Synchrotron funding and the benefits of AIP membership: physics in June

As you’ll see later in this bulletin, this month we’re asking members and non members about AIP membership. What do you see as the leading benefits? What would make more physicists become members?

The AIP welcomes the Federal Government’s provision of funding to the Australian Synchrotron, announced in May’s Federal Budget. Within this bulletin we talk about the Synchrotron’s pivotal role in Australian research.

It was also good to see additional funding for ANSTO and a bit more funding certainty for national research infrastructure.

But overall there was not much for science in this budget and, as noted by Brian Schmidt, the uncertainty over the future funding of ARC Future Fellows has the potential to do long-term damage to science. Also, block grants for universities, which pay for the indirect costs related to research, were disappointingly cut by $263 million over the next three years.

It was pleasing to learn of the new Fellows elected to the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) last week, included in which were a number of physicists. AIP Women in Physics group convenor Helen Maynard-Casely was among those speaking at the AAS’s Science at the Shine Dome, which this year commemorated 100 years since William and Lawrence Bragg became Australia’s first Nobel recipients for their work on X-ray crystallography.

Past AIP President Cathy Foley was a co-recipient of an ATSE Clunies Ross Award last month, recognising her work at CSIRO on LANDTEM, a superconducting device for detecting magnetic fields. We spoke last month about the value that the sciences add to the Australian economy – it’s worth noting that LANDTEM has already discovered ore deposits worth $4bn in Australia.

And there’s plenty more in this bulletin, with events from our state branches and some interesting Australian physics discoveries.


Warrick Couch
President, Australian Institute of Physics

Synchrotron funding

The Federal Budget in May provided $20.5 million of the $30 million required to fund the Australian Synchrotron’s operations in 2016–17.

Director of the Australian Synchrotron, Andrew Peele, said the announcement, which comes more than a year ahead of the relevant funding period, provided a clear indication of the Federal Government’s ongoing support for the Synchrotron.

“We are delighted with this commitment and, while we continue to work with government toward a permanent funding solution, this announcement offers us the security to move forward with plans for further development.”

With capacity for up to 30 beamlines, the Australian Synchrotron currently supports more than 4,000 researcher visits and more than 800 experiments each year on its existing nine lines.

“We need to build on our existing infrastructure and expertise to provide the tools required for Australian academic and industrial researchers to deliver health, economic and social benefits that both benefit our community and enhance this country’s position on the world-stage,” said Prof Peele, who is also Vice President of the AIP.

Budget papers state the remainder of the anticipated $30 million 2016-17 funding for the Australian Synchrotron is to come from the Victorian Government and from New Zealand.

Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane described the Synchrotron as “critical scientific infrastructure that benefits industries including mining, health, manufacturing, food security, energy and bio-security, as well as improving productivity and research commercialisation.”

>Want to know more about synchrotron science? Come to public events for students and the general public in June. More below.

More budget news and commentary at the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Science Media Centre.


AIP membership

For our members, the AIP:

  • fosters professional identity and fellowship among physicists by providing a forum for your views and letting you meet with your colleagues on a regular basis
  • helps maintain the standards of physics qualifications through review and accreditation of tertiary physics courses
  • expresses the views and interests of physicists to government bodies and other employers
  • promotes the value and interest of physics as a discipline
  • holds regular conferences
  • publishes views of members
  • supports and promotes women in science
  • encourages excellence in research and teaching with prizes and awards
  • encourages outstanding students with awards and prizes
  • enables discounted membership of related societies such as the IOP
  • provides financial support for conferences
  • produces and distributes the Journal of Australian Physics, six editions per year.

That’s what we think the benefits are. But we’d like to hear your thoughts. What would you see as the main benefits of membership? What do you think the AIP could do to improve the benefits of membership, and persuade more physicists to join?

How to join. (Or renew.)

Australian Physics online

Copies of the Journal of Australian Physics from 2013 are now available online in the AIP website’sPublications section. We hope to expand this resource – a full library of past issues is held at CSIRO in Sydney and Melbourne and it would be feasible to put all of these copies online and so ensure the content remains available to a wide audience.

We’d need some help scanning these in, so if any Sydney- or Melbourne-based AIP members would like to help, please contact Journal editor Brian James (

AIP website: tell us what you want

The AIP website is our public face and main information portal.  The AIP is setting up a working group to consider the future of the website, and would appreciate hearing any views from members, as well as nominations for people to be on the working group.

Issues to be considered include: dependence of main AIP site on a single volunteer (John Humble); state sites (updated by individual branches) being sometimes slow to update or stalled; keeping content up to date; posting member-only material; and moving to a more compact site structure.
Starting list of questions:

  • What is the purpose of state sites?  Can those functions be centralised?
  • Can we distribute the responsibility for the website more equitably?  (More robust, improved updating)
  • Can any work be outsourced without undue cost or lock-in?
  • Do we need a members area/login?

The number of active volunteers will probably always be fairly small, and a professional solution may exceed the available budget. Joe Hope ( is looking for feedback, suggestions, and is seeking a couple of people to help come to a recommendation, involving some directed research, email and a couple of conference calls.

Light Revolution

The International Year of Light is injecting some science into winter solstice celebrations this year with two events in Melbourne’s Light in Winter Festival at Federation Square.

Join the Light Revolution on Sunday 14 June is a public forum about how light is transforming our lives. Speakers will cover the Nobel-winning blue LED; flexible, printed solar panels, social justice outcomes from solar-powered LED light sources, and using visible and X-ray light to decode the human immune system.

Reclaim the Stars on Friday 19 June is a cosy fireside chat about astronomical discoveries, the health effects of light pollution and efforts to save the night skies.

The AIP is supporting the International Year of Light in Australia.

AIP awards and prizes

This month is the last chance to nominate physicists deserving of national recognition for the AIP Prizes. We are still encouraging nominations for:

  • Walter Boas Medal for contributions to physics research by a member of the AIP.
  • Bragg Gold Medal for the most outstanding physics PhD thesis at an Australian university.
  • Outstanding Service to Physics for exceptional contribution to furthering physics as a discipline.

Nominations close on 1 July 2015. More information online.

The NSW community outreach award recognises notable contribution to physics education or community engagement and a demonstrated passion for the study of physics. Nominations close 9 October 2015. For more details see the NSW AIP website.


Physics at the Shine Dome

Michelle Simmons’ work on quantum computing was recognised via the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal awarded at the Shine Dome in Canberra last month. Michelle’s acceptance speech and her presentation on atomic-scale engineering is available online: what happens when your computing components become as small as a single atom?
Helen Maynard-Casely imageAlso presenting physics at the Shine Dome that week was AIP group convenor Helen Maynard-Casely, whose presentation on extra-terrestrial X-ray crystallography is also available online.

100 years of Bragging rights

The Shine Dome event begins the celebration of 100 years since William and Lawrence Bragg were awarded Australia’s first Nobel Prize, for their work on X-ray crystallography.

Looking back, this BBC show from the early 1960s has Lawrence presenting the nature of crystals, or ‘soldiers on parade’.

The glorious sound of leather on…

After a couple of hundred years, the traditional willow cricket bat might be about to change. ANU physicists are finding out precisely what it is about the cellular structure of lightweight English white willow that gives the best sweet spot and shock resistance. Using high-definition CT scanning and analysis by the NCI supercomputer at ANU, the researchers’ ultimate aim is to find an alternative, cheaper material to produce a bat of the same quality.

Defence news

DSTO physics was among that presented at the Maritime and Systems Technology Asia conference last month in Yokohama. Australian defence research topics presented at the conference included stealth technology and underwater acoustics.

In July, DSTO and UNSW will co-host a symposium to assess emerging technology for national security, specifically development of fully autonomous systems for use in disaster relief.

Australian speedgun part of global fusion plan

ANU physicists are working on a Doppler speedgun to assist the ITER fusion project in Europe, generally considered the best chance to achieve fusion power by the end of the next decade.

The ANU’s School of Physics and Engineering has been contracted to design a system for imaging plasma temperature and flow in the high-temperature plasma at the heart of the fusion reactor.

Seeking fresh physics talent

Are you, or do you know, an early-career physicist with a scientific discovery worthy of media coverage?

Fresh Science is a national competition that selects researchers with research results, an invention, or a discovery, trains them in how to tell their story, and helps them share their findings with the media and the public. Nominations are open now until 25 June.

School physics comps

Moonbots challenges teams of kids aged 8–17 to design, create and program their own robots. The creative phase of the competition has the kids explaining what stories inspires them about the Moon; phase two has them moving on to building a robot from a kit. Registration by 23 June. Details.

The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge, open to students in years 5–12, runs to 21 August.  Registrations close 19 June and submissions are due 21 August. Details.

Arts meets particle physics

Collision is an arts-meets-science competition encouraging artists, scientists and students from around Australia to create artworks inspired by particle physics.  There are separate school student and open categories. Entries close 23 August. Details.

COLLISION is an outreach project by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP)