Water Industry’s future recognised in Michael Woodhouse Award

The Water Industry’s Generation Next has surfaced in the wake of the presentation of the 20th Michael Woodhouse Memorial Prize on the Sunshine Coast, taken out by Alex Caldwell of the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in 2018.
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Water Industry’s future recognised in Michael Woodhouse Award

Pictured (left to right): Dr Helen Fairweather FIEAust, Alex Caldwell, Simon Steinhofer (Chair, Sunshine Coast Regional Group)


The Water Industry’s Generation Next has surfaced in the wake of the presentation of the 20th Michael Woodhouse Memorial Prize on the Sunshine Coast.

First awarded in 1998, the namesake award is presented to an undergraduate student currently studying a water engineering-related project at a Queensland university.

For his presentation titled ‘Measuring water height within a stormwater collection network via innovative image analysis’, Alex Caldwell of the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) took out the prize in 2018.

Caldwell summed up his presentation.

“Currently, measuring water height is a labour-intensive, problematic and expensive exercise. Councils and water authorities are confronted with either unsafe field conditions during a sudden rainfall event or collect inaccurate data as a trade-off for safety once the event has passed,” he said.

“In some cases, there is no warning before a flood occurs which leaves no preparation time, thus no data is recorded. Using image analysis in R Studio, my project provides an innovative proof of concept solution to the measuring of water height within a stormwater network. The analysis involves pixel intensity and distortion against a fixed scale to quantify point heights at the water surface, then a mean changepoint analysis to average the peak.”

By claiming the competition’s top spot, Sunshine Coast born-and-bred Caldwell became the fourth USC student to be awarded the Michael Woodhouse Memorial Prize in just six years.

“I was pretty surprised about the whole thing, to be honest,” said Caldwell.

“I’ve always had a knack for public speaking, but I was a pretty doubtful that my project would take it out – especially after sitting through the first day of presentations and seeing how technical and interesting the other students’ projects were.”

Under the tutelage of USC’s Discipline Leader of Engineering, Dr Helen Fairweather FIEAust, Caldwell got to work on his Michael Woodhouse Award submission.

“I was ­­keen to work with my supervisor (Dr Helen Fairweather) as I shared her passion for combining civil and environmental engineering with open source programming, and this was the project she had available,” Caldwell recalls.

The prize wasn’t to come without its trials and tribulations, however.

“After many sleepless nights, battling with R, MATLAB and Excel and a lot of cramming, I ended up failing the first semester of my thesis. I took the end of year break to revisit the project and focus on what actually interested me rather than what would look good on paper, and this was the result,” said Caldwell.

The emerging engineer now has set his sights on the road ahead.

“I started working in the industry in my first year at age 17, so I’m hoping to continue in a similar manner and hit a number of goals early. I want to manage my own construction projects and eventually take a run overseas for a while and see how the rest of the world works,” he said.



Past Winners

·         1998 Russell Richards (Griffith)

·         1999 Steve Williams (Griffith)

·         2000 Bronwyn Bell (Griffith)

·         2001 Chantal Donnelly (UQ)

·         2002 Megan Streeter (JCU)

·         2003 Amanda Fell (JCU)

·         2004 Andrew Rumsby (JCU)

·         2005 Benjamin Tuesley (Griffith)

·         2006 Christopher Mills (UQ)

·         2007 Mina Tom (Griffith)

·         2008 James Allen (JCU)

·         2009 Daniel Grobbelaar (JCU)

·         2010 Duncan Ward (UQ)

·         2011 David Mohr (USQ)

·         2012  Liam Owen (USC)

·         2014 Lachlan Raso (Griffith)

·         2015 Jordan Andrews (USC)

·         2016 Andrew Lindsay (USC)

·         2017 Matthew Reimer (Griffith)



About Michael Woodhouse

Michael Philip Woodhouse had a brief but distinguished career in the water engineering field since coming to Queensland after graduating from Monash University in 1977. 

He worked with skill and endeavor, establishing himself as an acknowledged expert in a number of aspects of water engineering.  His all-round knowledge and his ability to tackle difficult hydrological problems with innovative techniques gave him a national reputation in his field.

Woodhouse was a member of the Water Panel Committee from 1980 to 1986, was the Chairman in 1983, and filled the role of Past Chairman in 1984 and 1985.  

Michael was also secretary of the Water Engineering Technical Committee of ACADS (the Association for Computer Aided Design) from its inception in 1977 and was enthusiastically involved with joint ACADS and Institution courses and workshops, both as an organizer and presenter.

Sadly, Michael died of cancer in March of 1986, at the age of 32.

In recognition of Michael’s achievements and his efforts for the industry, the Water Panel constituted the Michael Woodhouse Memorial Prize.  This prize awarded to the winning student research presentation to reflect on Michael’s efforts towards improved techniques in Water Engineering.