Eastern Arrernte graduate found ‘out-of-this-world’ career within close reach

19 May 2021

David Corporal once considered travelling to America for a long-shot chance of becoming an astronaut in order to find an exciting career path in the STEM sector.

However, the recent University of Queensland Engineering graduate, who has Eastern Arrernte heritage, realised he could find inspiring pathways much closer to home … it was literally a case of reaching out to touch them.

David now has a key role in a project aimed at creating an antimicrobial surface coating, to reduce touch transmission of microbes on spacecraft.

It involves an impressive pedigree of partners including UQ, Boeing Research & Technology - Australia, NASA and the International Space Station.

“Based at Boeing’s labs here at UQ, I have worked with NASA to design, review, assemble, test and ship the hardware with materials representing high-touch surfaces such as seatbelt buckles and straps, armrests, cargo transfer bags, and even a Velcro-type substance from the Russian segment of the space station,” he says.

“Testing of the antimicrobial surface coating has been carried out by Boeing's ecoDemonstrator aircraft and also in micro-gravity on board the International Space Station.

It may sound futuristic, but this project is not just about the health of flight crew and passengers. It could one day help avoid diseases being spread between planets”.

Regarding future work, David sums it up by saying he is continuing to support the current space station payload during its flight, post-flight analysis, and communication of results (conferences etc.), as well as assisting with prototyping on other projects.

David’s personal journey also illustrates the benefits of perseverance.

“After completing school in Brisbane, my entry score was not high enough to get directly into Engineering but I was able to enter UQ as a Science student, prove my potential with good marks for a year, and then transfer into Engineering,” he says.

“My first-year Software Engineering elective and Theory & Practice in Science subjects were very interesting and I can still refer back to those fundamentals to help with other things I have done.”

David is grateful for the opportunities he gained through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSIS) Studies Unit and also thankful for a vital first opportunity at UQ.

“I attended my first ATSIS Unit InspireU camp in Year 12 and subsequently helped as a camp leader,” he says.

“I gained support from ATSIS Unit tutors on a few subjects but also appreciated someone to talk to on campus about academic life and the student journey.

“It was also through the ATSIS Unit that I attended a careers showcase where I met the Boeing HR officer who helped mentor me, leading to internship opportunities and employment with the company.”

David’s university education was also supported via Arrow Energy and Rio scholarships and an early internship with the CSIRO. He became a student representative and delegate on UQ’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), and even earnt a place on the UQ Cheer Squad, broadening his campus experiences.

“When I was at school at even at university, I always thought I would have to go overseas to find interesting STEM projects beyond those in mining, which I was less interested about, but it turns out there are plenty of exciting projects based right here in Australia, worthy of student aspirations,” David says.

David remains engaged with UQ as a representative of the UQ Reconciliation Action Plan Oversight Committee and as a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group meets monthly to discuss strategies to activate and engage UQ's extensive Indigenous alumni community. This includes social, cultural and professional development activities and initiatives. Alumni are encouraged to nominate for the Reference Group by emailing pvcie@uq.edu.au .

“We are thankful for David’s ongoing relationship with UQ and proud of his achievements to date and look forward to whatever he chooses to do next,” stated Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, UQ’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement).