the fantastic setting of Bonython Hall, where I had sat to receive my undergraduate degree just five years earlier.
"From developing lifelong friendships, to fostering my passion for learning and research, my years at the University of Adelaide were exceptionally enjoyable," he says.
Dr Ferguson, who was named among the South Australian Young Tall Poppies of Science for 2006 by the Australian Institute of Policy & Science, says his move into the defence industry has been both challenging and rewarding.
"The defence industry is one of the great strengths of South Australia. We have a real critical mass of engineering talent, and exciting projects. I find my work extremely satisfying.
"The ability to really get my teeth into a challenging research problem, and then be involved in the engineering development required to take the solution through to an operational prototype a few short years later, is exceptionally rewarding.
"Tenix has a very positive attitude towards research and development, and collaboration with external partners such as universities, which really increases the potential of what we're able to achieve."
Through his role at Tenix, Dr Ferguson continues to be involved with the University of Adelaide.
"We're currently working with Professor Doug Gray and his team in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, together with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), to develop an advanced phased array radar test bed. This project has significant potential for South Australia as it's applicable not only to defence imaging, but also to GPS (global positioning systems), and even for mapping soil salinity.
"The University of Adelaide is a great partner for industry. The University, in particular the engineering faculty, has a great capability in fundamental and applied research, which has significant potential benefit in partnership with companies such as Tenix," he says.■
STORY DAVID ELLIS