AIP Congress apps and awards galore: physics in December & January

It’s time to start packing your bags for the 2014 AIP Congress, which opens in Canberra on Sunday 7 December.

If you can’t come, you can follow us on Twitter at @aipc2014 or #aipc2014, or see our visiting speakers at public lectures and forums, including Nobel laureate Steven Chu’s televised address to the National Press Club (see the event listing below). There’s also still time to register.

The program includes some speakers and posters to close off the International Year of Crystallography, and many, many others fitting the theme of the coming International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. And our Art of Physics theme has been taken up by both speakers and exhibitors.

With so many good presentations, I advise you to plan in advance which talks to attend. A good way of doing this is by using the AIP 2014 mobile apps for phones and tablets—see below for links to download them.

One of the great privileges for me at the Congress is the chance to celebrate the achievements of our AIP medal and award winners. One of these is Les Kirkup, whose contributions to hands-on physics education have won him the 2014 AIP Education Medal. You can read about Les below.

And Yuri Kivshar will receive the biannual Harrie Massey Medal for his work in the exciting new field of nonlinear optics and metamaterials, which you can also read about below.

Congratulations again to Brian Schmidt and his colleagues, this time for receiving a share of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe and its implications for dark energy. Brian has said he’ll donate part of his prize to promote gender diversity in science.

Other prizes announced recently included the honorific awards from the Australian Academy of Science. We list below all the physicists, geophysicists and mathematicians studying physics-related problems who received awards.

These winners include Michelle Simmons from UNSW, who will also be taking up the post of editor-in-chief of npj Quantum Information, a new, open-access journal and the first Australian-based Nature Partner Journal.

New prize opportunities we’re featuring this month are the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Young Scientist Prizes in laser physics and photonics. These prizes will be awarded in June next year in Germany—see below for how to apply.

Speaking of Germany, a recent visitor to our shores was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, named by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in world. This surely makes her the most powerful physicist in the world as well.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend a reception with her in Sydney, where she spoke about importance of science and technology, particularly for Australia–Germany relations, and how she’ll lobby for a free-trade agreement. Closer ties between the two countries will hopefully lead to greater opportunities for us in physics.

On a more personal note, I’m sad to report the unexpected death of my friend and AIP member George Collins. George contributed greatly to ANSTO and other organisations over the years, and has recently been an inspiring leader of research at Swinburne University in Victoria.

This is my final newsletter for 2014, and I wish everyone a happy and safe summer break, as well as a successful, inventive and prosperous New Year (of Light). And I look forward to seeing many of you in Canberra!

Please note that replies to this email go to Science in Public, who send the bulletin out for me. You can contact me directly on, and there is a comprehensive list of contact details at the end of the bulletin.



Rob Robinson
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP member news

AIP Congress program goes mobile

Nearly 500 speakers have been confirmed in the release of the official program for the 2014 AIP Congress (7–11 December in Canberra).

To make it easier for you to see what’s on and decide which sessions to attend, the program is also available as an app for your mobile phone or tablet.

Simply download the app AIP 2014 for free from iTunes orGoogle Play.

And if you haven’t booked yet, registrations are still open

Hands-on learning earns prize

The 2014 AIP Education Medal has been awarded to Les Kirkup, from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Over his 30 years of working in tertiary institutions, Les has made a significant contribution to physics education, particularly in laboratory-based, inquiry-oriented learning, and developing activities to engage students who are unlikely to pursue a career in physics.

Les has also written several textbooks on experimental methods and data analysis, which along with his enthusiasm for mentoring younger teachers inspire the development of new teaching methods and new approaches to experimental design.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Les is currently a professor in the School of Physics and Advanced Materials at UTS, where he collaborates with chemists, psychophysiologists, engineers, mathematicians, journalists and education researchers, and has worked on projects like the Mind Switch, which uses electrical activity from the brain.

His contributions to education have previously been recognised with a Carrick Associate Fellowship in 2007, an ALTC National Teaching Fellowship in 2011 and the UTS Medal for Teaching and Research Integration in 2012.

The Education Medal will be awarded to Les Kirkup at the 2014 AIP Congress in Canberra.

Medal for metamaterial research

Yuri Kivshar from the Australian National University (ANU) has been awarded the AIP’s 2014 Harrie Massey Medal for his work on nonlinear optics, metamaterials and metadevices.

Yuri has pioneered a number of concepts in metamaterials, including nanoengineered structures smaller than the wavelength of light that can manipulate the magnetic component of the electromagnetic waves.

Originally trained as a theorist, Yuri took up experimental work after coming to Canberra in 1993. He and his wife had originally planned to return to Europe after a year or two, but after 21 years he finds himself embedded in Australia, leading a team of researchers as head of the Nonlinear Physics Centre at ANU.

The Harrie Massey Medal and Prize is awarded every two years for contributions made by an Australian physicist working anywhere in the world, or to a non-Australian for work they have carried out in Australia.

It commemorates Melbourne-born Sir Harrie Massey, who, with Edward Bullard, published the first experimental evidence for electron diffraction in gases, and went on to lead the UK space research programme.

The Massey Medal will be awarded to Yuri Kivshar at the AIP Congress.

Loss of research leader

Applied physicist and AIP member George Collins died unexpectedly on Friday 14 November, aged 59.

In his most recent role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Development at Swinburne University in Victoria, George was a great advocate for applied research, known for inspiring collaborative projects and building connections between research and industry.

George gained his PhD in Plasma Physics at Sydney University, followed by a post-doc at the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, in Switzerland. Upon returning to Australia he joined ANSTO for a total of 22 years, working on materials engineering and applications of neutron scattering, and eventually becoming Chief of Research.

After leaving ANSTO, he was CEO of the Light-Metals Cooperative Research Centre, based in Brisbane, and from 2009 to 2011 he was President of Materials Australia.

Read more in his obituary from Swinburne University.

Other physics news

Academy awards for physicists

On 24 November the Australian Academy of Science announced the recipients of its prizes for scientific excellence, with many going to physicists and related researchers.

These included awards for achievements over a long career, as well as specific prizes for early- and mid-career researchers (defined as up to 15 years post-PhD).

Career awards

2015 Matthew Flinders Medal and Lecture for scientific research of the highest standing in the physical sciences

Professor K Lambeck, Australian National University

Professor Lambeck is a globally pre-eminent geophysicist who has made fundamental contributions to understanding Earth’s rotation, the strength of Earth’s mantle and its role in plate tectonics, and the complex global geometry of sea level variations associated with ice sheet melting. His work has fundamentally influenced a range of disciplines from geophysics to oceanography, glaciology and archaeology.

2015 Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal for research in mathematics or physics

Professor Michelle Y Simmons, University of New South Wales

Professor Simmons has pioneered a radical new technology for creating atomic-scale devices producing the first ever electronic devices in silicon where individual atoms are placed with atomic precision and shown to dictate device behaviour. Her ground-breaking achievements have opened a new frontier of research in computing and electronics globally. They have provided a platform for redesigning conventional transistors at the atomic-scale and for developing a silicon-based quantum computer: a powerful new form of computing with the potential to transform information processing.

2015 Hannan Medal for research in pure mathematics

Professor Alan G R McIntosh, Australian National University (joint winner)

Professor McIntosh works at the boundary between harmonic analysis and partial differential equations, two pillars of modern mathematics and physics. He is famous for having given, with his collaborators, the final answer to the Kato conjecture, a question raised in 1961 which puzzled specialists for 40 years. The techniques that he and his co-workers developed have revolutionised the way we analyse the fundamental operators of physics.

Early- and mid-career awards

2015 Pawsey Medal for research in physics

Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science

Dr McClure-Griffiths is an internationally recognised radio astronomer, who has used “The Dish” at Parkes and other Australian telescopes to make stunning new discoveries about our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Her research has provided unprecedented insights into how the Milky Way is structured, lives its life, and interacts with its neighbours. She has unravelled the complicated pinwheel-like structure of our home galaxy and has helped explain how the Milky Way keeps finding fresh gas to make new stars.

2015 Nancy Millis Medal for Women in Science

Associate Professor Tamara Davis, University of Queensland

Associate Professor Davis uses astrophysics to test our fundamental laws of physics, and study the nature of dark energy and dark matter. She is one of the most highly cited astrophysicists in the world. Her contributions include testing advanced theories of gravity, measuring time-dilation of distant supernovae, using galaxies to measure the mass of the lightest massive particle in nature (the neutrino), and discovering that active galaxies fuelled by black holes can be used as standard candles.

2015 Christopher Heyde Medal for research in pure Mathematics

Dr Scott Morrison, Australian National University (joint winner)

The interaction of quantum particles or quasi-particles in two dimensions involves a so-called “fusion category” which describes the possible outcomes of collision between the quasi-particles. Diagrams describing the fusion category are analogous to the Feynmann diagrams well known in quantum field theory. Dr Morrison has made remarkable discoveries especially in this diagrammatic description of such low-dimensional processes. In particular he has classified the least complicated such theories that mathematics permits.

For a full list of winners, see the Australian Academy of Science website.

Celebrating cosmological breakthrough

Australian Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and his colleagues have received more recognition for their contribution to discovering the accelerating expansion of the Universe, with a share of the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Unlike the 2011 Nobel Prize, which was awarded to Brian and his co-discoverers Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter, the Breakthrough Prize was shared among the 50 members of their research teams.

“This is a prize determined by the previous winners of the prize, so the fact they’ve allocated $3 million to the two teams is recognition they’re serious,” said Brian.

Brian’s share will go towards further research at the Australian National University and to the Australian Academy of Science to help improve gender equality.

“I think that’s a place where we need to do a lot better, pushing initiatives to get really serious about it here in Australia,” he said.

When he began his work at Mount Stromlo in 1994 there was only one female graduate student, but today half the graduate students are women.

“There’s a lot more women now and I think it’s really important to support them the best we can,” he said.

The Breakthrough Prizes in 12 fields are funded by Google’s Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Read more about the prize at The Sydney Morning Herald.

Prize for young laser & photonics physicists

Early-career researchers have a chance to win in the International Year of Light 2015, as the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) is seeking nominations for its biennial Young Scientist Prizes in laser physics and photonics.

There are two prizes on offer, one for fundamental and one for applied research, and both for researchers no more than eight years post-PhD (excluding career interruptions).

The prizes will be awarded at CLEO/Europe in Munich, Germany in June 2015. Each winner will receive 1000 euros, a medal and a certificate.

The deadline for nominations is 31 January 2015. For more information, see the AIP website.

Nature‘s new Australian quantum journal

The first Nature Partner Journal based in Australia will build on local expertise in quantum physics and publish articles on quantum computing, communication and information theory.

The journal npj Quantum Information was launched at its partner institution the University of New South Wales, where Michelle Simmons will be editor-in-chief.

“The 21st century will be the quantum information century, as the properties of quantum physics are exploited to develop powerful new, secure technologies for transmitting and processing information,” she said.

The international journal, which is already accepting submissions, will be open access, with articles free to read on publication.

“While discovery is converging across fields, advances are still reported in disparate journals,” Michelle said. “npj Quantum Information aims to change that, providing an open-access home for all aspects of this rapidly developing discipline.”

Find out more at

Catch Particle Fever

After screening at various festivals, a documentary about the search for the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has now been released in cinemas.

Particle Fever, directed by Mark Levinson—himself a particle physicist by training—follows six theorists and experimentalists in their attempts to understand the Universe.

It’s been described as an “ambitious, disarming documentary [that] is full of superlatives and extremes, but it’s also a film with an engaging human dimension” (The Age).

The film is now screening at the following cinemas (except Tasmania, where it opens next week):