Late starter hits jackpot at uni

HE failed high school physics, studied basic maths for senior and started his working life selling menswear in Palmerin Street, which all in all is not exactly your regular precursor to university research.

But then Nathan Manthey was never content with ordinary.

The former Warwick student who is now a University of Southern Queensland PhD researcher, has just earned national recognition after being awarded a $24,000 Queensland Government Smart Futures scholarship.

He will use the funding to help with an innovative project investigating the possibility of using plant fibres and oils to create sustainable and commercially suitable building products.

The project has the potential to break our dependence on synthetic petroleum-based products, replacing them instead with building materials made from fast-growing plants and crops.

Plant-based fibre composites are already used by European car-makers, and laboratory tests have proved resins made from plant oils were comparable strength-wise to petroleum-based resins.

Mr Manthey said the plant-based resins were also less toxic than petroleum-based products.

The former Warwick student’s research will investigate the possibility of using industrial hemp, flax and bagasse, a by-product of sugar cane, to create building panels.

He said early trials had indicated hemp had particular promise as both an oil and fibre source, because it was compatible with a variety of environments and used less water than many popular summer crops.

It is high-tech research which will span three years and require a heady commitment to the lab and a sophisticated understanding of the structural and civil-engineering demands of industry, but Mr Manthey is in his element.

He has come a long way from the teenager who finished school with an OP of 17 and remembers being sharply told by his physics teacher he had no ability in the subject.

However after school, at the age of 21 and with several years in the workforce behind him, he began to feel there was more to life than working in the retail sector.

So he made the ambitious call to return to study in the form of a university bridging course, which earned him an entry into an engineering degree course at USQ.

The ambitious local then completed his engineering degree in four-and-a-half years and this year started his PhD.

“When I was at school my teachers told me if I didn’t do well there was no hope,” Mr Manthey said.

“At the end of Year 12 when I got my marks I was upset, but I didn’t think there were any options for further study.”

With hindsight he said he was “probably not mature enough” to have coped with the rigours of tertiary education at the age of 17.

“I want other young people to know there are options out there; if you really want to do something you can,” he said.

He hopes his current research will have commercial applications and be a pivotal step in creating sustainable building products for things like floor and roof panels.

Mr Manthey will complete his PhD at USQ’s Centre for Excellence in Engineering Fibre Composites.

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