Asia’s toughest physics competition; understanding the foldable mobile phone, the first image of a black hole; and more physics in May

Join our election campaign to ‘solve it with science’. The AIP has signed up to Science and Technology Australia’s call for a science focus this election, alongside 100 other leaders from the science and technology sector. The call to action is in response to declines in research funding, falling business investment, freezes to government support of universities and insufficient STEM graduates to meet future demands. You can support the campaign by joining the conversation on Twitter at #SolveitwithScience or by writing to or meeting your local member or candidates. Read more on the STA website and in last month’s bulletin.

See Pegah Maasoumi in Queensland in August talking about the mystery of foldable mobile phones and next-gen apartment windows that can produce light. Congratulations and thank you Pegah, our 2019 John Mainstone Youth Lecturer and past Chair of our Women in Physics Group.

Our newly-elected Chair of the Women in Physics Group is nanotechnologist Victoria Coleman. Victoria has a strong interest in equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEM and we’re delighted that she is taking on this role.

Last month I was lucky enough to attend the announcement of the Australian team for the Asian Physics Olympiad—eight teens who will compete against more than 200 of the region’s smartest kids in Asia’s toughest physics competition (pictured right). It’s the first time the Olympiad will be held in Australia. We wish Stephen, Benjamin, Min-Je, Alexander, Jessie, William, Simon and Rosemary the best of luck in May!

Like me, I’m sure physicists around the country were very excited about the first image of a black hole released in April by the Event Horizon Telescope team. Although there weren’t any Australians involved, the picture was the result of almost a decade of preparation and involved a global collaboration of researchers. It’s an example of the amazing, seemingly impossible things that can be achieved with collaboration. Read more about the announcement below, or for a quick recap take a look at this great comic produced by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).

Also this month: apply for the Women in STEM early career grant and paper writing retreat, take part in a survey for ECRs to help improve job satisfaction, read more physics-related jobs in the new Jobs Corner section and put yourself forward to be a presenter at Physics in the Pub in Canberra or Melbourne.

Kind regards,

Jodie Bradby
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP News

Pegah Maasoumi is the 2019 John Mainstone Youth Lecturer

Foldable mobile phones, Ironman’s suit, and turning your home’s windows into solar panels—congratulations to Pegah Maasoumi, our new John Mainstone Youth Lecturer!‬‬‬‬‬‬

Pegah’s talk will teach us about the journey of pixels from lab to the market front of display technology; the mystery behind the foldable mobile phone and Ironman’s suit; next-gen apartment windows that can produce light; her own journey as a scientist; and other exciting possibilities in nanotechnology.

The Exciton Science researcher and 2018 FameLab finalist has been our Women in Physics Chair for the past two years—leading the Australian delegates at the International Conference for Women in Physics (ICWIP). Pegah also worked on the winning bid for the 2020 ICWIP Conference to be held in Melbourne.

Stay tuned for details about Pegah’s John Mainstone Youth Lecture tour around Queensland in mid-August this year. More details announced soon on the AIP website.

‪Who was John Mainstone?‬‬‬‬‬‬
For more than 50 years John Mainstone was the custodian of the University of Queensland’s famous pitch-drop experiment, which was set up in the 1920s to demonstrate to students that objects that appear solid can flow like liquids. The John Mainstone lecture tour is a tribute to the UQ physicist, in honour of his dedication to physics education. The tour has been an annual event since 2014. ‬

Victoria Coleman, new Chair of the Women in Physics Group

Passionate gender equity, diversity and STEM inclusion advocate Victoria Coleman is our new Chair of the Women in Physics group! Victoria works at the National Measurement Institute (NMI) in Sydney and examines the physical and chemical properties of materials at the nanoscale.

Researching the properties of zinc oxide, Victoria did her PhD at the Australian National University and a postdoc at Uppsala University in Sweden before returning to Australia to work in nanotechnology at NMI.

Thank you to Pegah Maasoumi for her time as the Chair of the Women in Physics group for the past two years.

Learning the first two years of university-level physics in 16 days—Asian Physics Olympiad Australian team announced

Spending 13 hours a day for more than 16 days learning the first two years of university physics—that’s how eight of Australia’s top student physicists spent their summers in preparation for the 2019 Asian Physics Olympiad.

The Olympiad is Asia’s toughest physics competition for high school students, with more than 200 representatives from 23 other countries competing in first-year university-level theoretical and experimental exams for a chance to win gold.

To make the Australian team, the students spent a year in exams and intensive training, including studying 13 hours a day for more than 16 days. Each Olympian outperformed more than 1,700 other students in qualifying exams.

Siobhan Tobin from Australian Science Olympiads says that they looked at students’ analytical thinking, proficiency with equipment, and determination to use maths and physics to solve tricky problems in both theory and experiment when selecting the final eight.

The competition preparation is time consuming, especially for those in their final year of secondary study.

“I don’t have any time anymore – I didn’t have any before, but I’ve got even less now,” says Year 12 student Benjamin Davison-Petch from Perth’s Christ Church Grammar School.

But for Rosemary Zielinski, completing Year 12 at Merici College in the ACT, it’s a dream come true: “I am here because of my brilliant science teachers who encouraged me to have a go.”

The AIP congratulates Stephen Catsamas, Benjamin Davison-Petch, Min-Je Hwang, Alexander Lin, Jessie Lum, William Sutherland, Simon Yung and Rosemary Zielinski on making the team and wishes them the best of luck in the competition.

The 20th Asian Physics Olympiad will be held in Australia for the first time at the Adelaide Convention Centre from 5 to 13 May.

For the full media release, visit:

Want to improve your presenting skills? Now’s your chance

If you’re a physicist, astronomer, theoretician, engineer or educator, come along and share your love of science while entertaining a mildly intoxicated audience for eight minutes any way you can—think stand up, poems, songs or an informal science talk.

Physics in the Pub returns to to Canberra on the 28th May and Melbourne on Thursday 20th June and Dr Phil Dooley is calling for presenters.

Or if presenting isn’t your cup of tea, grab your free tickets online to support your colleagues.

To get involved or to discuss ideas, email Phil at: or call 0414 945 577.

Other Physics News & Opportunities

Want to attend Science meets Parliament and missed out on an AIP-sponsored spot? Apply for a Science and Technology scholarship today!

An event that brings together Australian scientists, technologists, MPs and Senators in the same room—Science meets Parliament is back in 2019!

Six scholarships are available to join around 200 other Australian scientists and technologists at Science meets Parliament, held in Canberra on 13-14 August.

Scholarships cover full registration including the gala dinner in the Great Hall at Parliament House, as well as travel, accommodation, meals and transfers. Financial assistance for childcare is available upon application.

Two scholarships are open to STEM practitioners in each of the following categories:

  1. Indigenous STEM scholarships for people with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage
  2. STEM Pride scholarships for people who identify as LGBTQI+
  3. Regional STEM scholarships for STEM practitioners who work in remote or regional Australia (>150km from a major capital city)

To be eligible you must be one of the 77,000 members of or employed by a Science and Technology Australia (STA) member organisation. (We’re a member organisation of STA, so if you’re an AIP member then you are eligible for these scholarships!)

Apply, or encourage others to apply today. Applications close on Saturday 15th June 2019.

Keeping Early Career Researchers in science in Australia—we want your feedback

Are you an Early Career Researcher working in the sciences in Australia? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far? Got ideas on how to make the work environment better for ECRs? And how can we make sure ECRs continue working in research in Australia?

If you have ideas of how to increase ECRs’ job satisfaction, and keep them working in research in Australia, Katherine Christian would love to hear your thoughts. Katherine is currently undertaking a PhD at Federation University Australia (under the supervision of Carolyn Johnstone).

The results of the survey will likely inform recommendations to improve work environments for ECRs in the sciences in Australia. It is vital that Australia has ECRs who continue to work in research in Australia.

The online questionnaire is completely anonymous, participation is voluntary, and you can withdraw at any time by closing your web browser. The questionnaire takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes to complete, but its impact on Australia’s research culture for ECRs will last a lot longer.

To participate in the study please go to:

Women in STEM early career grant and paper writing retreat

Want to improve your scientific writing and critical thinking? Applications open this May for the Australian National University’s Women in STEM Early Career Grant and Paper Writing Retreat.

Hear from keynote speakers including AIP President Jodie Bradby, attend mentoring sessions with senior academics, meet with colleagues for transparent peer reviews, and improve your skills at writing training workshops at this free three-day event.

Applications are open to all early career women in STEM from any research institution who want to boost their academic skills, meet with like-minded researchers and be inspired by Australia’s scientists and academics.

When: 21-23 October 2019
Where: Leonard Huxley Teaching Room H4.20, Australian National University, ACT
Cost: Free (includes three days of catering)
For more information or to apply, visit:

First image of a black hole

On April 10th a historic achievement in physics was announced, previously thought impossible: the first ever image of a black hole. The image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87 (M87), a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster 55 million light-years from Earth. Along with the image, a series of six papers was published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We all understand from a mathematical point of view that black holes exist, but to actually see something is a very visceral experience and I think important for science and also for us to believe in it,” said Sera Markoff, Professor of Theoretical High-Energy Astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam.

To achieve the resolution necessary to see a black hole directly a single telescope would need to be the size of the Earth, making such an observation impractical. However, a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry allows several radio telescopes to observe as a team creating a larger virtual telescope. In 2009 the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration was born to create a telescope effectively the size of the Earth, with a resolution 4,000 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope. The EHT linked together telescopes from the United States, Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Antarctica. In total, eight telescopes across the world were linked, setting a new precedent for global collaboration in scientific research.

After almost a decade of preparation, four clear days in April 2017 allowed all the observatories to work together in tandem. The combined resolutions created a telescope powerful enough to image the distant black hole, a task comparable to seeing the eye colour of someone in Sydney while standing in Perth. After two years of calculations the image was finally finished, confirming Einstein’s theory of relativity, John Michell and Karl Schwarzschild’s predictions, and matching simulations almost perfectly.

Gathering observations for four days around the world gave the team around 5 petabytes of data to process. Rather than transmitting this data via internet, it was faster to ship the physical hard drives to central locations.

Read the associated papers here from The Astrophysical Journal Letters:
Paper I: The Shadow of the Supermassive Black Hole
Paper II: Array and Instrumentation
Paper III: Data processing and Calibration
Paper IV: Imaging the Central Supermassive Black Hole
Paper V: Physical Origin of the Asymmetric Ring
Paper VI: The Shadow and Mass of the Central Black Hole

Aussie Physics in the News

A ‘seiche’ wave can outpace a tsunami and both can be triggered by meteorites and earthquakes

Australian ITER researchers report on plasma diagnostics project

Mixed news for science in the 2019-20 Budget

New silicon promises sunnier days for solar tech at ANU

Now let’s find a pair of black holes

Peace activist or atomic spy? The curious case of a Cold War nuclear scientist

Quantum computing pioneer was a physics dropout

Researchers trap 16 futures in a single superposition

Stawell Underground Physics Lab to delve into dark matter

The black hole image came thanks to student Katie Bouman, half a tonne of hard drives and a big coincidence

UNSW alumnae off to Antarctica with women leadership program

UQ rocketeers rocketing ahead