Calling women in physics, and the new government focus on science: physics in November

Each year, much excitement and anticipation surrounds the announcement of the Nobel Prize winners. I will never forget hearing the news that Brian Schmidt would be one of the winners of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, for the discovery of the accelerating universe, through a phone call from a very excited Leigh Dayton, then science writer for The Australian, who had somehow got wind of Brian receiving a very special phone call from the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

The announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics was made just before the last AIP bulletin was sent out. I have now had time to write more on the physics behind the award, which has special significance to those working in particle physics.

I am also delighted to make the AIP’s own award announcement: Professor Min Gu from Swinburne University of Technology is the recipient of the 2015 Walter Boas Medal for his major contributions to three-dimensional optical imaging theory and its applications in optical data storage, biometrics and optical endoscopy. Min will receive his medal, which recognises excellence in physics research, at an AIP Victorian Branch event—we will let you know more details when they are confirmed. My congratulations to Min on this very well deserved award.

We are also looking for our next AIP Women in Physics lecturer, following Jodie Bradby’s recently completed successful tour. For 2016, we are looking for someone who is working overseas—our last international Women in Physics lecturer was gravitational-wave hunter Sheila Rowan from the University of Glasgow. Details below.

In Australian politics I was very encouraged by the recent announcement made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio is one of his government’s most important agenda items. These words now need to be followed up by specific actions, which we look forward to seeing over the coming months. We also need to work with a mostly new set of ministers: Christopher Pyne has replaced Ian Macfarlane as the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science (with ‘Innovation’ now included in his title). The new position of Assistant Minister for Innovation has been created, with Wyatt Roy appointed to this role. Karen Andrews continues in her important role as Assistant Minister for Science. Also of note is the appointment of Simon Birmingham as Minister for Education, whose department will continue to have responsibility for the research grant programs.


Warrick Couch
President, Australian Institute of Physics


2016 AIP Women in Physics Lecture Tour – call for nominations

We are seeking nominations for the AIP WIP Lecturer for 2016 from women who have made a significant contribution in physics research and who can discuss it in a cracking lecture that will interest school students and the public.

Jodie Bradby imageAssoc Prof Jodie Bradby (pictured) from ANU has just completed the 2015 lecture tour, during which she spoke to 20 groups of school students, scientists and general public audiences across Australia.

In 2016 it’s the turn of a woman working overseas. Travel and accommodation will be provided for the tour of Canberra and each of the six Australian state capital cities and surrounding regions. The tour will also include research seminars for physics audiences.

The Australian Institute of Physics Women in Physics Lecture Tour celebrates the contribution of women to advances in physics.

More information online.

Self-nomination is welcomed, as are nominations from AIP branches or employers/colleagues. Email nominations to the AIP Special Projects Officer Olivia Samardzic by Monday 30 November 2015.

WA AIP branch news

October saw three events for the AIP WA branch, the first of which was the one-day annual postgraduates’ conference during which 18 students delivered short presentations on their projects.

Postgraduate conference

The following week we held a joint event with the UWA Physics Society, featuring three speakers from industry: Ron Hille shared career experiences ranging from applying physics at the weather bureau to helping Woodside make weather-related decisions on offshore operations. Andrew Lockwood, also working at Woodside, discussed new techniques he has developed to explore for oil and gas both on land and offshore. Branch chair John Chapman provided a brief overview of how physics is applied in the commercial diamond industry, from exploration to diamond grading.

A regular general meeting saw members touring the Atomic and Molecular Surface Physics laboratory at UWA with a pre-visit presentation on the relevant physics by Dr Jim Williams (pictured). A small Stirling engine was also demonstrated—driven from the heat given off by a mug of hot water.

John Chapman
Chair, WA Branch

Congrats to Dane McCamey, 2015 NSW Young Tall Poppy

UNSW Physicist Dane McCamey has been named NSW Young Tall Poppy of the Year, recognised for excellence in science and science communication. More info on the UNSW website.

Books for review

If you are interested in reviewing any of the books below for publication in Australian Physics please contact Brian James.



The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics

…was awarded last month to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald for ‘the discovery of neutrino oscillations and that neutrinos have mass.’ The Australian physics community will recognise the importance of this discovery to particle physics and the Standard Model, as well as astrophysics, in resolving the ‘solar neutrino problem’. Like the award of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the ‘accelerating universe’ discovery, it goes to the leaders of two large teams, whose independent results were both crucial in establishing that neutrinos oscillate between their electron, muon and tau states and therefore must have mass.

Takaaki Kajita imgTakaaki Kajita (pictured right) was the leader of a research team that found—using the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector facility in a zinc mine 1 km underground, near Tokyo—that muon-neutrinos coming straight down from where they were produced in the Earth’s atmosphere were more numerous than muon-neutrinos that had traversed the entire Earth in the diametrically opposite direction. Since the number of electron-neutrinos detected from the two different directions were equal, it was deduced that the muon-neutrinos must change into tau-neutrinos, thereby reducing the number that traverse the entire Earth—due to their longer travel time.

Arthur McDonald imgThis work was complemented very nicely by that of Arthur McDonald (left) and his team, who used the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory—built in a nickel mine in Ontario, Canada—to measure both the number of electron-neutrinos as well as the total number of all three types of neutrinos coming from the Sun. Since the nuclear reactions that power the Sun produce only electron-neutrinos, both measurements should have produced the same result. However, it was found that the number of electron-neutrinos was less than the number of all three neutrino types together, implying that some of the electron-neutrinos had metamorphosed into the other types during their 150 million km journey from the Sun.

For astrophysicists, Kajita and McDonald’s discovery of neutrino oscillations saw a much welcomed elimination of the somewhat embarrassing ‘solar neutrino problem’ – endless discussions of which at astrophysics conferences in the 80s and early 90s are indelibly imprinted on my memory! For particle physicists, the discovery gives them more work to do: developing theories beyond the Standard Model to properly account for neutrinos having mass, and determining exactly what those masses are. Significant focus and effort is being brought to bear on these latter endeavours here in Australia through the research program of the ARC’s Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale.

Warrick Couch

You can read more on the Nobel Prize website, and in Eric Thrane’s article in The Conversation. Eric, from Monash University, did his PhD within Takaaki Kajita’s high energy physics group in Japan.

The physics of photosynthesis, engineering and polymers: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes

The 2015 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science were awarded in October at a presentation ceremony in Canberra. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull received a standing ovation for his address in which he said he wanted Australia to be “a country that invests in science and puts it right at the centre of our national agenda.”

Eureka Prizes logoThe Prime Minister’s Prize for Science was awarded to Prof Graham Farquhar AO (pictured) from ANU, whose work on photosynthesis from the perspective of a biophysicist has transformed our understanding of that key biological reaction. Graham has also adddressed the lower evaporation rates and wind speeds that puzzle many climate scientists.

The Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation was awarded to Laureate Prof Graeme Jameson AO from the University of Newcastle, whose invention of the Jameson Cell flotation technology has added billions of dollars to the value of Australian mineral and energy industries.

The Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year was awarded to polymer chemist Assoc Prof Cyrille Boyer from the University of New South Wales, who is using light to create new polymers that can be used in medicine and industry.

The other winners were Dr Jane Elith, University of Melbourne, who received the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year; and Mrs Rebecca Johnson and Dr Ken Silburn for Excellence in Science Teaching in primary and secondary schools, respectively.

More details online.

Engineer, entrepreneur, communicator the new Chief Scientist

Eureka Prizes logoDr Alan Finkel AO (pictured), currently Monash University Chancellor and President of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, will become Australia’s Chief Scientist when Prof Ian Chubb AC steps down at the end of the year.

Among other positive responses to the appointment quoted in The Conversation, Brian Schmidt said: ‘Alan Finkel is a worthy successor to Ian Chubb. His experience as scholar, innovator, businessman, and university chancellor covers the whole gambit of science-related activities, and is underpinned by a great personal enthusiasm for the betterment of Australia’.

Physics shorts

Apollo image gallery A vast Flickr gallery of images from the Apollo program and other space history has been shared with the public.

Time travel a one-way trip Aussie physicists tell the White House time travel may be possible, on Back to the Future Day, 21 October 2015.

Another step to quantum computing UNSW’s Andrew Dzurak and team publish in Nature their quantum computer ‘game changer’: their first quantum calculation on a silicon chip.

Battery storage for star gazers The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory and Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescopes are being powered by solar energy. Now there are plans for Australia’s biggest energy storage battery on site.

The only woman in the room Former Yale physics student and now author Eileen Pollack analyses her path into, and out of, physics 40 years ago. Some things have changed but it is still a boys’ club, she writes.

SETI candidate number one Yes, that star. Could it be home to advanced aliens?

Young nuclear talent search Nominations for the IUPAP Young Scientist Prize in Nuclear Physics are being sought before 1 December.



Andrew White: Cracking the quantum code
10 November
The Shine Dome (and live-streamed)
Public lecture
Professor Andrew White will lead you through the progress and the pitfalls of quantum computing and cryptography. He will explain how these machines, which use strange subatomic behaviour, could spark a computer revolution.

New South Wales

World Metrology Day 2015 Awards Ceremony
16 November
Lehany Theatre, National Measurement Institute (NMI), West Lindfield
Award recipients Dr Graham Jones (Barry Inglis Medal) and Dr Alessandro Rossi (NMI Prize) will speak briefly about their work. The Hon Karen Andrews MP (Assistant Minister for Science), Dr Peter Fisk (NMI’s Chief Executive and Chief Metrologist) and Dr Barry Inglis PSM (inaugural CEO of NMI) will present the awards.
Public event (please RSVP) followed by afternoon tea.

AIP event 2015 AIP Postgraduate Awards and AGM
17 November
Trinity Grammar School, Professional Development Centre
AIP event, for students and/or teachers, for the general public
Each New South Wales university is invited to nominate one student to compete for the $500 prize and postgraduate medal on that day. The Royal Society of NSW will also award the Jak Kelly Scholarship prize.

Buzz Aldrin imgAn evening with Buzz Aldrin: Mission to Mars
27 November
State Theatre, Sydney
Public event
The Australian Academy of Science is offering a limited number of discounted tickets to see the legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin at his Sydney and Melbourne shows this November.
Take a journey with Buzz through space history, from the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing and into a future beyond planet Earth.

Northern Territory

No upcoming events currently listed.


The Science Nation // Science Says!
12 November
The Edge, State Library
An evening of science and comedy in the style of the great panel shows (think Good News Week and Spicks and Specks), as we take a lighter look at the top science stories of 2015 – and some of the quirkier ones, too! This event will be hosted by physicist, engineer, science communicator and entertainer Dr Joel Gilmore.

AIP event AIP QLD Branch AGM
27 November
Griffith Uni, Nathan campus

South Australia

No upcoming events currently listed.


No upcoming events currently listed.


Urquijo imgAIP event Phillip Urquijo: Physics deep underground, the mystery of the identity-switching neutrino
19 November
RMIT Swanston Academic Building 80, Level 7, Room 1
Annual Nobel Prize in Physics public lecture
Dr Urquijo will introduce you to the neutrino, one of the most mysterious particles in nature, and will explain how the two prize-winning teams made their discoveries in enormous facilities, deep underground. He will discuss what the Belle II collider experiment will have to say on neutrino mass generation, and introduce a new deep underground physics lab being built right here in Victoria.

An evening with Buzz Aldrin: Mission to Mars
29 November
Melbourne Town Hall
The Australian Academy of Science is offering a limited number of discounted tickets to see the legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin at his Sydney and Melbourne shows this November.
Take a journey with Buzz through space history, from the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing and into a future beyond planet Earth.
Public show.

AIP event Mount Burnett Observatory members night
6, 13, 20, 27 November (weekly)
420 Paternoster Road, Mount Burnett

Western Australia

John Kennewell: Re-entering Space Debris
19 November
Scitech Planetarium, West Perth
Free public lecture.
Dr John Kennewell, Director of the Australian Space Academy and Distinguished Associate of the International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), takes us on a journey to learn about space debris and shares with us the possibility of it landing on WA soil.

AIP event AIP WA Branch AGM
25 November
UWA Staff Club, Formal Dining Room
AGM and dinner with speaker Prof Bruce Gardiner.