Wrapping up the Year of Light, 150 years of Maxwell & 100 years of relativity: physics in December

December sees the end of the International Year of Light, which has seen some fantastic celebrations of light physics and related technologies in Australia.

The end of 2015 marks some very important anniversaries in physics: James Clerk Maxwell’s four famous equations of electromagnetism, 150 years ago this month, laid the foundations for Einstein’s later relativity work, which celebrated 100 years at the end of November. The ABC marked the end of the Year of Light with a feature on Maxwell (listen) and we list some Australian relativity tributes in this bulletin. November was also 100 years since William Lawrence Bragg and William Henry Bragg won Australia’s first Nobel Prize in Physicsl, for crystallography.

Light was also the schools theme for 2015’s National Science Week. Next year, the theme will be drones, droids and robots—which promises to once again get a few young physicists inspired!

Congratulations to all 17 winners of the 2016 Australian Academy of Science awards. In particular the ANU’s Ilya Shadrivov, who received the Pawsey Medal for his contributions to the development of metamaterials with fantastic potential, and UNSW’s Martin Green who received the Ian Wark Medal for his world-leading work on photovoltaics.

Other physicists were recognised in prizes awarded by the NSW branch of the Australian Institute of Physics—see later in this bulletin. And the other AIP branches also got together to discuss office holders and agendas for the new year.

Nominations have now closed for the 2016 AIP Women in Physics lecturer, and early next year we will be announcing which Australian physicist, currently working overseas, will be undertaking the 2016 lecture tour and celebrating the contribution of women to advances in physics.

Best wishes for the holiday season. We’re looking forward to another year of great Australian physics in 2016.


Warrick Couch
President, Australian Institute of Physics


Optics, quantum machines and outreach rewarded in NSW

The NSW AIP and Royal Society of NSW held their annual Postgraduate Awards Day in November. Each of the state’s universities was asked to nominate a student to compete, and the winners were:

  • Katie Chong (ANU) shaping light with optics: AIP Postgraduate Presentation
  • James Colless (University of Sydney) quantum machines: Royal Society of NSW Jak Kelly Award

The audience also heard from postgraduate students Yevgeny Stadnik (UNSW) on dark matter and astrophysics, Frederick Wells (University of Wollongong) on imaging of superconducting thin films, and Michael Cowley (Macquarie University) on supermassive black holes.

The Community Outreach to Physics Award recognises physics community outreach, and was won by Amanda Bauer from the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

Invited speaker Michael Burton (UNSW) spoke to the audience on “Interstellar Explorers – mapping the molecular clouds of the southern Milky Way”, and the NSW AIP annual dinner followed the presentations.

AIP membership

Enjoy the fellowship of other physicists? Think physics is important to Australia’s future?

Did you know that the Australian Institute of Physics:

  • fosters fellowship among physicists, providing a forum for views and meetings with colleagues
  • maintains standards of physics qualifications
  • expresses views of physicists to government
  • promotes physics as a discipline
  • holds regular conferences, and provides financial support
  • publishes views of members
  • supports women in science (including via the Women in Physics Lecture Tour, above)
  • encourages excellent researchers, teachers and students with awards and prizes
  • enables discounted membership of related societies such as the IOP
  • produces and distributes the Journal of Australian Physics, six editions per year.

How to join.

Books for review

If you are interested in reviewing any of the books below for publication in Australian Physics please contact magazine editor Brian James.


1000 proteins at Australian Synchrotron

beamlines operatorsAustralian research reached a milestone with the 1000th protein structure resolved using the beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron, paving the way for improved understanding of disease and more targeted therapies.

Scientists from Australian and NZ used the synchrotron in Clayton, Melbourne, to solve 1000 protein structures in less than eight years.

Tom Caradoc-Davies, Principal Scientist of the Macro and Micro-molecular Crystallography (MX1 and MX2) beamlines at the Synchrotron, says the facility is crucial to understanding the structure of proteins at a molecular level, “which may hold the key to better understanding its role in diseases, treatments or industrial products”.

“The Australian Synchrotron’s X-ray light is a million times brighter than the sun, enabling light to diffract off crystals smaller than one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, leading to high definition data sets that can produced in a matter of minutes, rather than days,” he says.

Dr Caradoc-Davies says structures discovered using the Australian Synchrotron have unlocked innovation across a range of scientific fields including medical research, electronics and mining.

100 years: it’s all relative

AlbertNovember marked 100 years since publication of Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Some good Australian articles celebrating the achievement, and explaining what this important piece of physics means for everyday life:

Funding for Australian dark-matter hunt

The Victorian state government has matched federal funding for the dark-matter laboratory in Stawell, Victoria: the Stawell Underground Physics Laboratory.

Swinburne astrophysicist Jeremy Mould reports that construction will begin early next year with experiments to follow in 2017. “We’re well advanced with the testing that shows this is a good low background site,” he said. “We’re ready to put some scientists to work preparing the experiment to detect dark matter.”

The laboratory will conduct research into dark matter and sensitive physics and biomedical experiments in the Stawell gold mine, one-kilometre underground. It is a cooperative venture between Stawell Council, Melbourne University, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics and Newmarket Gold.

Researchers Alan Duffy and Elisabetta Barberio explain the dark-matter search in The Conversation.

Science academy awards

Seventeen Australian scientists have been recognised in the Australian Academy of Science’s annual honorific awards.

This year’s Pawsey Medal winner —awarded to recognise outstanding research in the field of physics by an Australian scientist under 40 years of age— was the ANU’s Ilya Shadrivov.

Working at the ANU’s Nonlinear Physics Centre, Dr Shadrivov is developing metamaterials that can manipulate light and other electromagnetic waves in unusual and useful ways, and have potential uses in applications from next-generation security cameras to car safety sensors.

Other scientists rewarded include the ANU’s  Michael James Ireland who uses optical and infrared technology to build innovative astronomical instruments to investigate the lifecycles of stars and planets—and UNSW’s Martin Green who was awarded the 2016 Ian Wark Medal as a world leader in the field of photovoltaics.

Physics shorts

Ground was broken last month on the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Chile. The GMT, which will be the world’s largest telescope, will come online in 2021. Australia is a 10% partner in the telescope.

Australian Academy of Science awarded grants totalling $199,000 last month including to talented young ANU atomic-physicist Sean Hodgman, to bring Canada’s Federico Rosei to Australia to discuss advanced nanomaterials research, and to fund a conference to explore galactic archaeology. There was also funding for La Trobe University’s Keith Nugent to present the 2016 Lloyd Rees Memorial Lecture.

A UNSW team has proven that quantum computer code can be written and encoded on two quantum bits, further cementing the case for silicon to be a foundation for powerful quantum computers.

New members of the Astronomy Australia Limited Board are Rachel Webster (University of Melbourne), Matthew Bailes (Swinburne University of Technology) and Rosalind Dubs (Aristocrat Leisure, ASC and ANU Enterprise). Anne Green was appointed Chair to replace the outgoing Brian Schmidt.

Australian quantum cyber-security company QuintessenceLabs received a major international award from global Security Innovation Network (SINET), which includes US Department of Homeland Security and UK Home Office.

New online Nature journal npj Quantum Information began publishing online at the end of October. A joint venture between Nature Publishing Group and UNSW, all articles are open access.

Five new fast radio bursts (FRBs) documented in a paper from Swinburne, CAASTRO and CSIRO take the total of known FRBs to 16. (And the new ones don’t comply with the previously-observed x 187.5 dispersion factor, which will be disappointing news for alien hunters.)



Pierre Verlinden: Solar Oration
7 December
H.C. Coombs Lecture Theatre, ANU, Fellows Road, Acton, ACT
Public talk: Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are rapidly transforming the energy landscape

New South Wales

Michal Lipson: What’s next—computing at the speed of light
8 December
Harry Messel Lecture Theatre 4002, Sydney Nanoscience Hub, The University of Sydney
Public talk: What role can light play in promoting sustainable development and providing solutions to global challenges?

Northern Territory

No upcoming events currently listed.


No upcoming events currently listed.

South Australia

Paul Jackson: Collider Scope
8 December
The Braggs Lecture Theatre, The University of Adelaide
Public talk: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva: , Switzerland, it’s the world’s largest scientific instrument and most powerful probe of frontier physics. How it works, what scientists have previously used it for – including to discover the fabled Higgs boson – and what future mysteries it may solve, such as the nature of dark matter.

AIP event Aidan Brooks: Remember that time we decided to measure colliding super-dense stars with a laser, ripples in the fabric of space, tumbleweeds and an alligator?
9 December
Kerr Grant lecture theatre, Physics Building, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Public lecture: This is the story of Einstein, gravitational waves, advanced LIGO and turning up the volume on thousands of the largest explosions in the Universe.


No upcoming events currently listed.


Stuart Wyithe: Cosmic hydrogen and the first galaxies in the Universe
3 December
Hercus Theatre, Physics South Building, University of Melbourne
Public talk: Using cosmic archaeology to understand the distant past

Lisa Harvey-Smith: Exploring the Universe with the world’s largest radio telescope
4 December
Room AMDC301, AMDC building (Burwood Road), Hawthorn Campus, Swinburne University
Public talk: What is dark matter? How did the solar system form? Was Einstein right about the nature of gravity? Are we alone in the Universe?

AIP event Mount Burnett Observatory members night
4, 11, 18, 25 November (weekly)
420 Paternoster Road, Mount Burnett

Western Australia

AIP event AIP general meeting – all welcome
5th floor tea room, Physics Building, University of Western Australia, Crawley
You’re invited to an AIP general meeting that is not intended to last more than an hour. Find out what we’re up to, listen to a few short presentations and enjoy drinks and nibbles in the company of fellow physicists.