AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS

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The AIP runs a monthly bulletin that goes out to over 4000 scientists, future scientists and those interested in science!

To subscribe to the AIP bulletin, please email aip@aip.org.au.

To provide physics news, please email physics@scienceinpublic.com.au.

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Previous AIP bulletins can be found here. Bulletins prior to June 2021 can be found here.

  • 29 Sep 2023 2:46 PM | Anonymous

    The Australian Institute of Physics and the Astronomical Society of Australia collaborated on a joint response to the Australian Government’s Australia's draft science and research priorities– the document intended to shape a long-term vision for the Australian science system.

    This process is being led by the Office of the Chief Scientist and the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

    Joint statement:

    The Astronomical Society of Australia and the Australian Institute of Physics welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft Priorities. As representatives of two of Australia’s peak bodies for the physical sciences, we are pleased to see the contributions of our disciplines, astronomy and physics, recognised in the draft.

    While the draft Priorities capture several important challenges and opportunities, we have identified two critical gaps. Specifically, we suggest that the Priorities would be strengthened by:

    1.       Explicit inclusion of critical technologies in communication and positioning, timing and sensing. These are currently the only broad areas which appear in the Government’s List of Critical Technologies in the National Interest but are not included in the draft Priorities.
     
    2.       Inclusion of discovery research as a further Priority. This fundamental pillar underpins all other Priorities. If this is not possible due to the broad scope of discovery research, we suggest including an explicit statement (for example, in a preamble) to emphasize the essential role of such research in all Priorities. This needs to be the main focus of Australia’s science and research effort, with any specific initiatives being supported in parallel.

    We now provide more context to these suggestions.

     (1)    We were surprised to find several critical technologies missing in “Priority 3: Enabling a productive and innovative economy” under “Harnessing emerging technologies at scale” and “Creating future industries”. Specifically, communications and positioning, timing and sensing are the only broad critical technology areas (from the Government’s List of Critical Technologies in the National Interest) not appearing in the draft Priorities. We advocate for correcting this, via an explicit reference in the list of emerging technologies on p. 11:

           Australia will build new industries and accelerate productivity by having sovereign knowledge and access to develop and harness impactful emerging technologies, particularly in advanced navigation, sensing and communication; AI; quantum; and biotechnology.

    Australian physics and astronomy have a proud history of leading in several critical technology areas. Indeed, two explicitly listed focus areas, quantum and semiconductors, have come out of discovery physics research. Many aspects of two further areas, advanced radio and optical communications, and satellite and positioning technologies, have emerged from astronomy and physics research.

    Australia currently has several competitive advantages in communications, positioning, timing and sensing. These research areas also contribute to national security. The counterfactual of not investing in these areas – as would be the case if they are not included in the Priorities – would have Australia lag behind competitor economies in building industries of the future, and not have sufficiently advanced sovereign capability.

    (2)      We were disappointed to not see fundamental, discovery research as a fifth, underpinning national Priority. As stated in the Terms of Reference, the Priorities are “a signal-setting tool, give clarity on the areas government considers important and help encourage activity and growth in these areas”.

    Omission of fundamental research from the list sends a message that this is not a priority for Australia, with downstream consequences for translational and applied research in due time. This point was also explicitly raised in the submissions to the Priorities Taskforce by the Australian Academy of Science and Science and Technology Australia, the two organisations with the largest reach and hence best placed to speak on behalf of all Australian scientists; as well as in the peak bodies roundtable attended by our representatives.

    In our own disciplines, fundamental physics research has led to quantum and semiconductor technologies. Fundamental research in astronomy has enabled accurate positioning including via GPS, minimized disruptions to vital satellite services and electrical power grids, improved medical imaging techniques, and facilitated development of smart phone cameras and WiFi networks. Research excellence by Australian astronomers has also led to direct $1.8 billion foreign investment in Australia through construction of the Square Kilometre Array. None of this would have happened without sustained investment in fundamental physics and astronomy research.

    Fundamental science is also essential for inspiring people, and attracting them to STEM. An explicit focus area in the National Science Statement is to “enable and grow a STEM-skilled workforce” – but participation by Australians in STEM subjects is stagnating or going backwards. Yet Australia needs skilled professionals to fill a rapidly-growing number of STEM jobs (e.g. 1.1 million tech jobs by 2030). Discovery sciences such as astronomy and physics are often the gateway for STEM-curious minds. They also make a large contribution to training a STEM-capable workforce that benefits the nation. For example, almost one third of astronomy PhD graduates become data science specialists, contributing widely across the Australian economy in areas as diverse as energy, biotech and medical industries, defence research, supercomputing, business and non-profit enterprises. Physics graduates make similarly broad contributions. Any reduction in focus on fundamental research is likely to undermine this production pipeline, with potentially serious long-term consequences.

    Finally, fundamental sciences such as astronomy and physics provide an exceptional opportunity for both international and domestic engagement. Worldwide collaborations, across cultures, are essential for advancing these disciplines. The fact that every culture has its own relation to the sky gives us an opportunity to engage on a fundamental level with other cultures and nations, especially Australia’s First Nations – the world’s oldest astronomers.

    For these reasons, we strongly support the recent statement by the Academy of Science on the importance of appropriately resourced discovery research. We respectfully suggest that the Priorities should reflect this, by listing fundamental research as an underpinning pillar.

    Thank you for consideration of our suggestions above, and for your stewardship of Australian science.

    See the complete statement.

  • 27 Sep 2023 4:14 PM | Anonymous
    Headshots of Professor Mahananda Dasgupta and Emeritus Professor David John HindeWe know explosive stellar events can form superheavy elements, but describing exactly how this happens pushes the boundaries of our understanding of physics and chemistry.

    On Earth, researchers can synthesise superheavy elements at accelerator laboratories through fusion of two heavy nuclei. Understanding the many-body quantum dynamics involved is crucial for successfully forming superheavy nuclides in the lab and gives us new insight into how this may occur in cosmic stellar events.

    Professor Mahananda Dasgupta and Emeritus Professor David John Hinde, both from the Australian National University, are jointly awarded the 2023 Walter Boas Medal for Excellence in Research for ‘elucidating the crucial roles and mechanisms of nuclear structure in the synthesis of superheavy nuclei’.

    Dasgupta and Hinde have revealed key physics at each of the three stages in the synthesis of superheavy nuclides. They’ve achieved this through innovative measurements made on specialist instrumentation they developed for this purpose.

    Their research has contributed to Australia’s leading role in nuclear reaction dynamics, drawing invitations to join international superheavy element collaborations, and attracting top research teams to Australia to run experiments.

    The Walter Boas Medal was established in 1984 to promote excellence in research in Physics and to commemorate the life and work of Walter Moritz Boas, who was an AIP Honorary Fellow.

    The Medal is awarded annually for original research that makes an important contribution to physics in Australia.

  • 4 Sep 2023 12:03 PM | Anonymous
    • Front cover of the Review of the Australian Research Council Act 2001 The Government’s response to the Final Report of the Independent Review panel: Trusting Australia’s Ability: Review of the Australian Research Council Act 2001, was released on 20 August 2023.

      “The report is very welcome news,” said AIP President Nicole Bell.

      “The Government intends to implement all the key recommendations of the ARC review, including changes that the Australian Institute of Physics advocated for.”

      The ARC’s Chief Executive Officer, Ms Judi Zielke PSM, said in a media release that the final report is a strong endorsement of the role and positive impact the ARC has had on Australia’s research capability over the last 20 years.

      It affirms the broader reform schedule the ARC is already undertaking to restore stakeholder trust and drive excellent research for the advancement of all Australians.

      “The Government’s response to the review confirms the ARC’s role in underpinning and shaping the national research landscape.

      It will define in legislation our role in supporting basic and strategic basic research as well as applied research, research integrity, evaluation of the excellence, quality and impact of research in Australian universities, and the development of researchers through their career progression.”

      “There is significant work already underway at the ARC to address the recommendations that do not require legislative change, such as those relating to grant guidelines improvements and reduction of administrative burden for researchers, universities and partners.

      We are also consulting with Indigenous researchers regarding the establishment of an ARC Indigenous Forum,” Ms Zielke said.

      Australian Academy of Science President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said in a media release that the underlying theme of the review is that of trust with a strong emphasis on the critical role of the ARC in Australia’s research system.

      “The role of the ARC, its leadership and the execution of its functions should reflect our aspirations for the research landscape, for research excellence and how they can best support our national ambitions,” Professor Jagadish said.

      “The recommendations in the review provide a strong basis to support this purpose and the ongoing effectiveness of the ARC.

      “The Academy welcomes the recommendation that the commitment to funding basic research should be incorporated into the ARC’s purpose under the Act.

      “The Academy views this as important to safeguard fundamental research that grows our knowledge base.”

      The Academy also endorsed several other noteworthy recommendations to:

    • restore the ARC Board and populate it with members with the right combination of skills and experience
    • discontinue Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) and modernise ARC capacity and requirements for data collection and analysis
    • streamline National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) guidelines to reflect international best practice and reduce the administrative burden on academic and research organisations.

    Professor Jagadish said the focus of ministerial discretion on the NCGP guidelines and funding available, rather than on individual grants, would place the recommendations and approvals in the hands of the people with the expertise to assess their merit.

    “It is positive to see the recommendations to advance Indigenous Australians in research and recognition of the impact of the ARC on attracting and retaining research talent,” Professor Jagadish said.

    The Report and the Government’s response can be found at: Review of the Australian Research Council Act 2001 - Department of Education, Australian Government.


  • 30 Aug 2023 12:07 PM | Anonymous

    Black and white photo of Emeritus Professor John White We were saddened to learn of the recent death of John White, FAIP.

    John, originally from Newcastle, studied chemistry at the University of Sydney and then at Oxford where, after gaining his doctorate, he was appointed a Fellow of St John’s College.

    In 1985, John returned to Australia as Professor of Physical & Theoretical Chemistry at ANU, continuing his research on the application of neutron scattering to a wide variety of problems in chemistry.

    A distinguished scientist, John was a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science and the Royal Society of London. Additionally, in Australia he helped to establish ISCAST – Christians in Science and Technology; serving as its President from 1992 to 2006.

    Read about John on Wikipedia


  • 1 Aug 2023 10:07 AM | Anonymous

    Front cover of the Universities Accord interim report

    Last week, the Universities Accord interim report was released. In November 2022, Education Minister Jason Clare appointed a panel to conduct a review to drive lasting reform in Australia’s higher education system, to deliver a system that meets the current and future needs of the nation, and targets to achieve this.

    The Australian Institute of Physics, the professional body representing Australian physicists, considers this interim report a missed opportunity to recommend the real changes that are needed to secure Australia’s future. We hope the final report will go further.

    The report includes several potential proposals including significantly increasing immediate investment in the Australian Research Council, increasing PhD stipend rate, and moving NCRIS to sustainable ongoing funding. The AIP would like to see these proposals elevated to priority actions in the final report.

    However, the failure to recommend a visionary scale-up of Australia’s research sector, to drive stronger job creation, is a significant missed opportunity. Only with stronger investment in research can science address the challenges of the future. This is particularly concerning in light of the latest official data (published in May 2023) that shows that Australian Government investment in R&D has plummeted to its lowest level since 1978.

    We share the view of Science & Technology Australia president Professor Mark Hutchinson that “The final report should enshrine an ambitious target for Australia’s R&D investment – mirroring the 3% of GDP target the Australian Labor Party promised the Australian people before the last election – and recommend a plan and timetable to achieve it.”

  • 31 Jul 2023 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    (Original text adapted from Macquarie University)

    It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Emeritus Professor James (Jim) Piper AM on 20 July. Jim was a Fellow of the AIP and the winner of our first Boas Medal.

    A true pioneer of laser physics in Australia, Professor Piper served the University for a remarkable 38 years, including 10 years as Macquarie University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from 2003 to 2013.

    Professor Piper joined Macquarie University in 1975 following his postdoctoral period at Oxford University. In the years that followed, he established the University as a leading international centre for lasers, photonics and optics. Many of Professor Piper’s extraordinary achievements as a physicist are documented in the Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation.

    Professor Piper remained active in research after his retirement, securing an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant in 2020 to develop a lanthanide-doped nanomaterial for use in anti-counterfeit security inks. The Linkage program  was a scheme that Professor Piper  was instrumental in establishing, having served on the Australian Research Council for 10 years.

    As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Piper is credited with establishing the foundations for Macquarie’s trajectory as a research institution. He developed the University’s first strategic research plan and established the CORE (Concentrations of Research Excellence) program, which nurtured many of Macquarie’s current research leaders.

    The Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership is awarded every two years in his honour, recognising Macquarie academics who share with Professor Piper the rare combination of outstanding proficiency in both research and leadership.

    In 2014, Professor Piper was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “significant service to tertiary education, particularly through research in applied laser physics”.

    Despite the volume of his professional achievements, it is Professor Piper’s character for which he will be most fondly remembered by his colleagues. He was esteemed for his generosity, down-to-earth manner and sense of humour, and will be much missed by those who knew him, including the many students and colleagues who benefited from his mentorship.

    We celebrate Professor Piper’s enduring imprint on Macquarie University and Australian science.

    S Bruce Dowton MD
    Vice-Chancellor and President

    (Image credit: Macquarie University)

  • 3 Jul 2023 1:48 PM | Anonymous

    AIP logoThe AIP Executive is looking for an enthusiastic Awards Officer to administer the AIP’s awards, which are among our highest-profile activities.

    The Awards Officer manages the administration of the AIP awards – from communicating with state Branches and recruiting selection panel members, to arranging for the awards to be presented to the winners at the AIP Congress or Summer Meeting.

    The Awards Officer is a member of the AIP National Executive, attends Executive and Council meetings, and is a full participant in Executive level conversations and decisions.

    The new appointee will replace Dr Joanna Turner, who will be stepping down from the role after four years of service.

    “It’s a great way to grow your network across the Australian physics community, and make connections with those working in many physics sub-disciplines,” says Joanna.

    It is expected that the Awards Officer would perform this role for 2 to 3 years.

    If you are interested in finding out more, please contact us at executive@aip.org.au today.


  • 2 Jul 2023 1:50 PM | Anonymous

    “Physics is a creative and innovative discipline at the forefront of technology – nearly every technological device we have today started as an idea in a physicist's mind. As I’ve moved through my career, I've noted that physicists are often called upon to solve the hard and complex problems,” says AIP Vice President Dr Stuart Midgley.

    “Their strong analytical skills and robust training allow them to see patterns and identify traits which are unobserved by others. Their creative minds allow them to find solutions to problems and then test and prove the effectiveness. Their desire to ‘know’ means they don’t give up until they work it out,” says Stuart.

    This year the AIP Executive welcomed Stuart as Vice President, supporting President Nicole Bell.

    Stuart has a PhD in computational theoretical physics from the University of Western Australia (Quantum Waveguide Theory) and has worked in academia, national computing facilities and industry.

    With over 25 years’ experience in the high-performance computing sector, Stuart has been using, programming, administering, designing, building, and now ‘evangelising’ some of the largest HPC systems in the world.

    He is currently Program Leader for High Performance Computing at Defence Science Technology Group.

    “I see the next couple of decades as an exciting time to be a physicist!

    Stuart says several significant announcements from the Australian Government have recently highlighted the need for strong physicist pipelines from all of our institutions, such as:

    • Defence strategic review
    • AUKUS, including nuclear submarines, Quantum, AI, hypersonics etc.
    • Quantum Strategy.

    “While these announcements will lead to direct employment of physicists, the largest opportunity is in the private sector. All of these announcements have industry engagement at their heart. Solving real-world problems for immediate concerns will drive a huge uptake of physicists in industry,' he says.

    “To support these announcements, the ambitions of physicists and our community, the AIP is on a course to aid and assist the transition of our members and peers from the academic environment into industry.

    “As we see in the #PhysicsGotMeHere profiles, there are endless versions of what a career in physics might look like. Upcoming pieces on the careers of our life-members will show the breadth and enthusiasm the physics community even into retirement.

    “We are working on a nationwide jobs fair activity to connect industry with physicists.  We will continue to showcase members and their activities, highlighting where a creative mind and strong problem-solving skills can take you.

    “For me, success is when ASX listed companies have a position with title “Chief Physicist” – that person to whom you take all the ‘unsolvable’ problems.”

    You can contact Stuart at vicepresident@aip.org.au or

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/hpcaddict @HPCAddict

  • 4 Jun 2023 6:30 PM | Anonymous

    Join us for a Public Lecture with 2023 Shaw Prize recipient Professor Matthew Bailes at The University of Tasmania and online. Thursday 8 June, 6:30PM AEST.  

    In this talk, Matthew will take you on a virtual tour of Einstein's Universe, and what we've learnt about it, using neutron stars, black holes and some of the world's most powerful telescopes.

    The Zoom details for this lecture are:

    Topic: AIP June Public Lecture - Exploring Einstein's Universe
    Time: Jun 8, 2023 06:30 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

    Join Zoom Meeting
    https://utas.zoom.us/j/87807329707

    Meeting ID: 878 0732 9707 Dial in by Phone: +61 3 7018 2005 Australia

    Join by H.323/SIP
    87807329707@zoom.aarnet.edu.au





  • 31 May 2023 3:32 PM | Anonymous

    We welcome Dr Michael Schmidt, Senior Lecturer at UNSW and Research Director of UNSW School of Physics, to the role of AIP Honorary Secretary.

    Michael is a theoretical particle physicist working on physics beyond the Standard Model.

    “My main research focus is the physics of neutrinos, very light fundamental particles, and their connection to other physics, like ‘flavour physics’ and early universe physics,” he says.

    “My main research questions are around the origin of neutrino masses and explanations for the three-fold replication (flavours) of all matter, their masses and interactions.”

    Michael takes over the secretary role from Associate Professor Kirrily Rule, who recently stepped down after six years of dedicated service in the role.

    The Honorary National Secretary is a company director of the AIP, contributing to strategic decisions and helping to coordinate the Institute's day-to-day activities.

    “I have a particular passion for fundamental physics, and the role of honorary secretary provides a great opportunity to engage with other physicists, advocate for physics research and development, and raise awareness of the importance of physics in society,” says Michael.

    “As secretary, I look forward to enhancing member engagement, to encourage more active physicists to join AIP, and of course, to ensure the effective functioning of the AIP so it can keep being a strong voice for the Australian physics community.”

    You can connect with Michael:

    Email: m.schmidt@unsw.edu.au, secretary@aip.org.au

    Twitter: @micha_a_schmidt

    LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/micha-a-schmidt/

    Mastodon: @micha_a_schmidt@sciencemastodon.com 


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