Nanotech, patents, time travel and April physics fun

There is still time to have your say on the AIP’s submission to the Federal Government’s consultation on commercialising university research.

In February this year the Department of Education, Skills and Employment released a paper on the topic, inviting input.

Our Special Project Officer for Policy, Associate Professor Gerd Schröder-Turk, organised a member poll to seek responses. You’ll find our draft submission here . We will submit it at midday AEST on Friday, April 9.

The AIP Council and AGM were held virtually this year, and attracted such a good turn-up that we have decided to use virtual formats for all future AGMs.

At the Council meeting the idea of an advisory board was developed. Its purpose will be to advise the AIP executive on how to engage with, initially, potential industry partners. We’re seeking nominations for this project from industry and government, so if you’re interested please get in touch with me.

Speaking of meetings, from this year on, the AIP Congress and Summer Meeting will now be held in the first week of December. The two events are biennial and will alternate with each other. Read on for details of the next Summer Meeting , which will be held in Brisbane 6-9 December.

It was good to hear Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist and former AIP President, specify physics as one of the country’s four foundational issues in her recent National Press Club address. The way science is practised, she noted, will be transformed by artificial intelligence and quantum technologies. You can read her speech here.

Dr Foley also took the time to acknowledge ANU physicist Professor Ken Baldwin for his leading role in establishing Science Meets Parliament, the annual series of encounters between researchers and MPs. This year’s event concludes April 1.

Professor Baldwin was the 2019 winner of the AIP’s Award for Outstanding Service to Physics in Australia. Nominations for this year’s award are now open. We’ll have more details in next month’s bulletin.

On the subject of awards, congratulations to Professors Cathryn Trott and David McClelland, who have both been honoured by the Australian Academy of Science. See below for details for those and other awards.

In this edition we feature patent attorney Phil Burns in #Physicsgotmehere; nanotech in optics is the next livestreamed event; you have the chance to access a free copy of Physics World; and, of course, material both old and new from our own magazine, Australian Physics.

Kind regards,

Sven Rogge
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP News

Membership Renewal

Membership renewals have been extended to April 8.

Renew now to ensure you maintain all the benefits of being a member. Head to:, click on ‘renew’ and follow the prompts.

If you have retired, or require financial assistance, please get in touch, or 0478 260 533.

Tiny little lights: get set for our latest livestreamed event

Using nanomaterials to create smart, miniaturised optical technologies that represent a whole new field in optics is the theme of the next AIP live-streamed event.

Professor Dragomir Neshev from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (TMOS), based at the Australian National University, will explain how nanotechnology provides a new concept for the manipulation of light in ultra-thin materials. The approach, he says, overcomes the obstacles encountered by lens-based miniaturisation.

The livestream kicks off at 2pm AEST, on Friday April 23. Register here.

And if you missed last month’s talk …

Dark matter has been witnessed through astrophysical observation, but its direct detection remains elusive. In March, Maxim Goryachev from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics, delivered a fascinating exploration of the field. You can find a recording of it here.

#PhysicsGotMeHere: Meet Phil Burns

Name: Phil Burns

Employer: Wrays

Job title and description: Senior Associate Patent Attorney

As a senior patent attorney, I assist my clients in establishing and maintaining patents for their innovative work and research. My clients include small start-up companies bootstrapping their first minimum viable product, research organisations and universities looking to commercialise their research output, and large multinational corporations seeking to form a strong intellectual property barrier to competitors entering their product space.

A patent attorney must be able to identify the underlying principle of the innovation and prepare legally enforceable patent claims. These must protect both the innovation itself, and variations on the theme to prevent a competitor from simply copying the principle to develop its own product.

My background as a physicist is invaluable. As each patent application will be in a different field of technology, my technical knowledge enables me to quickly establish an understanding of the client’s technology, and provide relevant technical and legal advice.

The best part of my job is the varied technologies that come across my desk every day. On any given day I work with between five and 10 patent applications across the areas of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, optics and photonics, and medical devices. I also support other teams in my firm to process engineering and biotechnology applications. It is incredibly interesting to see the new innovations in physics before anyone else, and it is extremely rewarding to assist clients to achieve their business goals.

My career story so far:

I’m a Star Wars kid.  I can still vividly remember myself as a 10-year-old watching the original movie (Episode 4: A New Hope, as it is now known) at my friend’s house. From Star Wars, my interest in lasers was strong and I devoured anything to do with them in high school, so physics was Number one on my subject preferences. My high school physics teacher was instrumental in fostering my love of the subject in general, and optics in particular, and made ‘Physics Phun’ (his exact spelling!).

I pursued optics at Macquarie University, with a degree in optoelectronics, then went on to an honours research project in spectroscopic analysis, jointly with the CSIRO and Macquarie’s physical chemistry department.

After Honours, I joined the Optical Fibre Technology Centre (OFTC), affiliated with Sydney University, as a research assistant. I was there for six months before deciding that I wanted more than to be working on other people’s projects. I chose to return to Macquarie to undertake a PhD in novel laser source engineering.  .

As it turned out, starting my PhD when I did was very fortunate because it coincided with the tech bust in Australia. Many photonic-based companies collapsed, and many of my friends had been laid off from more than one company while I was sequestered in the university laser labs. 

However, this meant that when I completed my PhD, there were not many opportunities for industry employment. Fortunately, an offer suddenly came to join a patent firm in Sydney as a trainee attorney. It allowed me to stay close to family, so I took it initially as a temporary measure until the photonics industry in Australia recovered. A partner in the firm had a photonics client and needed someone who was more familiar with the technology, so it worked out perfectly. Now, I have been working as an attorney for nearly 17 years and have been fortunate to be with Wrays for the last five years.

Because of the strong technical knowledge required, to become a patent attorney requires a degree in a scientific discipline, as well as legal qualifications including a Masters in Intellectual Property Law. Usually, the law degree is done part-time over two or three years while gaining practical experience as a trainee attorney in a patent firm.

I have also been an active member of the AIP, starting as a committee member in 2016, moving up to Treasurer of the NSW Branch since the 2017-18 financial year. I joined the AIP to connect more closely with the physics industry, and to provide the industry with quality support for ongoing education and resources for physics students. I thoroughly enjoy giving something back to the community which helped me to get where I am now.

Enjoy a free copy of Physics World magazine

Physics World is the world’s leading physics magazine, covering everything from astronomy to condensed matter to computation.

Professor Andrew Peele from ANSTO has been talking with the good folk at the UK Institute of Physics and has negotiated access to a free, complete digital copy of the magazine for AIP members.

Take a look and enjoy the wide variety of entertaining and informative articles here.

With thanks to publishers, IoP.

2021 Frontiers of Science Forum event wrap-up and recording

Mesopotamian arithmetic, modern polymer chemistry and nanoparticle sensors were among the topics covered at this year’s joint meeting of the AIP, Teachers’ Guild of New South Wales (TGNSW), and Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) joint meeting.

The event, dubbed the 2021 Frontiers of Science Forum, was held in Sydney in March.

Hosted by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Cathy Foley, the forum featured presentations from Macquarie University’s Professor Judith Dawes, UNSW’s Dr Daniel Mansfield, the University of Wollongong’s Professor Antoine van Oijen, and Dr Markus Müllner from the University of Sydney.

Don’t worried if you missed it, however. You can watch it here.

Gerd Schröeder-Turk re-elected to university council

AIP executive member Associate Professor Gerd Schröeder-Turk has been re-elected as staff representative on the Murdoch University council, receiving almost 70 per cent of first-preference votes.

Last year he and the university were locked in a bitter legal battle arising from a disagreement over international student recruitment. That issue is now resolved.

Professor Schröeder-Turk said his re-election was because of his campaign message that collegial empowered committee-based governance structures are best suited for a university. He is against top-down decision making styles that alienate the academic body and carry a risk that committee processes become mere ‘rubber stamping’ exercises.

Congratulations to Gerd, who is our National Executive Special Project Officer for Policy, and a committee member of the WA branch.

With thanks to Campus Morning Mail .

More physics awards and opportunities

Astronomy and gravitational waves see AIP Fellows honoured by the Australian Academy of Science

The hunt for the earliest signals emitted by the Universe has resulted in Associate Professor Cathryn Trott winning the Australian Academy of Science’s 2021 Nancy Mills Medal. Professor Trott is affiliated with Curtin University, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D). She is also an AIP Fellow.

The award honours women mid-career researchers who have established an independent research program and demonstrated exceptional leadership.

She is one 24 Australian scientists honoured last month by the Academy.

Also awarded was Professor David McClelland from Australian National University, lead Australian investigator at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). His work at the detector on work on ‘quantum enhancement’ increased the observable volume of the Universe significantly. 

He was presented with the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal for outstanding achievement by a scientist in Australia for research in mathematics or physics. He is also an AIP Fellow.

For a complete list of award-winners, see here.

Other awards

Belated congratulations to Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Ken Ostrikov, who late last year was awarded the Humboldt Research Award by Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, in recognition of his lifetime achievement in physics.

And well done, too, to Robert Robinson, Honorary Professorial Fellow at University of Wollongong, for being awarded the 2021 Asia-Oceania Neutron Scattering Association Prize for his contributions to the field.

Both are AIP Fellows.

Noms open for the David Syme Research Prize

Nominations are invited for the 2020 David Syme Research Prize. This nationwide award recognises the best original research in biology, physics, chemistry or geology published in Australia between January 2019 and December 2020.

The $9000 prize is managed by the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne, and nominations close on April 28.

Senior members of the academic or research community such as co-authors or co-researchers, heads of department or deputy vice-chancellors (research) are invited to nominate eligible colleagues. Self-nominations are not accepted.

Full details and the nomination form are available here.


AIP biennial meeting 6-9 December

Mark your diaries for the AIP Summer Meeting, set to take place in Brisbane this December.

The event was founded in 2017 and takes place every two years, alternating with the AIP Congress.

This year the meeting will be held at the Queensland University of Technology, running from December 6 to 9. It will be chaired by QUT’s Associate Professor Jennifer MacLeod

More details, including program, registration and sponsors, will appear soon at

The latest issue of Australian Physics magazine is out now!

Grab the latest issue of Australian Physics and settle in for lots of fascinating reading fun. Highlights include:

Valuable skills for society

Physicists have valuable problem-solving skills. The various career paths open to physicists are testament to that. Sven Rogge, the new AIP President, explains in our conversation piece that clearly communicating this to the Australian community is the nut we need to crack.

In #PhysicsGotMeHere, Sarah Midgley OAM describes how problem-solving skills link together for her with specialised knowledge about careers in STEM and technologies to help advise others in government on future workforce issues.

Top hats, combs, and earthworms

At the research level, Oliver Stockdale, Matthew Reeves and, Matthew Davis demonstrate, in their article on vortex top hats in superfluids, how physics helps to solve tricky problems at the quantum level. Ivan Maksymov and Sergey Suslov show how microwave frequency combs could lead the way to manipulating the human brain. The latter inspired our front cover which shows Faraday waves in small particle assemblies.

In earthly endeavours of research and problem-solving, our Young Physicists explore what happens when you stimulate earth worms to vibrate using a subwoofer. The underlying work gained Ivan Maksymov and Andriy Pototsky an Ig Nobel Prize in 2020.

Calling all physics writers …

The Australian Physicist, now Australian Physics, has been produced by the AIP since 1964. It is the oldest science magazine in Australia.

Current editors Peter Kappen and David Hoxley are always on the hunt for material to include in forthcoming issues.

To that end, they also invite members to submit:  

  • Pitches for articles describing current research;
  • Physics-themed cartoons;
  • Reviews of physics-themed books (they might even be able to get the book for you!);
  • Physics poetry;
  • Obituaries of recently passed members.

Proposals and finished items can be sent to

FROM THE VAULT: stories from The Australian Physicist

This month in 1983: The Swinburne Traveling Science Show

For a six or seven week season in June/July each year a team of lecturers and technicians from Swinburne Institute of Technology visits secondary schools to present an intensive two-hour program of applied science.

This programme, unique to Swinburne, is designed to stimulate young minds and demonstrate that science and mathematics need not be difficult, dull nor irrelevant to everyday life. The ‘SHOW’ is loosely organised around two themes of continuing general interest, energy and the environment. It consists of a succession of “items” which are demonstrations of principles and applications. Many of these involve participation by members of the audience, and students are encouraged to seek detailed explanations from their own teachers. Closed circuit T.V. is used to ensure that all members of an audience have an opportunity to see exactly what is going on.

The Show itself is unashamedly motivational in intention, seeking to combine entertainment with mental stimulation. Since the major initial input to the Show program came from Physics, it is not surprising that so many items are perceived as “applied physics”. Implicit in the Show are messages reinforcing the vocational and social importance of physics as the prime source of the technological and communication developments we enjoy today.…

Read the full story here.

Australian physics in the news

Could Time Travel Ever Work?

Scientists, or at least their wild-haired fictional counterparts, promised us time travel and still have not delivered. Forget walking with dinosaurs or killing baby Hitler; I’d be happy just to warn my month-ago self not to make all the mistakes he’s about to. It’d also be nice to zoom past the next few months (year? years??) to the nationwide orgy of the post-virus era. Of course, none of these things are possible, because time travel doesn’t exist. But could it? That is the subject of this week’s Giz Asks, for which we reached out to a number of physicists.

Read more here.

Iceberg melting is driven by geometry, experiments reveal

New experiments with ice blocks have revealed that icebergs melt faster on their sides. The discovery paves the way for better models of melting that consider the varied shapes of icebergs. The research could also improve our understanding of the role of iceberg melting in climate change.

Read more here.

Astronomers spot a ‘space jellyfish’ in Abell 2877

A radio telescope located in outback Western Australia has observed a cosmic phenomenon with a striking resemblance to a jellyfish.

Published today in the Astrophysical Journal, an Australian-Italian team used the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope to observe a cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2877.

Read more here.

In brief

After the science: What quantum computing will really mean for the tech industry

Bushfire prediction tool can simulate dangerous ember showers and fire-generated thunderstorms

Solved – the site of Australia’s first astronomical observatory

Curtin researcher helps find largest supernova remnant by looking in right place

Researchers at The University of Queensland Introduce The ‘Quvigint’, The Magic Qubit With 20 Possible Values

Harnessing socially-distant molecular interactions for future computing

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 and pricing. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Laser and Photonic Sources at Macquarie University

Leaders of Independent Junior Research Group at Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics

Mathematics and Physics Teacher  (one of 50+ such jobs on Seek)

Data Scientist (one of 100+ such jobs on Seek)

Intelligence Analyst (Signals)

Research Assistant in Advanced Nanocarbon Materials (RMIT)

Postdoc Semiconductor Device Physics (ANU)

Professor – Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics (ANU)

Medical Physicist Grade 3 (Ballarat)

Patent Attorney (Engineering/ICT/Sciences)

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Theoretical and/or mathematical physics (UQ)

Principal Reliability Engineer Cochlear (Sydney)

BHP Minerals Australia 2021 Intern Campaign (Summer projects – applications close April 2)

Maths & Physics Student Support Officer UNSW Canberra

Quantitative Analyst

Quantum Devices and Materials Research Scientist CSIRO (Sydney)

Personal Dosimetry Officer ANSTO (Sydney),CurBID,JobListID,jobsListKey,JobID&lid=44006840018

Research Fellow – TEM Monash (Melbourne)

PhD/MSc opportunities:

CSIRO/RMIT Masters by Research

The Vienna Doctoral School in Physics is offering 11 fully funded PhD positions in Physics based at the University of Vienna, Austria:

QUT PhD Scholarship in Physics-informed Lattice Boltzmann Modelling

University of Newcastle PhD Scholarship modelling explosive energy release in the Sun’s atmosphere