New Chief Scientist appointed, Dirac Medal awarded, and Hidden Physicist discovered

Welcome to the final bulletin for 2020 and my final bulletin as AIP president. At our council meeting in February 2021 I will step aside as we welcome Professor Sven Rogge (UNSW Physics) as incoming president, and Professor Nicole Bell (UniMelb Physics) as vice president.

I wish them all the very best. I’m thrilled that the AIP has such a solid leadership team moving forward. Also, can I say what an honour and privilege it was to serve in this role. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard over the past few years to make the AIP so strong.

Last month saw some significant awards and appointments, not the least of which was the welcome news that former AIP president Dr Cathy Foley is set to become Australia’s next Chief Scientist. See our story below.

The AIP was also proud to be co-sponsor of this year’s Dirac Medal, which was presented to Professor Susan Scott from ANU’s Department of Quantum Science.

ANSTO’s new Centre for Accelerator Science has a new leader, Dr Ceri Brenner.

You’ll find more about her, Professor Scott and a slew of other physicists doing marvellous things in this issue.

You’ll also get to meet this month’s Hidden Physicist – Tasmania’s Nicola Ramm – and catch up on the latest physics research happening around the country.

Plus, there are some jobs to be found, and another story from the Australian Physicist vaults.

And a reminder that it’s time to renew your AIP membership. For a quick and easy way to do so, please go here.

Finally, this month’s picture was taken for a media release on making diamonds at room temperature. You’ll find the story below.

I wish you a relaxed and enjoyable holiday period, and sincerely hope that 2021 will be a calmer year for us all.   

Kind regards,
Jodie Bradby
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP News

AIP congratulates Australia’s new Chief Scientist

We warmly welcome the announcement that Dr Cathy Foley will be Australia’s new Chief Scientist.

Dr Foley is a past president of the AIP, and a scientist with a distinguished reputation in both research and community engagement.

Her Macquarie University PhD led to blue LEDs. She is an expert in superconducting materials and the development of devices using superconductors for a number of applications including detecting magnetic fields and locating mineral deposits.

She is a former president of Science and Technology Australia, a seasoned campaigner for women in science, and the winner of a Eureka Prize for science communication.

Read the statement on our website:

Susan Scott wins 2020 Dirac Medal for the advancement of theoretical physics

Congratulations to Professor Susan Scott from ANU’s Department of Quantum Science, awarded the University of New South Wales Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Physics. The medal was presented by the Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston.

The honour is presented jointly by the university and the AIP. The recipient is also invited to present the annual Dirac Public Lecture. 

The lecture and medal commemorate a visit to the university in 1975 by Professor Paul Dirac, who gave a series of five lectures. These were published in 1978 as a book, titled Directions of Physics. The royalties were used to establish the medal, first awarded in 1979. Past winners include David Pines, Klaus von Klitzing and Brian Schmidt.

Susan’s research centres on mathematic aspects of General Relativity, extragalactic astronomy, and gravitational waves – a field which this year saw her honoured as one of four recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

You can watch Professor Scott’s talk here: 

What can you do with a physics degree

Discover the exciting and curious roles that become accessible once your degree is secured.

In a series of webcasts hosted by CSIRO, running each day until Friday, December 4, physicists will discuss their career paths, reveal how they overcame obstacles, and lay out their plans.

The events take place at noon AEDT. To take part, register here —

And watch out for this content on our brand new YouTube channel here.

Meet Nicola Ramm, this month’s Hidden Physicist

Name: Nicola Ramm

Employer: Institute of Mine Seismology, Tasmania

Job title and description: Geophysicist. I work for a company that provides monitoring of seismic activity within the mining industry for a range of purposes.

My role in the Applied Geophysics branch of the company is to implement projects which utilise ambient noise. These are the waves that occur constantly within the earth, caused by everything from mining machinery and nearby traffic to waves from the ocean. Ambient noise waves bounce around within the earth and sample the surrounding medium. This noise can then be harnessed to see changes in velocity properties of the surrounding rock or ground cover.

I have been involved in applying this technique for safety monitoring of tailings dams, which are structures where toxic mine waste is stored. These are often poorly built and insufficiently monitored, leading to a high number of failures, which can cause catastrophic loss of life and other environmental impacts.

I also work in applying ambient noise techniques to mineral exploration, where the deployment of small seismic sensors at surface can be used to create 3D mapping of the subsurface. This technique is much easier and less environmentally damaging than traditional mineral exploration approaches, such as drilling.

Through my career in geophysics, I have already been lucky enough to travel and be involved in a wide range of projects. I have undertaken surveys in northern Sweden and Nevada. Last year, I was able to present the research my team and I had been working on at several conferences in Perth, France and the AGU Fall meeting in San Francisco.

My career story so far:
I always enjoyed maths and physics and I enrolled in a Bachelor of Marine and Antarctic Science with a major in physics at the University of Tasmania in 2015. I then went on to complete my Honours in physics, looking at using microwave backscatter to measure the sea ice thickness in Antarctica.

I loved applying physics to real-world situations, and upon looking for work after University in 2018, I applied for the position with the Institute of Mine Seismology (IMS). I had no prior knowledge of geophysics, but my solid physics theory foundation has allowed me to adapt and learn the ‘geo’ aspect of my work on the go.

I had almost no knowledge of the mining industry before working at IMS, and it has been a really great opportunity to learn about the workings of such an important industry, which is often out of sight for the wider population. I have really enjoyed the new and diverse projects I get to be involved in, and seeing the ways in which my problem solving can be implemented into real-world solutions.

ARC Climate Extremes: Missed the talk? Watch it on AIP YouTube

Last month the AIP teamed up with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) to present an introduction to the field of climate modelling.

Kirrily Rule chatted with Dietmar Dommenget about current issues in the field.

No worries if you missed it. You can watch it here, on our YouTube channel:

AIP NSW postgraduate awards day an event to remember  

Matthias Wurdack from the Australian National University’s Nonlinear Physics Centre has won the 2020 AIP NSW postgraduate presentation award.  

The prize, which comprises a figurine and $500, was one of three presented at the AIP NSW awards day on November 10.

The winner of the Royal Society of NSW Jak Kelly Award for 2020 was Matthew Donnelly from the University of New South Wales School of Physics.

And the Community Outreach to Physics Award was presented to Associate Professor Christopher Ferrie from the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Quantum Software and Information.

Congratulations to all the winners, nominees, and judges whose combined efforts made this year’s event truly one to remember.

The 2020 Awards Event was proudly sponsored by the Australian Institute of Physics, Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Royal Society of New South Wales and Laboratories Credit Union LCU.

More physics awards and appointments

The Australian Space Awards announced

The inaugural Australian Space Awards, announced late in November, saw accolades go to many distinguished scientists and research organisations.

Dr Sarah Pearce, deputy director of CSIRO’s astronomy and space science division, was recognised as Executive of the Year and won the overall Excellence Award. CSIRO itself won the Research Organisation of Year category.

James Bennett from Electro Optic Systems was named Scientist of the Year, while Dr Joshua Chou of University of Technology Sydney took out the Researcher of the Year award.

University of Sydney was recognised as Academic Institution of the Year and the Early Stage Start-Up award went to the SmartSat CRC.

For a full list of all 22 awards, please go here.

Swinburne scientist to receive international physics teaching honour 

This year’s International Commission on Physics Education medal has been awarded to Swinburne University’s Professor Alex Mazzolini.

Each year the ICPE medal is awarded in recognition of sustained contributions to physics education.

Professor Mazzolini’s honour follows 40 years of education practice, covering six continents and 40 countries. His citation commends his “outstanding contributions to physics teaching of a kind that transcends national boundaries”.

Please join us online at 2pm AEDT on Thursday, December 10, to see Alex formally receive his medal. The zoom link is:

For ANSTO, UK’s loss is Australia’s gain

Dr Ceri Brenner has been appointed leader of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Centre for Accelerator Science.

Excitingly for the AIP Ceri made the decision to seek the ANSTO post after touring Australia in 2018 as that year’s AIP Women In Physics lecturer!

In a Twitter exchange last month Dr Brenner told AIP President Jodie Bradby that the 2018 trip, which involved visits to ANSTO and Lucas Heights, was her “stars in eyes moment”.

Dr Ceri Brenner, an accomplished physicist, innovator, and internationally recognised expert in industry applications of plasma-based accelerators, has been appointed leader of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Centre for Accelerator Science.

Dr Brenner is leaving her role as a group leader at the Central Laser Facility of the Science and Technology Facility Council in the UK to take up the position overseeing the accelerator science platform, which is home to accelerator science and engineering experts operating a suite of four ion accelerators across 17 beamlines. 

Here is here her interview with AIP from 2018:

News from Australian Physics magazine

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 PhysicistThis month in 1977: The Great Melbourne Telescope 

The installation in 1869 of the great 42-inch reflecting telescope at the Melbourne Observatory can be said to mark the first attempt on this continent at what we would term ‘big science’. At the time of its installation it was exceeded in size only by Lord Rosse’s 72-inch reflector in Ireland, essentially a transit instrument which was, by comparison, relatively clumsy to handle. No other substantial telescope existed in the southern hemisphere. Although the subsequent history of the Great Melbourne Telescope, as it was known, was a rather unfortunate one, the events leading up to its design and eventual erection in Melbourne provide an interesting insight into nineteenth century astronomical aspirations.

Read the full story here.

News from Science and Technology Australia

STEM teaching resources available

The STARportal is a treasure trove of STEM learning activities for parents, teachers and kids. Its aim is to inspire young people to explore, discover, and create. It draws together STEM teaching resources from organisations across the country and connects people to local and online STEM activities.

The portal is a collaboration between the Office of the Chief Scientist, Engineers Australia, Telstra, AMSI, BHP Billiton and the Commonwealth Bank, in consultation with the Department of Education to ensure all Australian families have access to any and all STEM outreach activities in their area and online.

Time running out to complete women in STEM survey

Professionals Scientists Australia is conducting its triennial survey of women in STEM to identify workplace trends and the factors that contribute to their attrition from the workforce. Results will be published in 2021 and made available free to STA members. All responses to the survey are confidential, reported anonymously and in aggregate form to protect privacy.

The survey closes on December 6. Click here to take part.

Australian physics in the news

ANU scientists pioneer research for a clean energy revolution

Dr Zhisong Qu from the Australian National Universtity’s Mathematical Sciences Institute (MSI), is among a group of scientists at the ANU and University of Western Australia (UWA), who in collaboration with colleagues at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and the Swiss Plasma Center (SPC), have accelerated a parallelised supercomputer code by up to a factor of 1000. 

The result marks a key milestone in the development of fusion energy.

Read more here

Ancient star’s orbits prompt rethink on Milky Way evolution

Australian telescope and European satellite combine to reveal unexpected motions among the galaxy’s rarest objects.

Metal-poor stars—containing less than one-thousandth the amount of iron found in the Sun—are some of the Galaxy’s rarest objects. The study of these stars’ orbits has found that some of them travel in previously unpredicted patterns.

According to scientists, theories on how the Milky Way formed are set to be rewritten following discoveries about some of its oldest stars’ behavior.

In a study by the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics in 3D (ASTRO 3D), scientists studied 475 Metal-poor stars. 11% of stars orbit in the almost flat plane that is the Milky Way’s disc.

Past studies have suggested that metal-poor stars were solely limited to the Galaxy’s halo and bulge, yet this study uncovered a huge number orbiting the disk itself.

Read more here.

Scientists produce diamonds in minutes at room temperature

Diamonds can now be produced in minutes – and at room temperature.

A study conducted by an international team of scientists from The Australian National University, RMIT University, the University of Sydney and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and published in the journal Small reports that both Lonsdaleite and regular diamonds can form at normal room temperatures by just applying high pressures – equivalent to 640 African elephants on the tip of a ballet shoe.

“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometres deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius,”  Jodie Bradby, professor at The Australian National University and one of the authors of the study, said in a media statement.

Read more here.

Can we control where lightning strikes?

Pioneering laser technology could be used to tame lightning and control where it strikes the ground, according to an international team of scientists.

Dry lightning strikes ignited many of the devastating bushfires of Australia’s 2019-20 “black summer”, but if we could artificially control the path and direction of lightning, fire risk could be drastically reduced.

A new laser tractor beam technology, described in a paper in the journal Nature Communications, may be the answer.

In a laboratory experiment, the team used a laser beam to trap and heat microparticles of graphene in the air between two metallic plates. This created a heated channel that induced lightning and allowed the electrical discharge to flow towards a pre-defined target.

From Cosmos magazine. Read the full story here.

In brief

Smoke cloud from Australian summer’s bushfires three-times larger than anything previously recorded

How do you solve a problem like Dark Matter? With poet Alicia Sometimes

AI and Photonics Decipher the “Twinkle” of Stars to Make It Easier to Find “New Earths”

Building STEM from STARS

Jobs Corner – physics employment opportunities

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Integrated Photonics in Optical Communications

The University of Sydney is seeking to appoint a Postdoctoral Research Associate to join their successful program within the School of Physics. The research group currently engages in experimental research to explore novel effects associated with stimulated Brillouin scattering, particularly optical telecommunication and carrier recovery. The successful candidate will contribute to the research and development of the project, collaborating with other universities and with industry experts and end-users.

This is an opportunity to conduct research in a collaborative research team. The successful candidate will be based at the School of Physics, working closely with and mentored by Professor Benjamin Eggleton. The role will require carrying out scientific research and preparing and presenting scientific results in papers and conferences, co-supervising undergraduate and graduate research students, assisting in the recruitment of research students and continuously working towards attracting new funding. Additionally, the successful candidate will help to coordinate the research of different researchers.

To view full details including the Position Description see here.
Applications close:17 January 2021 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

PhD Scholarship at The University of Queensland: Scalable and reversible computing with integrated nanomechanics 

Exciting opportunity to join a world class team at the Queensland Quantum Optics Lab. This is an earmarked scholarship to support Category 1 project grants and is funded in collaboration with Lockheed Martin Corporation. 

This project aims to build the first scalable computing architecture based on nanomechanical motion, integrated on a silicon chip and proven in harsh environments. This could extend the performance of computers in space and high-radiation environments, e.g. allowing robust satellite stabilisation. The project will leverage our know-how in phononics and nanofabrication to enable previously unprecedented control of nanomechanical motion, and exquisitely low energy dissipation. It aims to construct a nanomechanical processor capable of digital servo control, built from nanomechanical waveguides, transistors, logic gates and analogue-to-digital converters. It will also develop reversible logic gates, a key step towards ultralow-power computing.

To view full details including the Position Description see here:
Applications close:31 December 2020 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

PhD Scholarship at The University of Queensland: Quantum Optomechanical Ultrasound Sensing

Quantum optomechanics explores the interaction between light and mechanical motion at a level where the quantised nature of light, or the zero-point fluctuations of motion, play a significant role.

This project aims to leverage quantum optomechanical technologies, which have traditionally been used for fundamental quantum science research, to enable the next generation of acoustic sensors for Naval applications.

To view full details including the Position Description see here:
Applications close: 31 December 2020 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

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.