Cleaning the Sydney Harbour Bridge with lasers; make science a focus this election; and more physics in April

It’s been an exciting month for Australian physics. And particularly for women in physics. We started with a call for gender balance around the world on International Women’s Day earlier this month. The AIP is striving to achieve gender balance in a variety of ways, including the Women in Physics group and annual Women in Physics lecture tour that supports a female physicist touring the country. 

I’m very excited to announce the Women in Physics lecturer for 2019: a talented physicist who will be spreading the good word about how neutrons can save the world. Read on to see who it is! 

We thank Pegah Maasoumi for her time as the Chair of the Women in Physics group for the last two years. We are looking for a new chair of this committee. Please send in an expression of interest if you’d like to take on this important role.

The cut off to renew your AIP membership was last Sunday, but it’s easy to renew (just email with your request). If you need your memory jogged about all the benefits of being a member of AIP, read on below.

Jacq Romero is on a winning streak and will receive $1 million in combined funding over three years for the Westpac Research Fellowship. Our 1999 Women in Physics lecturer, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, has donated her £2.3m Breakthrough Prize to the Institute of Physics to a new PhD scholarship fund to encourage greater diversity in physics. Register your interest to keep up to date with the Scholarship Fund.

I attended Science and Technology Australia’s (STA) President and CEO Forum in Sydney last week. STA represents more than 77,000 scientists and technology workers and is heavily focused on promoting science in the upcoming election cycle. We added the AIP logo to the STA media release as part of the #SolveitwithScience campaign (along with those of almost 100 other Australian science and technology organisations!) I encourage you to support the campaign by writing to or meeting your local member or candidates. More below.

The 14th Asia-Pacific Physics Conference will be held in Malaysia from 17-22 November. Only eight Australians are registered so far and it would be great to see a stronger Australian cohort. Last time this conference was held in Australia. Submit your abstracts before Monday 15th April.

Also in April: the largest telescope in Victoria officially opened, physicists found that quantum tunnelling is instantaneous, National Science Week grants are open and it’s prize season so don’t forget to nominate, or encourage others to nominate today.

Finally, as part of a push to make the AIP a useful resource for our student and ECR members, keep an eye out in our new section called Jobs Corner. We’re going to start featuring physics-related jobs. Send us through any opportunities you’d like to advertise and we’ll include a link for free.

Kind regards,
Jodie Bradby

President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP News

The Women in Physics Lecturer is…

Small and neutral, the often-overlooked neutron is much more than just dead weight inside the atom. Neutrons are the sub-atomic particles that are here to save the world. These trusty particles can discover details that no others can fathom. 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.

That’s where AIP’s 2019 Women in Physics lecturer comes in: instrument scientist and neutron-scattering expert Helen Maynard-Casely!

Based at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Helen uses neutrons to investigate the materials that make up our solar system.

In order to understand the interiors of planetary bodies, Helen uses the Wombat—one of the fastest neutron powder instruments in the world (feel free to ask why it’s called Wombat if you ever meet Helen!) Powder diffraction is a technique used to characterise the structure of materials and measure light elements in the presence of heavy ones (for example in oxides, borides and carbides), including magnetic materials. It’s also a useful technique for analysing large samples or performing experiments under conditions of extreme pressure, temperature or stress, or intense magnetic and electric fields.

Helen’s role includes assisting and collaborating with visiting scientists and commissioning new equipment for Wombat to ensure it is constantly improving and expanding its strengths.
Previously Helen worked at the powder-diffraction beamline at the Australian Synchrotron where she developed her program of research on planetary ices. She has also previously completed an industry-funded post-doctoral position exploring the high-pressure behaviour of energetic materials at the University of Edinburgh.

When Helen is not working on Wombat instrument, she works to promote science to the public. She was one of the researchers for the Royal Institution of Great Britain’s 2010 Christmas Lecturer and is a regular writer for The Conversation. 

It’s not too late to renew your AIP membership

The cut-off date to renew your AIP membership was Sunday 31st March. But don’t worry, renewing is still easy. Simply email with your membership request.

Why join the AIP? Firstly, you’ll be joining more than 900 other members in an organisation dedicated to promoting the role of physics in research, education, industry and community. Other benefits include:

  • Eligibility for prizes: The medals, awards and prizes administered and awarded by the AIP are important for careers and peer recognition. There are also lots of other awards and certificates made to secondary students and undergraduates that are not listed on the website. These are mostly managed by state branches and aim to reward and support students with an interest in and aptitude for physics.
  • Reciprocal memberships: We have reciprocal arrangements with overseas organisations including the American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics and the European Physical Society. Read the full list online. 
  • Special rates at physics conferences: The AIP Congress is the major meeting for Australian Physicists and is run by the AIP every two years. Members get special rates. The next one will be held in Adelaide in 2020.
  • Physics outreach: The Women in Physics tour runs each year and last year over 2,800 people heard UK laser physicist Ceri Brenner speak around the country. And the 2000 Women in Physics Lecturer even went on to become the 2018 Australian of the Year!
  • Special interest groups: The special interest topical groups within the AIP work to promote their discipline areas, from nuclear and particle physics to the very active physics education group.
  • We represent physics in Australia: We represent physics with organisations such as Science & Technology Australia who run events such as Science meets Parliament. The AIP also engages with other cognate societies including the Australian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM), the Australian Optical Society (AOS), the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) and the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI), among others.
  • Tackling big issues: We are trying to be more inclusive of women in STEM and stay relevant as we move away from the older, more traditional versions of professional bodies towards a new model. You can be a part of the positive change.

Read more about AIP’s member benefits and services online.

We stand behind STA on their call for a science focus in the election

We need to prioritise science in the next federal election. This was Science and Technology Australia’s (STA) message to decision-makers and candidates last Wednesday.

The AIP, along with almost 100 other leaders from the science and technology sector, signed a document to stand behind STA’s call for a science focus during the next election in Australia.

AIP President, Jodie Bradby attended the day in Canberra (pictured right, with STA’s CEO Kylie Walker and President Emma Johnston.)

The #SolveitwithScience call to action is in response to the science sector facing declines in research funding, falling business investment, freezes to government support of universities and insufficient STEM graduates to meet future demands.

STA identified four key areas for decision-makers and candidates to address in the next election:

  • A whole-of-government plan for science and technology
  • A strategy to equip the future Australian workforce with STEM skills
  • Strong investment in both fundamental and applied research
  • A commitment to creating policy across all portfolios that is informed by the best available evidence.

The STEM sector would like to see all parties agree to nine commitments to ensure STEM has a high profile during the upcoming election including making Australia a top 10 global investor in research and development (aiming for 3% of GDP), assigning a Federal Cabinet Minister to the Science portfolio and ending cuts to federal institutions such as the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the CSIRO.

What can you do? You can support the campaign on social media with the hashtag #SolveitwithScience and by meeting your local member or candidates. STA now represents over 77,000 scientists and technology workers, so if a reasonable percentage of us write a letter it will make a big impact.

Read more about the nine commitments in the STA media release. And for news updates, follow the hashtag #SolveitwithScience on Twitter.

Call for expressions of interest for Women in Physics Chair

Pegah Maasoumi has been Chair of the Women in Physics for the past two years. She says leading Australian delegates at the International Conference for Women in Physics (ICWIP), getting to know world-leading female physicists (including Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Daniela Bortoletto), and working on a winning bid for the 2020 ICWIP Conference to be held in Melbourne were just a few of the highlights.

Pegah is now stepping down from the position and the Women in Physics are calling for expressions of interest for a new Chair.

The successful nominee will:

  • Act as point of contact for the group via the email address
  • Work with the committee and members to promote the objectives of the group
  • Chair meetings of the group
  • Attend the AIP annual Council Meeting or nominate a proxy
  • Provide a written report of the group’s activities for the AIP council meeting
  • Assist in the selection of the WIP Lecturer.

If you are interested in being Chair or joining the committee please email Pegah at by Friday 12 April 2019.

Attend STA’s Science Meets Parliament as a delegate

Science and Technology Australia has just opened nominations for Science Meets Parliament 2018. As a member organisation the AIP can send two delegates to the event on 13 and 14 August.

Science meets Parliament offers science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals the chance to build a profile for their work as we approach another federal election cycle.

As a delegate you will have the opportunity to attend the following:

  • one day of professional development
  • gala dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament
  • televised National Press Club lunch
  • a day at Parliament House, where delegates meet privately in small groups of three to five with parliamentarians
  • a parliamentary forum
  • farewell networking cocktails with the Parliamentary Friends of Science.

Attendees at last year’s event described it as “a fantastic opportunity to see the inside operation of our government”, “a rewarding experience” and “very motivational and educational”.

If you are interested in attending Science Meets Parliament, please send an expression of interest to AIP Secretary Kirrily Rule at Please include:

  • A brief CV (no longer than 1 page)
  • A short statement (no longer than 1 page) indicating why you would like to attend and what you hope to gain from the experience.

The AIP will cover your registration for the event. Travel and accommodation will be at your own expense.

The AIP executive team will then assess each of the applications, taking into account gender balance, research area balance and geographic coverage.

Please send your expressions of interest to by Friday 19 April.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell donates £2.3m Breakthrough Prize to Institute of Physics

For the 1967 discovery of pulsars and a lifetime of inspiring scientific leadership, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell was awarded the 2018 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Jocelyn was also the 1999 AIP Women in Physics Lecturer. 

Previous recipients of the Special Prize include Stephen Hawking, seven CERN scientists whose leadership led to the discovery of the Higgs boson, and the entire LIGO collaboration that detected gravitational waves.

On Tuesday 19 March Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell donated her £2.3m prize money to the UK-based Institute of Physics to launch a new PhD scholarship fund to encourage greater diversity in physics.

The Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund will support full or part-time graduates who wish to study PhD physics, and are from groups that are currently under-represented in the field.

Register your interest in the Institute of Physics Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund for more information on the eligibility criteria and applicant pack at 

Data security could lie in a quantum alphabet—Jacq is on a winning streak

Data privacy is vital to realise the potential of our increasingly digital world, and quantum physicist Jacq Romero believes next-generation data security could rely on a ‘quantum alphabet’ made from different shapes of light.

Jacq is an expert in encoding messages using the alphabet based on the shapes of photons. Jacq believes that quantum communication that uses this technology could allow us to transmit information with unparalleled levels of security.

Jacq will have the opportunity to explore this further through the recently announced Westpac Research Fellowship. She will share $1 million in funding over three years with global health researcher Meru Sheel.

This fellowship comes after Jacq was chosen as one of the 15 L’Oréal International Rising Talents announced last month—for significant contributions to the field of quantum physics and as a future game changer in science.

Read Westpac’s original media release here:

Teaching Einstein’s physics in school and cleaning the Sydney Harbour Bridge with lasers—2018 ARC Linkage Project grants announced

Physics was well represented in the 2018 ARC Linkage Project grants announced in March. The nine physics-related projects were: A collaboration with seven nations to teach the modern Einsteinian paradigm of space, time, matter, light and gravity to students as young as eight years old—The University of Western Australia and other local and international collaborators

  • Improving the way that 5-8-year-olds learn mathematics with new strategies and tools for teachers—Monash University and the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
  • A way of preserving the Sydney Harbour Bridge using new laser cleaning technologies and processes to conserve the bridge’s structural integrity and iconic appearance— The Australian National University: Roads and Maritime Services and ANSTO
  • An approach to solve problems associated with LIDAR sensors for use in applications like secure communications, tracking systems and autonomous vehicles—The University of Sydney and Thales Australia Limited
  • The development of a gold standard in microwave inspection of marine infrastructure, using multi-mode antennas, to improve accuracy and reduce costs and hazards—The University of Queensland and Whitsunday Mooring and Marine Construction Pty Ltd
  • Supporting Australia’s leading role in quantum science with a new high-tech manufacturing capability to produce high-brightness wavelength-tuneable lasers—The University of Melbourne and MOG Laboratories Pty Ltd
  • A method of improving Australia’s 5G service using a high-density optical interconnect prototype that could enhance Australia’s competitiveness in the telecommunication sector—The University of Melbourne and Diamond Optics Pty Ltd
  • Flexible and printable sensors that will detect early food spoilage by monitoring gas and other components, to improve food safety and reduce food waste—The University of Sydney and ARC Centro Ricerche Applicate S.R.L
  • Specialised pipe monitoring stations to detect cracks in pipes before they burst—The University of Adelaide and South Australian Water Corporation

Read about all the 2018 ARC Linkage Projects here:

Other Physics News & Opportunities

It’s prizes season … make sure you nominate a physicist

  • The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards recognise excellent up-and-coming researchers, alongside a proven ability and passion to engage the wider community with science. These awards are often a stepping stone to other science awards. Nominations close Wednesday 10th April. More at: 
  • Nominations and applications for the Australian Academy of Science’s 2019 honorific awards, research conferences, research awards and travelling fellowships are now open, The closing date for 2020 funding is Saturday 1st June.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Call for abstracts for the 14th Asia-Pacific Physics Conference in Malaysia

The call for abstracts has been extended for the 2019 Asia-Pacific Physics Conference in Malaysia, held from 17 to 22 November. Topics range from astrophysics and computational physics to physics education and women in physics.

Submit your abstract before Monday 15th April at 

The largest telescope in Victoria officially unveiled at First Light event

The Tarantula Nebula and a globular cluster with about 750,000 suns were just two of many stellar sights spotted with the Astronomical Society of Victoria’s (ASV) new 40-inch Hubble Optics Telescope at the First Light event at the start of March.

More than 400 people attended the unveiling of the specially-built telescope in March, held at the Leon Mow Dark Sky Site in Central Victoria.

President of the ASV, Perry Vlahos (pictured beside the telescope) said that “the brightness and detail of objects such as galaxies, nebulae and globular clusters seen in the new 40-inch is breathtaking compared to any other telescopes that I’ve looked through.”

“It was my personal pleasure to show [the Finkels and the Baillieus] the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud—a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, and also the globular cluster known as 47 Tucanae—composed of about 750,000 suns,” said Perry.

The site’s new $750,000 telescopes, observatory and accommodation blocks were self-funded by the ASV, and the organisation hopes the telescope will be available to the public, schools and universities in the future. ASV members will be able to use it once they’ve been trained in a short course of handling the instrument.

Australia’s Chief Dr Alan Finkel declared the telescope open, joined by ex-Premier Ted Baillieu, local MP Steph Ryan and Mayor of Bendigo Margret O’Rourke, along with a number of scientists and other dignitaries.

Head to the Astronomical Society of Victoria website for future events.

The countdown is on for the Asian Physics Olympiad

The Asian Physics Olympiad draws closer—with just over 30 days to go. Follow all the action via their Twitter feed here:

And keep an eye out Monday 15th April when the Australian team is announced online!

New NSW Physical Sciences Fund to Fast-Track NSW Tech Innovations

The new $5 million NSW Physical Science Fund (PSF) was announced by the NSW government in February to help individuals, companies, research institutes and universities take their physical science devices and systems to the market.

The Fund is created by the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer and is part of a wider strategy to improve university and industry collaboration and help support research. It is hoped the Fund will bring economic growth and job creation to NSW.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte says that “NSW is home to outstanding researchers carrying out world-class work in such diverse disciplines as advanced instrumentation, bio-manufacturing, imaging technologies and robotics.”

“By investing in the end-to-end realisation of these technologies, the NSW Government is creating a virtuous development circle which will build prosperity for the state, while delivering tangible social benefits to its people.”

Head to the NSW Physical Sciences Fund for more details on how to apply. Preliminary applications close Friday 3rd May 2019.

Quantum tunnelling is instantaneous, researchers find

This article was originally published in Cosmos, written by Alan Duffy.

Physicists establish that electrons waste no time bashing through a barrier.

Researchers have found that electrons passing through solid matter in a quantum process known as “tunnelling” do so instantaneously.

The finding, led by scientists from Australia’s Griffith University, contradicts previous experiments that suggested a degree of time elapses between the start and finish of a tunnelling event.
The work is detailed in a paper in the journal Nature.

Quantum tunnelling is one of the more bizarre differences between our everyday, classical world and the surprising realm of quantum mechanics.

“If you lean on a wall, that wall pushes back in force so that you don’t go through it,” co-author Robert Sang says.

“But when you go down to the microscopic level, things behave quite differently. This is where the laws of physics change from classical to quantum.”

A particle in the quantum world actually can pass through that wall. The experimental question was, how long does it take to transition through a given obstacle – in this case, the electric barrier potential of a hydrogen atom.

Read the full article at Cosmos here:

National Science Week grants open around the country—August 10-18 

Last year, 1.2 million Australians got involved in 2,100+ registered National Science Week events around the country. Over 3,000 media stories mentioned National Science Week, with many more covering the events and science in general.

It’s nine days with everything from science festivals, music and comedy shows, expert panel discussions, citizen science opportunities, interactive hands-on displays, film nights, open days and online activities.

This year’s program runs from 10 to 18 August. The theme is Destination Moon which celebrates 50 years since the first moon landing. So, how will you get involved?

Now is the time to plan and register your event and gain a piece of the science action.
Registration is open on the Science Week website: Read our guide to writing a great event description.

Event grants

  • New South Wales has a regional grant round that aims to develop the state’s science engagement networks outside Sydney. Grants of up to $8000 are available to initiatives that bring together at least three organisations to create a NSW Regional Science Hub. There is also a grant program for 2019 Sydney Science Festival events. Applications for each close on Thursday 25 April.
  • The South Australia Community Grants program offers grants of up to $2500. Applications close Friday 2 May.
  • Tasmania is offering seed grants of up to $500. Applications close Monday 29 April.
  • Victoria offers community seed grants of $500 to $2000, and a separate grant round for libraries offering $500 each to successful applicants. Closes Wednesday 10 April.
  • The Queensland and Northern Territory 2019 grant rounds have closed for applications.
  • Grant rounds will open in ACT and Western Australia soon.

Click here to see all National Science Week grant information.

South Australia Science Excellence Awards

Nominations for the 2019 South Australian Scientist of the Year Awards are now open. The awards recognise and reward South Australia’s PhD Researchers, STEM Professionals and STEM teachers for outstanding scientific endeavour and the advancement of STEM education.

Physics educator and AIP fellow Maria Parappilly was the winner of the South Australian 2015 Early Career STEM Educator of the Year. The award enabled Maria to go on and win many international and national awards while reinvigorating her desire to inspire her students in the classroom.

The South Australian Scientist of the Year will receive a prize to the value of $25,000, and winners in the remaining five categories receive a prize to the value of $10,000 to use towards career development.

In 2019, there are six award categories on offer:

  • South Australian Scientist of the Year
  • PhD Research Excellence
  • STEM Professional
  • STEM Educator of the Year (School Teaching)
  • STEM Educator of the Year (Tertiary Teaching)
  • Excellence in Research Collaboration

Head to the SA Science Excellence Awards website for more information on how to apply. Nominations close Friday 26 April.

Aussie Physics in the News

ANSTO renews collaboration on next-generation nuclear reactors

Global governing body created for Square Kilometre Array

Meet the women leading Australia’s charge in science and space

Nonlinear Optics: Engineered metaoptics forge new nonlinear devices

Novel form of graphene-based optical material developed

Quantum-computing initiatives worldwide are examined by leading physicists

Quantum tunnelling is instantaneous, researchers find

Room-temperature cycling cools down strengthening in aluminium alloys

Sydney’s quantum play: Can Australia host the world’s quantum Silicon Valley?

Sydney signs deal with Japanese space start-up to deploy CubeSats

Sydney physicists use code to reduce quantum error in logic gates

The sky is not the limit for 2D material space technology