Gravitational waves herald a new era in physics

Friday 12 February 2016

In 1915, Einstein’s theory of general relativity presented a new way of understanding how the Universe worked.
It was a whole new way of thinking about time and space—but it was all theory.

Over the intervening century, nearly all of Einstein’s work has been proven. Except no one could find the gravity waves—dubbed ‘the drums of heaven’ by some physicists.

Until now. Continue reading Gravitational waves herald a new era in physics

Nanotech honours and the 2016 national physics conference: physics in February

Happy New Year from the AIP Executive. It has been a busy couple of months in physics, with rumours of the first gravitational wave detection with LIGO, further confirmation of an unexpected bump in the data coming from the Large Hadron Collider, and the possible presence of a large, distant ninth planet in the far reaches of our solar system. Not to mention the addition of four new elements to the periodic table.

Continue reading Nanotech honours and the 2016 national physics conference: physics in February

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

Calling women in physics, and the new government focus on science: physics in November

Each year, much excitement and anticipation surrounds the announcement of the Nobel Prize winners. I will never forget hearing the news that Brian Schmidt would be one of the winners of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, for the discovery of the accelerating universe, through a phone call from a very excited Leigh Dayton, then science writer for The Australian, who had somehow got wind of Brian receiving a very special phone call from the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

The announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics was made just before the last AIP bulletin was sent out. I have now had time to write more on the physics behind the award, which has special significance to those working in particle physics.

I am also delighted to make the AIP’s own award announcement: Professor Min Gu from Swinburne University of Technology is the recipient of the 2015 Walter Boas Medal for his major contributions to three-dimensional optical imaging theory and its applications in optical data storage, biometrics and optical endoscopy. Min will receive his medal, which recognises excellence in physics research, at an AIP Victorian Branch event—we will let you know more details when they are confirmed. My congratulations to Min on this very well deserved award. Continue reading Calling women in physics, and the new government focus on science: physics in November

Nobel neutrinos; water on Mars; and remembering a great: physics in October

The discovery that neutrinos oscillate and therefore must have mass made us re-think the Standard Model, and has led to an exciting new era in particle physics. Last night, Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their roles in this discovery and we send our congratulations to both of them.

Last week was big for physics too, with NASA’s announcement that they’d found evidence of liquid water on Mars.

What I found great about the announcement was the addition of some new voices to the local media coverage. Fred Watson made his usual appearance on Radio National, but elsewhere we had Alan Duffy, Katie Mack, Amanda Bauer, Daniel Price and other young Australian physicists on hand to explain what it all means to the general public. And what a great job they did.

In this bulletin we pay tribute to another great science communicator Harry Messel. Harry will be remembered as a colossus of Australian physics and of science more broadly, particularly for the way he so effectively and colourfully increased public awareness of science and raised funding for physics education.

His legacies to science and physics are numerous, the two most notable being the Science Foundation for Physics and the International Science School at The University of Sydney, both of which he created more than 50 years ago and which continue to run successfully today. Continue reading Nobel neutrinos; water on Mars; and remembering a great: physics in October

Eureka-winning physics & Science Week wrapup: physics in September

Congratulations to all the physicists whose hard work was recognised in the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes last week. Covering particle physics, nanocrystals, phase-change energy-storage and quantum science, the winners highlight some of the best work in Australian physics.

National Science Week ran last month and was terrifically succesful in getting physics into the public mind. In particular, thousands came to hear astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronaut Chris Hadfield speak, and 18,000 people helped classify over 200,000 galaxies. More detail on that below.

Professor Jodie Bradby from ANU continues the AIP’s annual Women in Physics Lecture Tour. Having visited Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, she still has Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT to go. More details below. Continue reading Eureka-winning physics & Science Week wrapup: physics in September

National Science Week: physics in August

National Science Week is upon us, beginning this Saturday and running until 23 August. The country’s annual celebration of all things scientific will be a festival of physics this year, most notably with visits from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronaut Chris Hadfield, multiple public events and this year’s national experiment: ‘Galaxy Explorer’. There’s more detail on these events later in this bulletin, and a complete listing on the National Science Week website.

The AIP’s annual Women in Physics Lecture Tour is now under way. The 2015 Lecturer, Associate Professor Jodie Bradby from ANU, has already visited Tasmania and Victoria, and next will speak in South Australia, New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT. For Jodie’s complete itinerary, see below. Continue reading National Science Week: physics in August

The Giant Magellan Telescope and rewarding our own physics stars: physics in July

The AIP welcomes the announcement, made last week, of 50 new ARC Future Fellowships. These provide crucial support for our very best mid-career researchers, who are key to the long-term health of Australian science. There’s more on the Fellowships later in this bulletin.

It was also wonderful to have the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Chile given the go-ahead by its 11 international partners, which include Australia – represented by the ANU and Astronomy Australia Limited. The GMT will be the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope, with ten times the resolving power of the Hubble Space Telescope. More on this from ANU astronomer Matthew Colless later in this bulletin.

And while on the topic of major international astronomy research facilities, it was great to see the leaders of the Murchison Widefield Array Project – the precursor to the low frequency component of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) – be awarded one of the 2015 Thomson Reuters Citation Awards, in recognition of their significant contribution made to an emerging research area. Continue reading The Giant Magellan Telescope and rewarding our own physics stars: physics in July

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

Celebrating physics: physics in May

We take a peek at some wonderful Australian physicists and their work in this bulletin, as well as congratulating several AIP Fellows and members whose work has been recognised.

I’d particularly like to congratulate Amanda Barnard (winning the Nobel of nanotech, the Feynman Prize), Claire-Elise Green (CSIRO Scholarship in Physics) and Michelle Simmons (Honorary Bragg Membership of RiAus).

I’m pleased to announce that this year’s AIP Women in Physics Lectureship has been awarded to Jodie Bradby from ANU. A/Prof Bradbury, who is a leader in nano-deformation research at ANU, will be delivering a national tour of physics lectures later this year. More details will follow in another newsletter. Continue reading Celebrating physics: physics in May