Neutrons will save the world; physicists in the Eureka Awards; how to survive the end of the universe during National Science Week; and more physics in august

National Science Week is happening from August 10 to 18 and is packed with many wonderful physics events. We’ve selected some of the best physics events around the country and listed them below.

“How neutrons will save the world” is the topic of our 2019 Women in Physics lecture, given by Dr Helen Maynard-Casely from ANSTO. Helen has now begun her tour in Tasmania and after 36 talks all over Australia will finish at the Girls in Physics Breakfast in Melbourne on Wednesday 28 August. Good luck Helen! More below.

The AIP national executive team were at ANU last week for a packed two days of strategic planning, priority-setting and discussions. We are working on a strategic plan and new opportunities to promote all things physics in Australia. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.

Several physicists were announced last week as finalists for the 2019 Eureka Prizes. Read all about them here. Winners will be announced at the end of this month. Good luck to all finalists!

I really enjoyed the great posts on the AIP Instagram account from the Australians attending the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany last month. SBS journalist Lydia Feng also attended the meetings and wrote about the young women levelling out gender imbalance in science. Women comprised eight out of the 13 physicists chosen by the Australian Academy of Science to attend.

Also this month: Nominate for the 2019 NSW Community Outreach to Physics award, read about the speediest quantum operation yet, meet Registered Patent Attorney Matthew Lay – our August Hidden Physicist, and find an opportunity in our Jobs Corner.

Kind regards,
Jodie Bradby
President, Australian Institute of Physics

Celebrate physics this National Science Week

There are more than 2,000 events around the country in National Science Week, which runs between August 10 and 18. Here are some hand-picked physics fun, with more on the National Science Week website.

Coffee in Space – Melbourne, Bendigo, Shepparton, Mildura, Albury-Wodonga. 
Our own AIP Australian Physics Co-Editor, Dr David Hoxley from La Trobe University leads a ‘Hypothetical’, challenging the experts in an open forum to resolve the issues. Members of the public observe the role-play to learn about the art and science of roasting, grinding and extracting coffee in the extremes of space. The Audience is then invited to join the discussion. Details here.

Particle/Wave: a multimedia experience of gravitational waves, created by Melbourne theatre-maker Alicia Sometimes – Adelaide, Melbourne and Wollongong.
The late cosmologist Stephen Hawking said, “gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe”. This very successful show, made with the assistance of some of Australia’s best-known physicists, presents an immersive exploration of the subject incorporating poetry, video art, music and science. Details here.

Immersive Science III: Astronomy for All Australians – multiple dates & locations.
Realise the power of stars, delve into the latest gravitational wave research, and explore the universe — all without leaving town. Science communicators and researchers Associate Professor Alan Duffy and Dr Rebecca Allen share the latest wonders of Australian-led research in astronomy using SciVR; an immersive experience enabled by a virtual reality smartphone app. Details here.

The Einstein Lecture: Elisabetta Barberio on Dark Matter – Kensington, NSW. In the past decade, there has been impressive progress in detecting dark matter interactions. Experimental particle physicist Professor Elisabetta Barberio from the University of Melbourne explains how the research continues, with crucial experiments deep in an old gold mine in rural Australia. Details here.

Paul Davies: The Demon in the Machine Kensington, NSW. 
What is life? For generations, scientists have struggled to make sense of this fundamental question. Theoretical physicist Paul Davies from the Arizona State University will argue that the answer is in sight. Details here.

“Is Bigger Always Better?” with astronomer Richard de Grijs  St. Ives, NSW. 
Astronomy is in a golden age, with ever more exciting prospects on the horizon. Join Macquarie University’s Professor Richard de Grijs to learn about the next generation of extremely large telescopes and the ground-breaking discoveries they promise to deliver. Details here.

Artificial Intelligence Light Science Spectacular 2019 – Adelaide, SA.
Light is incredibly useful in science, from analysing life at the nanoscale to understanding the universe and AI. Hear about new technologies and discoveries from experts, including Dr Roman Kostecki, research fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, who develops optical fibres for sensing cell activity, and Dr Jerry Madakbas, a photonics physicist who builds night vision sensors for NASA. Details here.

Life on Mars – Perth, WA. 

Join a panel of NASA scientists and astrophysicists as they discuss all things Mars. How will people live on the red planet? Is there already simple life there? Will Mars be a base for humanity one day? Do we have galactic neighbours? Graham Phillips, research fellow at University of Melbourne and former host of the ABC’s Catalyst, will lead this panel of Australian and international scientists. Details here.

How to survive the end of the universe… and the next 50 years – Pinjarra, WA. The world is undergoing huge changes due to humankind’s insatiable demand for resources. Award-winning radio astronomer Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker from Curtin University takes audiences on a mind-blowing journey, from looking for life on other planets to surviving the end of the universe. Details here.

The world is undergoing huge changes due to humankind’s insatiable demand for resources. Award-winning radio astronomer Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker from Curtin University takes audiences on a mind-blowing journey, from looking for life on other planets to surviving the end of the universe. Details here.

Women in STEM breakfast with award-winning radio astronomer Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker – Mandurah, WA.
Curtin University’s Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker is passionate about understanding the universe. After obtaining her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2010, she moved to Australia to help commission the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low-frequency precursor to the Square Kilometre Array. Using this apparatus, she created a panoramic view of the universe at low radio frequencies: the Galactic and Extragalactic All-Sky MWA Survey. Dr Hurley-Walker will share her career journey so far and her perspective as a woman working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Details here.

AIP News

How neutrons will save the world

Helen Maynard-Casely’s Women in Physics Lecture Tour has started around the country.

The often-overlooked neutron is much more than just dead weight inside the atom. Neutrons are here to save the world. From finding the shape of a virus and how a drug can disable it, to keeping electrons flowing in the next generation of batteries, neutrons can help solve some of the greatest challenges we face today.

In presenting the AIP 2019 Women in Physics Lecture at locations around the country, Dr Helen Maynard-Casely from Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) talking about how neutrons will save the world in various school visits and public lectures.

Final Girls in Physics Breakfast this year  

The last chance to join a Girls in Physics Breakfast this year is at Monash University’s Clayton campus on Wednesday 28 August.

Now in its fourth year, the Girls in Physics Breakfasts give young women in Years 10 to 12 the opportunity to meet other students, as well as women in the early stages of science or engineering careers.

Instrument scientist and neutron-scattering expert Helen Maynard-Casely, the AIP 2019 Women in Physics lecturer, will be guest of honour.

Bookings close on Monday 19 August.Details here:

2019 NSW Community Outreach to Physics Award   

Do you know someone working in physics community outreach and education in NSW who deserves recognition? Nominate today for the NSW Community Outreach to Physics Award. 

The award will go to a person who has effectively developed physics-themed community events and increased awareness, knowledge and learning opportunities for students.

CSIRO applied physicist and NSW member Scott Martin won the award in 2018 for his work on the NSW AusMedtech committee, the board of the Laboratories Credit Union, and the annual Physics in Industry Day.

The winner must live in NSW, and will receive $500 and a certificate.

To nominate, please send in a statement of up to 500 words by Friday 11 October, to Frederick Osman at

More details:

Other Physics News & Opportunities

Physicists acknowledged in Eureka Prize nominations 

The 2019 Eureka prize finalists were announced last week, showcasing the work of physicists around the country.

Jiajia Zhou, University of Technology Sydney 
To create smaller and smaller electronics, we need to pack more into each micron. But it’s hard to see at the nanoscale. Jiajia Zhou developed heat-harvesting nanoparticles to shine a light on the microscopic world. She is a finalist in the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher. Details here.

NSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research Australian Attosecond Team – Satya Sainadh

Australian Attosecond Team, Griffith University and Australian National University 
Quantum tunnelling occurs when a particle passes through an energy barrier. The Australian Attosecond Team – made up of quantum physicists from Griffith University and ANU – resolved a longstanding quantum physics problem about tunnelling time, which they found to be less than two quintillionths of a second. The team is a finalist in the UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. Details here.

Kamilaroi woman and astrophysicist Karlie Noon.

Karlie Noon, Australian National University and CSIRO
For science outreach on how the Milky Way evolved, sharing the scientific knowledge of Indigenous Australians and engaging underrepresented communities in science, Kamilaroi woman and astrophysicist Karlie Noon is a finalist in the 3M Eureka Prize for Emerging Leader in Science. Details here.

Elanor Huntington, Australian National University
For leadership that integrates world class quantum optics research with advocacy for innovative education, along with the development of two new interdisciplinary innovation institutes, Dean of the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science Elanor Huntington is a finalist in the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science. Details here.

Quantum physicist Michael Biercuk.

Michael Biercuk, University of Sydney and Q-CTRL
“Quantum technology – harnessing quantum physics as a resource – is likely to be as transformational in the 21st century as harnessing electricity was in the 19th,” says quantum physicist and CEO of Australia’s first venture capital-backed quantum technology company Q-CTRL, Michael Biercuk. For sharing this message in academia, education and business, Michael is a finalist in the Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. Details here.

Sophie Calabretto, Macquarie University
From university-based outreach activities to national media, fluid mechanist Sophie Calabretto is a passionate science communicator showing how maths is relevant to technology and the world around us. Sophie is committed to tackling the current decline in higher mathematics students and is a finalist in the Celestino Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. Details here.

Astrophysicist Tamara Davis.

Black Hole Hunters, by ABC’sCatalyst, presented by Tamara Davis
For taking viewers on a journey from outback Australia to capturing the very first image of a black hole, the ABC Catalyst Black Hole Hunters team is a finalist in the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Science Journalism. University of Queensland astrophysicist Tamara Davis is the presenter of the documentary. Details here.

If you know of other physicists nominated as Eureka Prize finalists, please let us know. Winners will be announced on Wednesday 28 August.

Funding for Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory

The Victorian Government will provide $5 million for the construction of the laboratory.

The lab will provide ultra-low background research facilities needed in the ground-breaking search for dark matter – and will put Stawell on the world’s particle physics map, helping Victoria attract and retain world class scientists and boost the regional economy.

Image credit: The University of Melbourne

The Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory (SUPL) will be built one-kilometre underground in a disused section of the Stawell Gold Mine. It will be the only facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

The project is a collaboration between six partners, including the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, the University of Adelaide, the Australian National University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics.

University of Melbourne particle physicist Elisabetta Barberio is the project leader.

“The investment by both the State and Federal Governments will ensure the lab is large enough to host dark matter experiments as well as everything from fundamental cancer research into how radiation affects cells growing, to creating new ultra-sensitive detectors and novel geological exploration techniques,” she says.

Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes announced the $5 million funding. She said the new facility will generate nearly 80 ongoing jobs, and diversify Stawell’s economy – attracting a new highly-skilled workforce to the region to live and work.

Read the full media release at the Minister for Regional Development’s website:

Or find out more about how the active gold mine will help to solve the mystery of dark matter at Elisabetta Barberio’s 2019 Einstein lecture on Thursday 15 August in Sydney:

Speediest quantum operation yet

Australian physicists have built a super-fast version of the central building block of a quantum computer.

The scientists have linked two electrons spins embedded in a silicon chip to form a two-qubit gate, the fundamental building block of a quantum computer.

Image credit: UNSW

The gate is 200 times faster than any other of its type, taking a mere 0.8 nanoseconds to complete an operation, and uses atom-based qubits that are known for their high accuracy and extremely low noise.

The team from UNSW Sydney reports in the journal Nature that the device is known as a SWAP gate, in which quantum information is exchanged between the two qubits.

The speed of the gate arises from the close proximity of the two atoms, just 13 nanometres apart. At this distance their interaction can be strong yet still tightly controlled. Although isolated, they were close enough to be pushed together by a voltage to enable information swapping.

Team leader, and 2018 Australian of the Year, Michelle Simmons says the precision required to make the device was at the limit of what was humanly possible.

“A lot of people thought this would not be possible. To be able to control nature at its very smallest level so that we can create interactions between two qubits but also individually talk to each qubit without disturbing the other is incredible,” she says.

This article was originally published on 18 July 2019 in Cosmos magazine. See the original article here, written by Phil Dooley.

Hidden Physicists – featuring Matthew Lay

This section features a different physics graduate each month and highlights the surprising places they’ve ended up.

Meet Matthew Lay.

Job title and employer: Registered Patent Attorney, Associate at FB Rice

Job description:  My work includes drafting patent applications covering scientific instrumentation, electronic devices such as medical devices, and mechanical devices such as mining tools. I also prepare responses to exam reports to obtain granted patents from IP Australia and other patent offices overseas. Clients range from local inventors or companies, universities and research institutes, to foreign attorneys representing companies wanting to patent in Australia.

Most of my work involves preparing arguments on how claimed inventions can be distinguished from what was previously known. A good patent attorney therefore needs to have the ability to understand the invention and the known information, as well as have a solid understanding of patent law. My research background plays an important role in the work because it can assist in understanding what researchers or inventors are explaining, providing an insight into how a particular invention works, or realising what alternative embodiments of the invention may be. This is particularly true if it is a physics-based invention, such as spectroscopes, photonic devices, or ultrasonic-based medical diagnostic devices.

I work in a corporate environment and as such am required to manage deadlines and working hours to maximise profits. Typically, I work on up to eight different patent applications on any given day for varying lengths of time. It could mean just a few minutes to deal with an administrative task, such as checking a reminder about a deadline, or it could take an entire day to work on drafting a part of a patent application. Most of my day is therefore usually spent at the desk and strong written communication skills are paramount.

Career pathway

I completed my PhD from the University of Melbourne researching materials science aspects of silicon quantum computing. After a short experimental research stint at the ANU, I went on to do a postdoc at UNSW in computational modelling of biological systems for immunology and virology, and then a postdoc at the CSIRO in materials analysis of aluminum alloys. I obtained valuable experience in chemistry, biology, electronics, computing, and mechanical devices from the work I did with sample preparation, various experimental measurements and data analysis. Importantly, this enables me to work on patents over a broad range of technologies.

Towards the end of my last postdoc, I simply applied for a job advertised for a trainee patent attorney with experience in physics, engineering and computing. From there I was sponsored to study a Masters in IP law part-time and registered as a patent attorney in Australia and New Zealand about three-and-a-half years later. Most of the learning was, and is, on the job through supervision by senior attorneys.

Please email if you’d like to nominate a ‘hidden’ physicist for us to profile.

Jobs Corner – physics employment opportunities

The AIP is happy to provide a free link to your physics-related job or PhD opportunity. Please send them to If you would like to feature more details and a picture, please email Kirrily Rule for more information.

PhD opportunities

Aussie physics in the news

Anaemic star carries the mark of its ancient ancestor

Australia is uniquely placed for the new race into space

Australian scientists recognised at international geophysics meeting

Breaking the mould with Karlie Noon

Exiled moons may explain astronomical mysteries

Order from chaos: Australian vortex studies are first proof of 70-year-old theory of turbulence in fluids

The voice of Apollo – how ABC Science broadcast the Moon landing—how-abc-science-broadcast-the-moon-landing/11326150