29 May 2023

Image: Young Innovator Award winner in 2017, Peter Kabakov.

Organiser AMDA Foundation first presented the Indo Pacific Innovation Awards in 2013, with the aim of recognising, rewarding and bringing Australian innovation to the forefront of the region's maritime industry.

Here, judge and Innovation Awards founder, Dr Gregor Ferguson, looks back at past winners to see how the Indo Pacific Innovation Awards program has furthered careers and impacted organisations for the better.

Not many people in Australia know the difference between a single crystal piezoelectric transducer and a poly-crystalline piezoelectric transducer. One person who does was awarded the Pacific 2017 Young Innovator Award for his work on this topic.

Peter Kabakov was a Materials Engineer working at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) at the time. He was lead researcher on a project involving Thales Australia, the University of Wollongong and DMTC Limited to develop single-crystal piezoelectric transducers. These increase dramatically the sensitivity and bandwidth of sonars and underwater guidance systems. They are also much smaller than the current poly-crystalline transducers, so enable the design of entirely new families of small, lightweight sensors for submarines, Autonomous Undersea Vessels (AUVs) and torpedoes.

Winning the Young Innovator Award and its $10,000 cash prize opened up a new career direction for Peter Kabakov: “It gave me the confidence to stay in this field and made it possible for me to start a Ph.D program at the University of Wollongong,” he says.

It also encouraged him to leave a secure, full-time job at ANSTO and take up a part-time position with Australia’s sonar experts Thales Australia in Rydalmere, NSW, whilst he was doing his Ph.D. Thales invested its own money in his continuing research which, over a decade, he estimates, has cost multiple millions of dollars.

Investing in single crystal transducers is worthwhile for two reasons: firstly, their enhanced performance more than justifies the cost of the research; secondly, only a handful of companies worldwide can manufacture single crystal transducers and Australian sonar firms simply don’t have access to them – and the development of sovereign Australian capability is vital. For this reason, Defence’s Science and Technology Group, DSTG, has invested in the research also through the Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF).  

Peter Kabakov will complete his thesis, titled “Solid-state crystal growth of lead-free ferroelectrics”, later this year. He has joined Thales Australia full time and become acknowledged as one of a handful of subject matter experts in single crystal transducers in Australia.

The ongoing DMTC contribution is to head the five-year Advanced Piezoelectric Materials and Applications (APMA) program which teams Thales Australia, DSTG, ANSTO, six universities and a specialist SME, Critus Pty Limited. APMA will establish a single crystal foundry at Rydalmere next year to produce the new material in commercial quantities.

Peter Kabakov has been the glue holding these stakeholders together. Since he began his research in 2013, he has helped raise the state of the art in Australia in this field from a Technology Readiness Level of 1 (“Basic principles observed and reported”) to near his goal of TRL 7, System Prototype in an Operational Environment.

He has helped create a sovereign capability which, as both the AUKUS Agreement and the Defence Strategic Review made clear, is of fundamental importance to Australia’s defence. AMDA Foundation Limited, through its Young Innovator Award, is very proud to have helped along the way.