Meeting this year’s women-in-physics lecturer – and who was Australia’s top physics publisher: Physics in May

This Bulletin is being distributed at an eventful time. Firstly, it was very pleasing to hear last week that CSIRO will establish a new Climate Science Centre in Hobart, which will focus on climate modelling and projections for Australia, exploiting both national and international research expertise. This is in response to the rather negative feedback CSIRO received from its stakeholders and staff on the job cuts it proposed to make in the climate change area – announced in February.

Coupled with this good news is the establishment of a scientific committee to advise Government on the future direction of Australia’s climate science capability and research priorities.

And then we look forward with anticipation to this week’s Federal Budget and what initiatives it will contain for science and research, followed by the policy announcements in this area by all the major political parties in the run up to what is almost certain to be a general election in early July.

I am delighted to be able to announce the winner of this year’s AIP Bragg Gold Medal for the best PhD thesis in Physics in Australia. It is Dr Phiala Shanahan for her thesis entitled “Strangeness and Charge Symmetry Violation in Nucleon Structure”, completed at the University of Adelaide.

Last month I had the pleasure of announcing that Catalina Curceanu will be this year’s AIP Women in Physics Lecturer. In this role,  Catalina will help promote and recognise the outstanding work done by women in physics in Australia. We profile Catalina below.

I hope you are planning to attend and present at the joint 13th Asian-Pacific Physics Conference and 22nd AIP Congress in Brisbane from 4-8 December. If so, then please note that the call for abstracts closes on 4 July. In this bulletin we profile another of the high-profile international physicists who will be a plenary speaker at this meeting – French  quantum physicist Alain Aspect..

We have now acquired over 720 new undergraduate student members, after the announcement of this new membership category in March. Please keep a look out for these new members attending AIP events and provide them with a warm welcome!

Warrick Couch
President, Australian Institute of Physics

Fearless physics: Catalina Curceanu, WIP Lecturer

Each year the AIP funds the national Women in Physics tour by an eminent physicist. This year’s AIP Women in Physics lecturer will be Catalina Curceanu, Head Researcher of Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN).

After discovering at school in Romania the power of maths and physics to explain “the mysteries of the universe”, Catalina went on to study nuclear physics and elementary particle physics at Bucharest, and then to a doctorate in spectroscopic meson physics at CERN.

Her current research into the Pauli exclusion principle, which explains why matter does not collapse, is supported by the John Templeton Foundation’s ‘Science and the Big Question’ program, which focusses on the biggest scientific questions. Her group is also trying to understand why protons have the mass they have.

Not one to shy from difficult questions herself, Catalina encourages physicists to be courageous, and to propose theories without fear of failure. “Physics is 90% trial and failure,” she says. “It is much worse not to try, than to try and to fail.”

Catalina Curceanu is the 2016 Women in Physics Lecturer and will present lectures in Australia in August.

AIP Congress: profile of Alain Aspect

One of this year’s AIP Congress speakers, French quantum physicist Alain Aspect, describes quantum physics as “outrageously counterintuitive.”

If so, he has certainly done his part to make it more understandable. While still working on his PhD, Alain Aspect performed the first really convincing experiments to prove the existence of quantum entanglement, which Einstein once famously scorned as ‘ghostly action at a distance’.

It was the first of many groundbreaking experimental successes.

He helped demonstrate for the first time that a photon could appear in two spots simultaneously, as a wave, but only be observed in one location, as a single particle.

His atom-cooling team broke the so-called ‘single photon limit’, being the first to achieve microkelvin temperatures—a millionth of a degree above absolute zero.

Currently a professor at Institut d’Optique Graduat School and at Ecole Polytechnique, in Palaiseau, Professor Aspect is also a member of the French Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Technology.

This year’s AIP Congress will bring together physicists from Australia and the Asia Pacific region for a week-long program of science and networking. We are now calling for abstracts.

AIP prizes

The following AIP medals and awards are open for nomination:

  • The Harrie Massey Medal for contributions to physics by an Australian physicist, or a physicist working in Australia
  • The Alan Walsh Medal for significant contributions to industry by a practising physicist in Australia
  • The Walter Boas Medal for excellence in physics research in the past five years
  • The Education Medal for significant contributions to university physics education
  • The Bragg Gold Medal for the most outstanding Australian physics PhD thesis
  • The Outstanding Service to Physics award for furtherance of physics as a discipline.
  • And the Ruby Payne-Scott Medal, for outstanding contributions made by an early-career physicist.
  • The NSW Community Outreach Award, for contributions to physics education or community engagement and demonstrated passion for the study of physics (nominations for this award close 9 October).

More information can be found at or from Olivia Samardzic. Nominations close 1 June (except for the Bragg Gold medal and the NSW Community Outreach Award).

South Australian Bronze Bragg medal

The Bronze Bragg medal was presented at a ceremony in Adelaide recently to James Frederick Petchey from Adelaide. The Bronze Bragg medal is awarded for excellence in year 12 physics.

At the same event, Gary Hill of the University of Adelaide presented a talk on the hunt for neutrinos using the cubic-kilometre IceCube observatory in Antarctica, and on the work that led to their discovery that neutrinos have mass, awarded the Nobel Physics Prize last year.

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.

Materials, A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Hall

New Sydney nano centre

The Sydney Nanoscience Hub (operated by the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology), launched last month, will provide Australian researchers with the tools and facilities to develop new technologies in energy, medicine, information and technology.

At the opening, guests heard the aims of the five Flagship projects—Measurement & Control, Quantum Simulation, Nanoscale Photonic Circuits, Energy & Environment and Health & Medicine. And heard the Centre’s Director Simon Ringer, who explained how the environmental controls at the new Centre make it “one of the most controlled spaces for nanoscience experiments in the world”.

Read more about Flagship programs at the Centre.

Top physics publisher

The ANU once more led the list of Australian institutions publishing top-class physics last year, according to international journal Nature.

The annual Nature Index placed the ANU first in physical sciences, with UNSW second and the University of Melbourne third. Over all sciences, the University of Queensland topped the list for Australia, while Monash University came in second.

Australia is placed 12th in the world for science publishing, and 14th for physics. World-wide, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was the leading physics publisher, followed by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Max Planck Society in Germany.

See this year’s Nature tables.

Other prizes

Nominations close very soon (6 May) for Australia’s most comprehensive science prizes, the $160,000 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, which recognise research, science communication and journalism, leadership, and students.

Last year, Eureka-winning physics and physicists included Phillip Urquijo (Emerging Leader), the Super Dots nanocrystals team of Dayong Jin, Tanya Monro and Bradley Walch (Interdisciplinary Science), University of Adelaide’s salt-battery team of Frank Bruno, Martin Belusko and Steven Tay (Technology), Michael Biercuk (Early Career Researcher), Michelle Simmons (Leadership), and Northrop Grumman’s secure communications suite (Defence).

More at

Physics shorts

Physics news from around Australia

ANU researchers have discovered unusual new properties of a nanomaterial with exciting potential for thermopholtaic cells that would generate energy from both radiated heat and direct light.

University of Tasmania radio-astronomers were part of the international team that was able to connect a massive neutrino burst spotted by the South Pole Neutrino IceCube Observatory in Antarctica with radio-source observations. Putting the RT and neutrino observations together indicates the high-energy particles were part of a major outburst by a giant galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its centre.

Researchers at RMIT’s Quantum Photonics Laboratory have successfully trialled a quantum processor that can route quantum information from different locations, and which could open a path to the ‘data buses’ of future large-scale quantum computers. The preservation of fragile quantum states makes a quantum data bus a much more challenging prospect than that of a classical computer.

ANU physicists and an international team have discovered that radioactive iron-60 found in ocean-bed sediment and crust samples is the result of a series of massive supernovas that detonated near our solar system (within 300 light years) in a period between 3.2 and 1.7 million years ago.

A new wavelength-tuneable, erbium-doped fibre laser developed at the University of Adelaide is being turned skyward to monitor greenhouse gases. Because the lasers can operate in mid-infrared wavelengths, they can detect and differentiate between greenhouse hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane.

New, relatively high-temperature superconductor technology is being tested by Queensland University of Technology and the Defence Science and Technology Group for use in Australian Navy vessels. The new technology could reduce motor size by over a third.

Reach a bigger audience. The Australian physics events calendar is the definitive source for physics events around the country. If your physics event isn’t listed here, ask us about adding it, having it included in these regular bulletins, and tweeted from the AusPhysics account.


Susan Scott public talk: Gravitational waves and Einstein
Thu, 5 May 2016, 6pm
Llewelyn Hall – ANU School of Music, William Herbert Place, Canberra

Gene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon
Thu, 2 Jun 2016, 7:30pm
Canberra Theatre, ACT

New South Wales

Astronomy from the Ground Up! 2016 Teacher Workshop
Fri, 29 Apr 2016
Parkes Observatory, NSW

Adult Astronomy Course: Exploring the Heavens
Tue, 3 May 2016
Sydney Observatory, Millers Pt

Planetary Parliament
Tue, 10 May 2016
CSIRO Life Sciences Centre, 11 Julius Ave, North Ryde

Matthew Freeman: Astronomical Adventures in Antarctica
Wed, 11 May 2016, 6:30pm
Science Room 2.3, Trinity Grammar School, 119 Prospect Rd, Summer Hill

Astronomy Open Night
Sat, 14 May 2016, 6:30pm
Macquarie University

Gene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon
Mon, 30 May 2016, 12:30pm
The Orpheum Theatre, Sydney

Northern Territory

No upcoming events currently listed.


Queensland Astrofest
Fri, 29 Jul 2016
Lions Camp Duckadang near Linville, QLD

AIP Congress – in association with the Asia Pacific Physics Conference
Sun, 4 Dec 2016
Brisbane Convention Centre

South Australia

No upcoming events currently listed


No upcoming events currently listed


Mount Burnett Observatory members night
Fridays at 8pm
420 Paternoster Road, Mount Burnett, VIC

James Whisstock and Stephanie Gras: Accelerating health innovation through imaging
Wed, 4 May 2016, 12:30pm
MKW Festival Hub, Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Public talk: Claude Shannon Centenary Celebration
Fri, 6 May 2016, 11am
Monash University, Clayton

Chris Matzner public talk: Interstellar messaging
Tue, 10 May 2016, 6.30pm
Monash University, Clayton

World Metrology Day
Fri, 20 May 2016, 7.30am
National Measurement Institute, Port Melbourne

Astronomy seminar: Heavy elements in red giant stars
Fri, 20 May 2016, 6.30pm
Swinburne Uiversity, Hawthorn

Gene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon
Tue, 31 May 2016, 7:30pm
The Astor Theatre, Melbourne

Western Australia

Gene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon
Fri, 27 May 2016, 7:30pm
Perth Concert Hall

Gene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon
Sat, 28 May 2016, 7:30pm
Carnarvon Civic Centre

ATNF Data Reduction Workshop 2016
Marsfield CSIRO Astronomy & Space Sciences Headquarters, Marsfield, NSW 2122
2 May to 6 May 2016

Observational Techniques Workshop 2016
3–6 May 2016, Australian Astronomical Observatory Sydney

Ultrasound Physics & Instrumentations
Australian School of Medical Imaging, Hornsby NSW
23 May to 27 May

International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC 2019)
25–29 May 2016, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre

ASKAP 2016: The future of radio astronomy surveys
6–10 June 2016, University of Sydney

10th International Conference on Residual Stresses (ICRS-10)
3–7 July 2016, Novotel Sydney Brighton Beach, Sydney

Energy Future Conference and Exhibitions 2016
4–5 July 2016, UNSW, Sydney

International Conference on Supersymmetry and Unification of Fundamental Interactions (SUSY 2016)
4–8 July 2016, the University of Melbourne

Astrobiology Australasia 2016
10–12 July 2016, CSIRO Perth, WA

NUSOD—2016 International Conference on Numerical Simulation of Optoelectronic Devices Sydney
11–15 July 2016, University of Sydney

The Multi-Messenger Astrophysics of the Galactic Centre
18–22 July 2016, Palm Cove, Queensland

LHP V: 5th International Workshop on Lattice Hadron Physics
20–24 July 2016, Cairns Colonial Club Resort, Cairns, Queensland

OSA Congress: Photonics and Fiber Technology
5 Sep 2016, SMC Conference & Function Centre, Sydney

Topological matter, strings, and K-theory conference
5 September 2016, The University of Adelaide

International Conference on Nuclear Physics (INPC2016)
11–16 September 2016, Adelaide Convention Centre

The changing face of galaxies: uncovering transformational physics
18–23 September 2016, Wrest Point Hotel, Hobart

ICEAA — 2016 International Conference on Electromagnetics in Advanced Applications
19–23 September 2016, Cairns, Queensland

IEEE-APS Topical Conference on Antennas and Propagation in Wireless Communications (APWC)
19–23 September 2016, Cairns, Queensland

Boden Research Conference 2016 Animal, Vegetal, Mineral? 
19 September 2016, Yallingup, WA

SPIE Bio-Photonics Australasia 2016
16–16 October 2016, SA

2016 AIP Congress (in association with the Asia-Pacific Physics Conference)
4–8 December 2016, Brisbane Convention Centre, Brisbane, QLD

New “Wagga 2017” – The 41st Annual Condensed Matter and Materials Meeting
31 January to 3 February, Wagga Wagga Campus Charles Stuart University

New International Conference on Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology
12–16 February 2017
Queenstown, NZ

International Conference on Photonic, Electronic and Atomic Collisions (ICPEAC XXX)
26 July to 1 August 2017
Note the AIP student travel scheme for AIP student members will be available for this conference