Nobel neutrinos; water on Mars; and remembering a great: physics in October

The discovery that neutrinos oscillate and therefore must have mass made us re-think the Standard Model, and has led to an exciting new era in particle physics. Last night, Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their roles in this discovery and we send our congratulations to both of them.

Last week was big for physics too, with NASA’s announcement that they’d found evidence of liquid water on Mars.

What I found great about the announcement was the addition of some new voices to the local media coverage. Fred Watson made his usual appearance on Radio National, but elsewhere we had Alan Duffy, Katie Mack, Amanda Bauer, Daniel Price and other young Australian physicists on hand to explain what it all means to the general public. And what a great job they did.

In this bulletin we pay tribute to another great science communicator Harry Messel. Harry will be remembered as a colossus of Australian physics and of science more broadly, particularly for the way he so effectively and colourfully increased public awareness of science and raised funding for physics education.

His legacies to science and physics are numerous, the two most notable being the Science Foundation for Physics and the International Science School at The University of Sydney, both of which he created more than 50 years ago and which continue to run successfully today.

Finally, I’m pleased to add the 2016 AIP Congress to the calendar— to be held in Brisbane in December 2016 in conjunction with the Asia Pacific Physics Conference. We’re looking to use this partnership to bring out some big names, and I hope to have more information for you soon.


Warrick Couch
President, Australian Institute of Physics


Remembering Harry Messel

The Australian physics community lost one of our greats this year, with the passing of Harry Messel in July.

On 18 September, The University of Sydney held a memorial tribute to recognise Harry’s significant contributions to physics, teaching and the pursuit of excellence.

Harry was a major force in science research, communication and education, and Head of the School of Physics at The University of Sydney for 35 years, where his legacy is still evident in the success that the School enjoys today.

Albert Wong, President of the Science Foundation for Physics (established by Harry to support research in the School of Physics), spoke of the enormous drive, determination and energy that Harry devoted to raising funds.

Professor John Mattick, Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, recalled the impact of his attendance at the International Science School (ISS) in 1966, which led him to pursue a career in science. The ISS continues to this day and is one of Harry’s great legacies.

More than 300 people attended the memorial, including Harry’s widow Pip, and two grandsons (Nicolas Messel and Michael Winternitz) who spoke of Harry’s dedication to his family. Long-time friend Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir, former Chancellor of the University and former Governor of NSW, also spoke at the service.

You can read the University of Sydney’s tribute at:

AIP WA – Bringing physics and industry together

The University Physics Society and WA Branch of the AIP are partnering with UBS to hold a a “Physics in Industry Evening.”

Recognising that many professional physicists work in industry, this event aims to bring together physicists from industry, universities and elsewhere in an informal setting to share information about our common interests.

The evening features three short talks followed by networking and nibbles.

Speaking on the night are:

  • Ron Hille – Meteorologist, BOM/Woodside
  • Andrew Lockwood – Geophysicist, Woodside
  • John Chapman – Diamond scientist, Gemetrix.

When: 5:30 pm – 7 pm, Thursday 8 October 2015
Where: Ross Lecture Theatre/Foyer, 1st Floor UWA Physics Building

RSVP to:

Making light work – AIP SA public lecture

Light helps us see, it enables life, and it has made possible many revolutionary applications in areas such as nanotechnology, medicine, communications, entertainment, culture and art.

But we can also make it work for us. With light we can:

  • Make optical tweezers to trap, move and rotate tiny objects, providing unprecedented access to physical, chemical and biological processes on a nano and microscale.
  • Look inside living cells and map their functions
  • And power nano and micro machines and use them for biomedically relevant questions

Join Professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Director of the Quantum Science Laboratory at the University of Queensland, as she explains how we can make light do the work for us.

Free event at the Science Exchange, Adelaide, SA
Wednesday 7 October – register via Eventbrite

Presented by the South Australian branch of the Australian Institute of Physics, with support from the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) and Lastek, in celebration of the International Year of Light and Light Based Technologies.


Where are the missing gravitational waves?

After searching through over a decade’s worth of radio-telescope observations, astronomers have failed to find any evidence of gravitational waves.  

Here’s what astronomers Paul Lasky and Ryan Shannon had to say about their ‘discovery’ in The Conversation.

Astronomers know of a few thousand neutron stars, but one in particular is a stand-out. As part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array, we have been observing pulsar J1909-3744 with the CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope for 11 years.

During this time, we have accounted for every single one of the neutron star’s 116 billion rotations (115,836,854,515, to be precise). We know the rotational period of this star to 15 decimal places, making it truly one of the most accurate clocks in the universe.

But, as we show in a paper published in the journal Science, it was not supposed to be this way. Gravitational waves from all of the black holes in the universe were supposed to ruin the timing precision of this pulsar. But they have not.

Read the full article here.

Schoolgirls all ears for physics

80 per cent of girls doing physics in Melbourne pilot program

Growing Tall Poppies is getting schoolgirls into physics by doing real science, with real scientists.

In their pilot program at Melbourne’s Santa Maria College, they’ve increased the retention of girls to Year 12 physics to 80 per cent—and now the program is expanding into NSW and QLD.
The Growing Tall Poppies program is the brainchild of teacher and scientist Eroia Barone-Nugent and her physicist husband Keith.Coming from a teaching background, Eroia saw girls dropping out of physics because they couldn’t see the relevance of physics to their lives. But doing more science, especially physics, makes them more scientifically literate and work ready.

Last month, the current crop of Victorian Tall Poppies participated in hands-on experiments, learning how to image and 3D-print cochlea bones at La Trobe University.

And in October the first Queensland project will get kids making graphene wafers, and learning what makes graphene so strong with PhD students at Griffith University.

2016 Clunies Ross Awards nominations open

For the past 25 years the Clunies Ross Awards have been recognising research and the application of technology to the benefit of all Australians.

This year there are three awards categories recognising innovation, entrepreneurship and the commercialisation of knowledge.

And there is no doubt that there are many instances in which Australian physicists have contributed in such a way.

For example in 2015 Associate Professor Jim Patrick was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award as one of the original engineers who pioneered the development of the multichannel cochlear implant.

And Dr Cathy Foley PSM FTSE and Mr Keith Leslie, both from CSIRO, received a joint award for their work in advanced superconducting technologies that developed a highly sensitive magnetic device, LANDTEM, that detects ore bodies with extremely weak magnetic fields. It has been responsible for discovery of ore deposits valued at more than $10 billion globally, returning over $4 billion to Australia.

Nominations for the 2016 awards are now open, closing Friday 30 October 2015.

More at:

Do you write sci-fi? On quantum physics?

Quantum Shorts is a quantum-themed ‘flash fiction’ competition that asks aspiring writers for short stories of up to 1000 words inspired by quantum physics.

The competition is being run by Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technology (CQT), with support from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS), and the winning entry in the open category will be published on

Gerard Milburn, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems said that EQuS is delighted to provide support as a scientific partner for Quantum Shorts.

“The quantum world can appear to be a bottomless cup of mystery and paradox. I encourage writers to explore it and look forward to some remarkable short stories.”

Entries open until midnight (ET) Tuesday1 December 2015.

More at:

Physics shorts

Mystery discs – The discovery of dust discs surrounding two young red dwarf stars has astronomers at ANU and UNSW Canberra challenging current theories about planet formation – suggesting the process can endure a lot longer than previously thought.

Faster than a…– Researchers from UWA and Humboldt University of Berlin have tested the speed of light with greater precision than ever before, and confirmed a core component of Einstein’s theory of relativity known as ‘Lorentz symmetry,’ which predicts that the speed of light is the same in all directions.

Crowdfunding Milky Way mapping – When it was announced that the Mopra telescope in NSW would be shut down due to budget cuts, astrophysicist Catherine Braiding started a Kickstarter campaign to continue funding their current project – the mapping of the Southern portion of the Milky Way galaxy.

First image from ASKAP’s newest receivers – Just a week after the ASKAP team achieved phase closure with the first Mk II PAF receivers installed at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, the first image has now been produced with the system.

New light for molecule detection – CUDOS researchers have made a major advancement towards the design of inexpensive monitoring devices that can detect human disease and air pollution at very small levels – by changing the light source.

Quantum industry needs support –  Australia may be poised to win the international race to build a quantum computer, but without investment to scale-up and industrialise the technology, the long-term benefits could be lost offshore, says UNSW Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons.

Harnessing the Sun – John Howard’s team from the Plasma Research Laboratory at ANU has developed new optical instruments for studying plasma behaviour – and as a result have been invited to collaborate on the ITER project.

Materials research partnership – The University of Wollongong’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials has formalised a two-decade-long partnership with Japan’s National Institute for Materials Sciences (NIMS) furthering materials for sustainable energy and development.



Why Are We Constrained to Live in the Present Moment?
Manning Clark Centre, Australian National University
20 October
For the general public
Time holds us captive in the ‘Present Moment’. Although the present seems to forever ‘move forward’, we always remain trapped in it. This talk will cover relevant aspects of our experience of the present and explore whether science can explain why we are prisoners of time.

New South Wales

In search of the oldest light in the Universe
Harry Messel Lecture Theatre, The University of Sydney
29 October
For students and/or teachers, for the general public
Using Nobel prizes awarded for light-related research as a guide, Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn will discuss how our understanding of light has changed since the early 20th century, how this understanding has helped change society for the better, and how it helps us understand our place on Earth and beyond.

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.

Northern Territory

No upcoming events currently listed.


No upcoming events currently listed.

South Australia

Catch, Move and Twist Using Light
7 October
Flinders University
Departmental seminar
Professor Rubinsztein-Dunlop will talk about how you can handle small objects with light.
AIP eventMaking light work
7 October
The Science Exchange
AIP event, for the general public
Join Professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Director of the Quantum Science Laboratory at the University of Queensland as she explains how we can make light do the work for us.


No upcoming events currently listed.


AIP eventMount Burnett Observatory members night
9, 16, 23, 30 October and 6, 13 November (weekly)
420 Paternoster Road, Mount Burnett, VIC

Australian Synchrotron Open Day
11 October
800 Blackburn Road, Clayton
For the general public
The Australian Synchrotron creates light a million times brighter than the sun to reveal the unknown. Come to our Open Day and find out how the synchrotron shows scientists never-before-seen molecular detail, enabling discoveries that improve the way we eat, work and live.

Colloquium: Detection and follow-up of fast radio bursts
15 October
Swinburne University, Hawthorn, Melbourne
For the general public
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are a subject of intense astronomical interest with potential to be used as cosmological probes. Real-time discovery of FRBs is now possible with four sources detected in real-time at the Parkes telescope in NSW. Emily Petroff will discuss strategies for maximising real-time FRB science and how our response to these events paves the way for the enormous number of FRB discoveries expected from the Square Kilometre Array.

Kip Thorne: A Century of Relativity: From the Big Bang to Black Holes
21 October
South 1 Lecture Theatre, Clayton Campus, Monash University
For the general public
During Kip Thorne’s academic career at Caltech he mentored 52 PhDs, he co-founded the LIGO Project to open up the gravitational-wave window onto the universe, and he co-authored the book Gravitation which, for 40 years, has been the standard advanced textbook on general relativity.  In 2009 he transitioned into a new career of writing, film, and research on the nonlinear dynamics of warped spacetime.  His first film project was Interstellar, which sprang from a treatment that he co-authored and for which he was the science advisor and executive producer.

AIP eventMaterials in Flatland: A Monash Science Public Lecture by Nobel Laureate Sir Konstantin Novoselov
South 1 Lecture Theatre, Clayton Campus, Monash University
26 October
AIP event, For the general public
When one writes with a pencil, thin flakes of graphite are left on a surface. Some of them are only one angstrom thick and can be viewed as individual atomic planes cleaved away from the bulk. This strictly two dimensional (2D) material called graphene, was presumed not to exist in the free state and remained undiscovered until a few years ago.

Western Australia

AIP event UPS and AIP: Physics in Industry Evening
Ross Lecture Theatre/Foyer, 1st Floor UWA Physics Building
8 October
The University Physics Society and WA Branch of the AIP are pleased to invite you to a “Physics in Industry Evening.” This event recognises that many professional physicists work in areas of industry. We aim to bring together physicists from industry, universities and elsewhere in an informal setting so that we can share information about our common interests.

AIP event AIP WA Branch – general meeting
5th floor tea room, Physics Building, University of Western Australia
21 October
AIP members (and yet-to-renew members) are invited to an AIP general meeting that is not intended to last more than an hour. I would urge you to come along and find out what we’re up to, listen to a few short presentations and meet fellow physicists.  To make it more convivial there will be some drinks and nibbles.

Re-entering Space Debris
Scitech Planetarium, Cnr Sutherland and Railway St, West Perth
19 November
For the general public
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 about space debris and shares with us the possibility of it landing on WA soil.