THE Illawarra could become a high-tech manufacturing hub courtesy of a groundbreaking invention, according to science guru Karl Kruszelnicki.
Dr Kruszelnicki is one of the speakers at a NSW government event called Talkabout: Your Future Illawarra, at the University of Wollongong tonight.
The forum is part of the government's public consultation phase tied into the discussion paper, The Illawarra Over The Next 20 Years, which was released in August.
Dr Kruszelnicki will take time out from a tour promoting his latest book, Game of Knowns, to give "estimates or best guesses of where I see the future as going".
One of those "guesses" involves University of Wollongong's Information and Communications Technology graduates and the new 3D printing technology, which makes objects, not just images of them.
"Wollongong University has the highest output of ICT graduates in all of Australia," Dr Kruszelnicki said.
"That ties in with the wonderful new invention called the 3D printer. I could be wrong but I think the 3D printer is going to be bigger than Ben Hur.
"The way I see it heading is we are revolutionising manufacturing processes.
"You can print a vaccine if there's a sudden flu epidemic, or a violin, or an axle for your 4WD drive, or your next meal or some clothing or a remote control for your TV.
"So I see 3D printing as being as big if not bigger than Gutenberg printing in 1450 or the steam engine in 1750 or the transistor in 1950."
Dr Kruszelnicki has his roots in Wollongong, growing up in a home in Hillcrest Avenue, and attending St Therese Primary School, Edmund Rice College and the University of Wollongong.
Any time he's heading south, he says he pulls into Wollongong just to drive by the old house. And to see how the city has changed.
"It's got high unemployment and it shows," he said.
"It's not a robust, thriving town. It can be, it was. But at the moment, it's looking for a direction."
One way to find that direction, he said, was for people to work together. That could be done by people having their say on the region's future - because they have to live here.
"If it's saying we want more parks, we want more schools or we want fewer parks or fewer schools, that is what the general public absolutely should be saying, because they're the ones who have to live here," he said.
"In many cases, the things that are beloved by the architect are not beloved by the people who have to live in it.
"You find in many cases buildings win prizes for wonderful designs and people hate to work in them.
"So you need that local input."
A Planning Department spokesman said Dr Kruszelnicki was chosen for the forum because he could offer a fresh approach to the region's future.
"As both a home-grown Illawarra boy and a leading scientist, Dr Karl will also bring a unique perspective of how the region has changed over time and how growth may affect the environment in the area over the next 20 years," the spokesman said.