the photonics economy, quantum computing, alien life, the search for a lecturer and more physics fun in August

One of our cognate societies – the newly rebranded Australian and New Zealand Optical Society – has launched a report called The Future is Bright: The Photonics Industry in New Zealand and Australia.

It is impressive to see the scope and impact of this industry. I think that in the post-COVID-19 Australian-based manufacturing sector, it will become even more important.

There’s good news on the recommencement of visa processing for international students – even though the borders remain closed. This is an issue that Science & Technology Australia, of which the AIP is a member, has highlighted with the Federal Government. See more below.

Outcomes for the ARC Future Fellowships were announced last week. We congratulate the physicists who were successful. Read on for details.

If you ask most people to nominate their two most exciting areas of science, chances are you’d get a lot of votes for quantum computing and looking for alien life.

Well, we’ve got both in this bulletin, with AIP lectures on solutions to scaling up the first and better ways to hunt for the second.

You’ll also get to meet our latest Hidden Physicist – NSW education analyst and LGBTQ activist Dr Sarah Midgely OAM.

We’re looking for an outstanding female physicist to become our 2021 Women in Physics lecturer. See below for more details.

Read on, too, for news on some upcoming events and awards, and some of the great media stories generated by Australian physicists in recent weeks.

Good luck to all the students and staff heading back to universities around Australia for classes – both in person and virtually. 

This month’s pic features me lecturing at ANU. I’m wearing a mask to protect my students as I teach my class. As a native of Victoria, my thoughts are with those in Melbourne battling the current surge in COVID-19 cases. Masks have been shown to reduce the spread of droplets and aerosols while we talk and breathe, and it makes sense we all start to accept them as part of daily life.

Kind regards,

Jodie Bradby
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP News

Go big or go home: scaling up quantum computing with optical continuous-variable systems is the next AIP-FLEET live-streamed talk

One of the biggest challenges to building a viable quantum computer with real-world impact is scaling it up to handle large operations. Join physicist Nicolas Menicucci as he discusses possible optical solutions to the problem in the next of the monthly series of talks from physics-themed Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence organised by AIP and the Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET).

Nicolas is an associate professor of physics at RMIT University, a chief investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) and senior leader of the QuRMIT Lab ( He and his team perform theoretical research in continuous-variable quantum computing and relativistic quantum information.

The free event will take place on Thursday, 6 August at 11am AEST.  Head to and use the password ‘AIP’.

More information:

Insight into the “hidden economy” of photonics published

The Australian and New Zealand photonics industry comprises a “hidden” sector that contributes more than $5 billion dollars annually to the economy and employs 12,000 in more than 500 companies across both nations.

That’s one of the main findings of a new report into the state of the industry, commissioned by the Australian and New Zealand Optical Society and published in late July.

The report was written by John Harvey, Simon Poole and John Lincoln. It is available, free, here.

News on visas for international students; research case studies wanted

The AIP welcomes the recent announcement from the Federal Government on international student visa processing, which is a major challenge amid COVID-19:

We continue to push for clarity around visa processing for researchers and academic staff via Science and Technology Australia (STA). Please contact us with case studies or specific examples that you are happy for STA to raise in discussions across government.

Meet Dr Sarah Midgley, this month’s Hidden Physicist

Dr Sarah Midgley OAM, Manager – Skills Research and Analysis, NSW Department of Education

I currently lead a team of analysts and researchers in economic and skills analysis. We use a range of data sources and industry insights to explore labour market trends and how the world of work is changing, identify jobs and skills in demand and determine the outlook for education and training. I am deeply passionate about the power of education in transforming people’s lives and reducing the skills divide and social inequality.

My physics background provided me with analytical and problem-solving skills that I use in my current role. I also use my specialist knowledge about STEM careers and emerging technologies when providing advice on future jobs in demand or systemic workforce challenges – such as how to increase diversity and women in STEM.

Alongside my career I have also had the privilege to volunteer with a number of community organisations, including Australian Marriage Equality. In 2020 I was recognised with an Order of Australia medal (OAM) for my service to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community.

Some Takeaways: While immersed in academic life, it can be hard to see the full range of career pathways open to you as a physicist. Your technical and transferrable skills can be applied in so many exciting careers. Enjoy the journey – expand your experiences as much as possible and support your peers and junior physicists along the way.

My career story so far:

  • Bachelor of Science (Advanced) in Physics, Hon I and University Medal (Western Sydney University 2005)
  • Graduate Diploma of Science (Physics) (Australian National University 2006)
  • PhD in Physics (Theoretical Quantum Physics) (University of Queensland 2011)
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate in Physics (University College London, UK 2012)
  • Various roles within the Department of Education in vocational education and training with TAFE NSW including as Analyst, Senior Analyst and now Manager in the Strategic Research and Analysis Unit within the Strategy and Policy area.

Where will we go in the search for alien life?

The discovery of hundreds of exoplanets over the past two decades has vastly complicated the search for alien life. How scientists can best meet these challenges is the subject of the 2020 Einstein lecture, presented by the NSW branch of the AIP.

The lecture, titled ‘Alien Life on Habitable Planets’ will be given by exoplanet expert Chris Tinney and origin of life researcher Martin Van Kranendonk. The pair will explore questions regarding where we should look for life, and how we determine if a planet or moon is potentially habitable. They are questions that hinge on the still undetermined matter of how life began on Earth.

The Einstein lecture will be live-streamed on Monday, August 17 at 6:30pm AEST. Register here:

Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and the Australian Institute of Physics. Supported by UNSW Science. This event is part of the UNSW x National Science Week program – head here to see the full program.

2020 Physics in the Cloud: the physics free-for-all variety night!

Physics in the Pub has gone virtual! We’ve digitised and uploaded our scientists and they’ll be streaming to you from the cloud, about the complex protein structures in our cells, how tiny magnets can cure cancer and, well, the philosophy of everything.

There’ll be songs, poems and quizzes, so have your device ready. Grab yourself a drink and join us online, with host Dr Phil Dooley of Phil Up On Science.

The event will take place on Friday, August 21, kicking off at 6pm AEST. There is no admission charge – not even a virtual one – thanks to the generosity of the AIP NSW Branch and Laboratories Credit Union (LCU)

Register here:

More info:


The Australian Institute of Physics is searching for the 2021 Women in Physics lecturer

The Women in Physics lectureship is an opportunity for female physicists to promote their research and to encourage the next generation of scientists in Australia. For the 2021 lecturer, we are seeking an Australian based physicist who:

  • has made a significant contribution in a field of physics research
  • has demonstrated public speaking ability
  • and is available in 2021 to visit Canberra and the six Australian state capital cities and surrounding regions.

The successful volunteer applicant will have costs for travel and accommodation covered during the tour, which will last approximately three weeks. It should be noted that there is no remuneration for the lectures and that this is a volunteer outreach activity.

If you’d like more information about being a WiP lecturer, you might enjoy reading the reports of some of our previous speakers, including Dr Ceri Brenner, who held the post in 2018, and  Dr Helen Maynard-Casely, who was the WiP medalist in 2019 (no medal awarded in 2020, due to the pandemic).  

To apply, download the nomination form from the website. Closing date is September 1.

2020 NSW community outreach to physics award nominations open

This award seeks to recognise a NSW physicist who has:

  • worked to engage the academic community in physics;
  • effectively developed community events, or other activities that engage our physics community;
  • increased awareness, knowledge and experiential learning opportunities for students in relation to physics community development and grassroots work.

It consists of $1000, and a certificate citing achievements, and is proudly supported by Laboratories Credit Union.

Nominations close on Friday, October 9. See here for details.

Coronavirus restrictions permitting, it will be presented at the Australian Institute of Physics NSW Postgraduate Awards event on Tuesday 10 November 2020 at the Concord Golf Club, 190 Majors Bay Road Concord. (Entry via Flavelle Street.)

Congratulations to the 2020 ARC Future Fellows

The Australian Research Council announced the outcomes of the 2020 Future Fellowships last week. These awards cover salary and some research funds for four years. This year the success rate was 14.5%. We extend our condolences to those who missed out, and congratulate the following physicists who were successful:

  • Dr Elizabeth Hinde – University of Melbourne
  • Assistant Professor Daniel Huber – University of Sydney
  • Dr Sahand Mahmoodian – University of Technology Sydney
  • Associate Professor Meera Parish – Monash University
  • Dr Aaron Robotham – University of Western Australia
  • Dr Stephen Warren-Smith – University of South Australia
  • Dr Jean-Philippe Tetienne – RMIT University
  • Dr Luke Davies – University of Western Australia
  • Dr Emilie Sauret – Queensland University of Technology
  • Dr David Ridout – University of Melbourne

Apologies to anyone we have omitted. Please email us and let us know.

Australian physics in the news

Quantum tunnelling is not instantaneous, physicists show

A new experiment tracks the transit time of particles burrowing through barriers, revealing previously unknown details of a deeply counterintuitive phenomenon

Although it would not get you past a brick wall and onto Platform 9¾ to catch the Hogwarts Express, quantum tunnelling—in which a particle “tunnels” through a seemingly insurmountable barrier—remains a confounding, intuition-defying phenomenon. Now Toronto-based experimental physicists using rubidium atoms to study this effect have measured, for the first time, just how long these atoms spend in transit through a barrier. Their findings appeared in Nature on July 22.

The researchers have showed that quantum tunnelling is not instantaneous—at least, in one way of thinking about the phenomenon—despite recent headlines that have suggested otherwise. “This is a beautiful experiment,” says Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia, who works on quantum tunnelling but was not part of this demonstration. “Just to do it is a heroic effort.”

Read more:

Printed solar panels a shining light for saving energy

An Australian breakthrough in wafer-thin, lightweight solar panels that can be stuck on to any surface is set to deliver Australia a new source of local manufacturing, the researcher whose team developed it says.

Newcastle University physics professor Paul Dastoor said his team had completed a fully functional demonstration project and has several more in the works.

The technology is a couple of years away from full commercialisation and Professor Dastoor said he is now “gearing up to build the first factory to produce printed solar here in Australia”.

“We are in the process of securing funding to get us to the next scale of production,” he said.

Read more:

The supersizing of quantum physics

Quantum physics is the realm of tiny particles no longer. Scientists at the giant gravitational wave detector LIGO in the US are now measuring the quantum effects of 40-kilogram mirrors used to detect gravitational waves.

While physicists routinely observe quantum effects in nanometre-scale experiments, LIGO team member Robert Ward says this new level of sensitivity was unmatched in other experiments.

“There’s nowhere else close, nothing like it. That’s as big as my kids!” says Ward, who is part of the OzGrav Research Centre based at the Australian National University (ANU).

Read more:

In brief

Ultra-fine X-rays tested on cancer cells

Carbon emissions are chilling the atmosphere 90km above Antarctica, at the edge of space

As Australia’s space discoveries shine, Indigenous astrophysicists detect lack of inclusion

Rachel Makinson and the science of wool

The stars that time forgot

Finding NEMO: The future of gravitational-wave astronomy

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. 

Senior Accelerator Science and Operations Manager ANSTO

Beamline Scientist – MEX Australian Synchrotron

Chief Executive Officer CRC Association

Leader, Nuclear Stewardship ANSTO

Research Assistant, Medical Physics

PHYSICS / CHEMISTRY TEACHER (there are 20+ listing for Physics teachers)

Data Scientist (there are 10+ listings for data science)

Research Associate in Laser Diagnostics for Hypersonic Turbulence (Canberra)

Expressions of interest – Women in Science & Engineering RMIT

Defence Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (Australian Institute for Machine Learning)  Adelaide

Research Assistant (RMIT and CSIRO Mineral Resources)

Research Fellow – Computer Vision & Machine Learning UWA

Research scientist (Artificial Intelligence)

Student scholarships/top-ups/internships/vacation scholar programs

PhD Scholarship University of Queensland – Quantum Optomechanical Ultrasound

PhD Scholarship University of Queensland – Scalable and reversible computing with integrated nanomechanics

CSIRO Vacation Scholarship

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate scholarships CSIRO

PhD scholarship “Corrosion Mechanism of Alloys at High Temperatures in Concentrated Solar Thermal Plants” at Flinders University and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI)

PhD Scholarship Monash Uni – Mapping a glassy “phase diagram”

Funded PhD Project – Role of structure in glass formation and mechanical properties (Monash University)