AIP fights physics education cuts, photovoltaics and machine-learning, Hidden Physicists, and physics springs into September

Over the past month, the AIP has been lobbying against proposed proposed Federal Government legislation set to significantly cut funding for science degrees in Australia. We believe this will impoverish both teaching and research  ultimately damaging Australia’s ability to produce top-quality physics graduates.

We are grateful to all the members who responded to our call for feedback during the government’s short consultation period. I wish to acknowledge the hard work of A/Prof Gerd Schröder-Turk, the AIP Policy officer who pulled together the AIP submission under difficult circumstances.  It was great to see our submission picked up by many news outlets, including the ABC and Campus Morning Mail. This month’s picture is a screen shot of the story in the Financial Review. See more on this issue below.

This month’s AIP live-streamed event is from Exciton Science and focusses on machine learning to predict the properties of photovoltaic material. Read on for details. And if you missed the 2020 Einstein Lecture ‘The World According to Physics’, co-organised by the AIP NSW branch, you can catch it here.

Read on to meet this month’s Hidden Physicist – communicator and comedian Phil Dooley.

Check out our new regular feature – From the Vault, from the AIP’s magazine, Australian Physics. Our Australian Physics editors, Peter Kappen and David Hoxley, are also seeking articles, poems, cartoons, book reviews – and an editorial assistant! Read on for details.

As always, in this edition of the bulletin you’ll find lots of physics news, physics awards and some excellent physics jobs.

Finally, I am sure many of you will join me in rejoicing that winter 2020 is officially over. Happy Wattle Day!

Kind regards,

Jodie Bradby
President, Australian Institute of Physics
aip_president@aip.org.au

AIP News

AIP condemns proposed undergraduate funding cuts

Science students and faculties will be hit hard by the Federal Government’s Graduates Higher Education Reform Package, the AIP believes.

The package, currently before parliament, will see funding fall overall by 16% for every science student.

We fear that physics departments will not be able to absorb this decrease without a substantial loss of quality in education services delivered.

The package also drives a wedge between funding for research and for teaching. In a submission to the Education Minister, Dan Tehan, responding to the proposed legislation, the AIP noted that “students taught by active researchers are intimately connected and thus inspired by the forefront of the scientific discoveries. Researchers who teach are grounded by the daily reality of the student experience and motivated to make their research more accessible.”

In a recent interview with the Financial Review, AIP President Jodie Bradby went further, arguing that the foreshadowed funding cuts could make Australian STEM degrees “of secondary quality” compared to those on offer overseas.

She warned that the package could result in “significant job losses” across the university physics sector.

After allaying some concerns raised by the National Party regarding its effect on regional universities, the reform package cleared the Lower House last week. It still has to be passed in the Senate, where its passage is not assured.

AIP lobbying – alongside efforts from other sections of the STEM community – will continue.

Photovoltaics and machine-learning: get set for our latest live-streamed event

Join Dr Nas Meftahi, Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, as she explores machine learning approaches that can leverage computationally expensive DFT calculations to estimate key photovoltaics material properties quickly and accurately.

Dr Meftahi’s talk, called A shortcut to property prediction for photovoltaic material through machine learning, is a joint venture between Exciton Science and AIP.

It takes place on Friday, September 4, at 11am AEST.

More info here: https://excitonscience.com/events/exciton-science-webinar-4september2020 

Register here: https://bit.ly/2YBSpg6 

Meet Phil Dooley, this month’s Hidden Physicist
#PhysicsGotMeHere

Employer: Self – Phil Up On Science

Job title and description: I’m a freelance science communicator and trainer with a secret ambition to inspire scientists to wow the world with creative, or at least competent, communication.

The rise of pseudo-science and pseudo-experts has appalled me, so I feel that, as a community, we need to get on the front foot by doing something pretty different.

For me, that is a science-theatre collaboration, called Dramatis Scientificae, with a couple of friends who are career writers/directors/actors. We’re making science shows, skits, music and interviews that feature real scientists alongside our comedic characters.

We’ve got to break the science education mould, the obsession with always teaching people when we talk to them. Over the past 20 years we’ve effectively proven that this approach doesn’t work – just look at the climate change debacle.

I have to do paid work, too. I run pub events, write for Cosmos, the American Physical Society, Nature, and was recently selected for The Best Australian Science Writing anthology for the third time in a row. I also run training courses for scientists, alongside some casual work for ANU Physics.

My career story so far:

I did a PhD in laser physics at ANU, and then ran screaming from academia. With my wife, an environmentalist, I moved to  Rarotonga, where I picked up IT work in the local bank.

Coming back to Australia I decided to try to get rich, working in IT – ending up in software training.

In 2004 both my parents died, which prompted me to realise that I really missed science. So I started following leads to get into science communication – including joining the Australian Science Communicators, which gave me all kinds of amazing connections. I’m now on the national committee.  

I scored a job running the outreach programs at Sydney Uni Physics, and then moved to the UK, doing comms at the current biggest fusion experiment, JET. Not only was it an amazing science experience, but the UK science communication scene blew my mind. I saw a guy called Dr Mark Lewney play Bohemian Rhapsody on electric guitar while the crowd sang quantum mechanics words.

Since coming back to Australia I’ve followed Dr Lewney’s example. I love performing, so I’ve organised Science in the Pub gigs with AIP and other institutions in Canberra, Sydney Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide – getting scientists up on stage too, doing something fun themselves.

I also worked for a time in the ANU media office, where I wrote about 300 press releases.  

Then I reconnected with my old friend Patrick, and the result was a play called The Poet’s Guide to Science, which features scientists conversing with the characters about ‘controversial’ research, such as GM, vaccines or climate science.

We’ve since taken it to the Sydney and Adelaide Fringe Festivals (and had it rejected by Sydney Science Festival!).

Of course, with COVID-19, the live gigs have dried up. So, I’ve now done my first film shoot with a crew, streamed during National Science Week, focussing on women scientists’ adventures. It included live shenanigans onstage in Star Trek costumes. As a PhD graduate, I would not have expected that!

News from our magazine

 Coming up in Australian Physics

In the September/October issue of Australian Physics we have an article on the physics of Ball and Bead lightning by Richard Morrow, an obituary of Dr John Jenkins, and a call to action by Sven Rogge. We also have the regular columns, such as The Young Physicist, #PhysicsGotMeHere and samplings from the best of international research.

The issue will be available very soon, but, for the moment, take a look at what the magazine was covering last century …

FROM THE VAULT: stories from The Australian Physicist

This month in 1980: Sport by computer?

A technique, which had its humble beginnings in a British public house, is now being used in the training programmes of American athletes.

The widest applications are being made by Dr Gideon Ariel and Computerised Biomedical Analysis (CBA) of Amherst, Massachusetts. Far from withholding the probably benefits of his work from America’s competitors in the sporting field, Dr Ariel has been touring Europe recently, introducing interested parties to the scope of his analysis program.

Over 100000 h of program development has been devoted to a technique which treats the performance of the human body in the same way that an engineer considers a bridge.

Read the full story here, on page 126: https://aip.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Australian%20Physics/Aust%20Phys%2017-08.pdf

The Australian Physicist, now Australian Physics, has been produced by the AIP since 1964. It is the oldest science magazine in Australia.

Australian Physics seeks articles, poems, cartoons and book reviews

Australian Physics has been the house magazine of the AIP for more than half a century. It is currently edited, on a voluntary basis, by Dr David Hoxley and Dr Peter Kappen.

David and Peter are dedicated to ensuring the magazine is an enjoyable and informative publication for physicists, physics students, and the physics-curious.

To that end, they invite members to submit material for upcoming issues. They are especially interested in receiving:

  • Pitches for articles describing current research;
  • Physics-themed poetry;
  • Physics-themed cartoons;
  • Reviews of physics-themed books (they might even be able to get the book for you!);
  • Obituaries of recently passed members.

Proposals and finished items can be sent to aip_editor@aip.org.au

Submissions deadline for the next issue is October 1.

And an editorial assistant …

The editors of Australian Physics are searching for an editorial assistant to assist preparing each edition of the magazine.

The role will involve collating articles and advertising for the typesetter by uploading content packages; liaising with the editors and advertisers, and proofreading.

This paid position is expected to take around 15 hours per edition.  If interested, please email a letter of interest and recent CV to editors David Hoxley and Peter Kappen at aip@aip.org.au by September 15.

More physics around the traps

2020 NSW community outreach to physics award nominations open

This award seeks to recognise a NSW physicist who has:

  • worked to engage the academic community in physics;
  • effectively developed community events, or other activities that engage our physics community;
  • increased awareness, knowledge and experiential learning opportunities for students in relation to physics community development and grassroots work.

It consists of $1000, and a certificate citing achievements, and is proudly supported by Laboratories Credit Union.

Nominations close on Friday, October 9. See here for details.

Coronavirus restrictions permitting, it will be presented at the Australian Institute of Physics NSW Postgraduate Awards event on Tuesday 10 November 2020 at the Concord Golf Club, 190 Majors Bay Road Concord. (Entry via Flavelle Street.)

Falling Walls remote 2020: the breakthrough of the year

The Falling Walls Foundation unites researchers from all over the world in its annual Falling Walls Conferences in Berlin. This year, organisers launch Falling Walls Remote 2020: The Breakthroughs of the Year, which aims to showcase, discuss and celebrate new ideas in science and society. Their goal is to empower breakthrough thinking to tackle our world’s most pressing problems. 

Academic institutions, universities, academies, foundations, research-driven companies and individuals can nominate the most recent breakthroughs in 10 categories, including life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences, science management and digital education.  For more information,  please visit www.falling-walls.com/breakthroughyear.

Updates from Science and Technology Australia (STA)

The AIP is a member of STA. Here we provide a summary of their activities for our members.

STA outlined a plan for a STEM-smart recovery from COVID-19. In our supplementary pre-Budget submission, we propose strategic investments to create new jobs, build on Australia’s STEM strengths, and boost sovereign capability.

STA also provided detailed feedback to Government about legislation on the Job-Ready Graduates Package. Several STA member societies also made complementary submissions, including the Australian Institute of Physics and Australian Council of Deans of Science. The legislation was amended last week to address National Party critiques and to add a funding floor. The amended legislation passed the Coalition joint party room meeting. We will continue to engage actively on this topic. 

STA is also scheduled to give evidence alongside colleagues from Universities Australia and the Australian Academy of Science at a Senate inquiry hearing into evidence-based regulation on water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. We made a submission highlighting how the rigorous process of peer review works. 

Nominations are open for seats on the STA Board. They must be lodged by 30 September. This is an excellent opportunity for passionate and diverse STEM professionals to make a thoughtful contribution to our governance.


The ARC Excellence in Research for Australia and the Engagement and Impact Review is now open for public consultation. Submissions close 12 October.

In other developments:

Further information: Peter Derbyshire, STA Policy Manager: peter.derbyshire@sta.org.au

 Australian physics in the news

Researchers tout quantum algorithm to characterise noise

The research explains a way around the main obstacle for building large-scale quantum computers, noise.

Physicists from Australia and North America have announced what they’ve called the first quantum algorithm to characterise noise across large systems.

In a statement from the University of Sydney, it was explained that noise is the main obstacle to building large-scale quantum computers. It said that in order to tame the noise, also known as interference or instability, scientists need to understand how it affects an entire quantum system. 

“Until now this information was only available for very small devices or subsets of devices,” the university said.

In research published in Nature Physics, the team, led by Dr Robin Harper, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney Nano Institute and part of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, shows the development of algorithms that they say will work across large quantum devices.

Read more: https://www.zdnet.com/article/researchers-tout-quantum-algorithm-to-characterise-noise/

Quantum paradox points to shaky foundations of reality

Nearly 60 years ago, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Eugene Wigner captured one of the many oddities of quantum mechanics in a thought experiment. He imagined a friend of his, sealed in a lab, measuring a particle such as an atom while Wigner stood outside. Quantum mechanics famously allows particles to occupy many locations at once—a so-called superposition—but the friend’s observation “collapses” the particle to just one spot. Yet for Wigner, the superposition remains: The collapse occurs only when he makes a measurement sometime later. Worse, Wigner also sees the friend in a superposition. Their experiences directly conflict.

Now, researchers in Australia and Taiwan offer perhaps the sharpest demonstration that Wigner’s paradox is real. In a study published this week in Nature Physics, they transform the thought experiment into a mathematical theorem that confirms the irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of the scenario. The team also tests the theorem with an experiment, using photons as proxies for the humans. Whereas Wigner believed resolving the paradox requires quantum mechanics to break down for large systems such as human observers, some of the new study’s authors believe something just as fundamental is on thin ice: objectivity. It could mean there is no such thing as an absolute fact, one that is as true for me as it is for you.

Read more: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/quantum-paradox-points-shaky-foundations-reality

In brief

Australia to join global search for dark matter from underground Vic lab
https://www.abc.net.au/radio/sydney/programs/am/australia-to-join-global-search-for-dark-matter/12605162

Beyond black hole’s horizon, artists find maelstrom of meaning
https://www.theage.com.au/culture/art-and-design/beyond-black-hole-s-horizon-artists-find-maelstrom-of-meaning-20200816-p55m52.html

Major quantum computational breakthrough is shaking up physics and maths
https://www.australiantimes.co.uk/technology/major-quantum-computational-breakthrough-is-shaking-up-physics-and-maths/

Murdoch University scraps prestigious course amid suspicions of payback for whistleblowing
https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/murdoch-university-scraps-prestigious-course-amid-suspicions-of-payback-for-whistleblowing-20200818-p55mqx.html

Virtual Sydney Science Trail features Indigenous specialists in their fields
https://nit.com.au/virtual-sydney-science-trail-features-indigenous-specialists-in-their-fields/

Calling scientists and creatives for new residency at Sydney Observatory
https://visual.artshub.com.au/news-article/sponsored-content/museums/gina-fairley/calling-scientists-and-creatives-for-new-residency-at-sydney-observatory-260935

Jobs Corner – physics employment opportunities

PhDs in Ocean Dynamics at ANU

Multiple PhD opportunities are available for physics and maths graduates to join the Climate and Fluid Physics group at the Australian National University.

Example projects with top-up scholarships available include:

Other projects in line with the group’s broad research interests are also possible (from large-scale ocean circulation to internal waves, turbulence and ocean model development). 

We seek expressions of interest from domestic graduates with a strong background in physics, mathematics, engineering, dynamical oceanography or similar quantitative sciences. Top-up scholarships of $7000/year for 3.5 years are available for outstanding applicants, and we will guide you through the application process for the primary Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship.

Email Adele Morrison (adele.morrison@anu.edu.au), Andy Hogg (andy.hogg@anu.edu.au) and/or Callum Shakespeare (callum.shakespeare@anu.edu.au) with questions or expressions of interest (including a CV, academic transcript and contact details for academic referees) by 30th of September 2020. Applications will be assessed on an ongoing basis.

http://rses.anu.edu.au/research/groups/climate-and-fluid-physics/phd-top-ups-in-climate-and-fluid-physics

PhD Scholarship at The University of Queensland: Scalable and reversible computing with integrated nanomechanics

EXCITING OPPORTUNITY TO JOIN A WORLD CLASS TEAM at the Queensland Quantum Optics Lab.  This is an earmarked scholarship to support Category 1 project grants and is funded in collaboration with Lockheed Martin Corporation. 

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in physics or related discipline and have an interest in nanotechnology, photonics or precision measurements.  Open to Australian permanent residents or NZ citizens.

This project aims to build the first scalable computing architecture based on nanomechanical motion, integrated on a silicon chip and proven in harsh environments. This could extend the performance of computers in space and high-radiation environments, e.g. allowing robust satellite stabilisation. The project will leverage our know-how in phononics and nanofabrication to enable previously unprecedented control of nanomechanical motion, and exquisitely low energy dissipation. It aims to construct a nanomechanical processor capable of digital servo control, built from nanomechanical waveguides, transistors, logic gates and analogue-to-digital converters. It will also develop reversible logic gates, a key step towards ultralow-power computing.

https://scholarships.uq.edu.au/scholarship/earmarked-scholarships-support-category-1-project-grants#qt-scholarship_tabs-foundation-tabs-1

THE QUEENSLAND QUANTUM OPTICS LABORATORY is part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) and undertakes research in both fundamental tests of quantum mechanics and advanced quantum technologies with future applications in metrology, communication and computation. For more information see www.physics.uq.edu.au/QOlab/.

To check your eligibility and prepare your documentation contact Professor Warwick Bowen w.bowen@uq.edu.au or Dr Glen Harris g.harris2@uq.edu.au to discuss your suitability for this scholarship prior to submitting an application via the UQ Graduate School.

This scholarship provides a stipend of $28,092 per annum indexed annually and tuition fees. Applications close: 31 December 2020 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

PhD Scholarship at The University of Queensland: Quantum Optomechanical Ultrasound Sensing

Project Summary

Quantum optomechanics explores the interaction between light and mechanical motion at a level where the quantised nature of light, or the zero-point fluctuations of motion, play a significant role. This project aims to leverage quantum optomechanical technologies, which have traditionally been used for fundamental quantum science research, to enable the next generation of acoustic sensors for Naval applications.

Project Description

Quite generally, cavity optomechanical sensors consist of a mechanically compliant element coupled to a low loss optical cavity. When the mechanical element is exposed to an external force it is displaced in response. In the situation considered here, this force arises from an acoustic wave. The conversion from displacement to an optical response typically occurs via dispersive coupling, whereby the mechanical displacement alters the cavity length, and therefore the optical resonance frequency. The optical cavity serves to resonantly enhance the optical response to this displacement, enabling attometer displacement resolution and ultra-precise measurement of the acoustic wave.

The ultimate sensitivity of optomechanical sensors is set either by the thermal fluctuations of the mechanical element or by the intrinsic quantum mechanical properties of laser light, with the latter presenting an opportunity to further enhance performance by using non-classical states of light (i.e. squeezed light). The optical field also introduces quantum back-action on the mechanical element via radiation pressure forces, which can be used to control the acoustic state (i.e. effective temperature and resonant frequency) of the compliant mirror.

The optomechanical system considered in this project will build upon our recently developed device, which achieved a sensitivity two orders of magnitude better than existing in-air technologies when normalised to device area. Optimising the mechanical and optical properties of this device, with guidance from finite-element-modelling, is expected to enhance the performance by at least one order-of-magnitude.

To be eligible, you must meet the entry requirements for a higher degree by research.For more information contact Dr Glen Harris  g.harris2@uq.edu.au To apply, visit: https://scholarships.uq.edu.au/scholarship/phd-scholarship-quantum-optomechanical-ultrasound-sensing

This scholarship provides a stipend of $40,000 per annum for 3.5 years plus $6,000 p.a travel budget. Applications close: 31 December 2020 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

The AIP is happy to provide a free link to your physics-related job or PhD opportunity. Please send them to physics@scienceinpublic.com.au. If you would like to feature more details and a picture, please email Kirrily Rule for more information and pricing. 

Optical Engineer (Melbourne)

Data Scientist – Defence Health (Melbourne)

Medical Physicist (Gold Coast)

Junior Data Scientist (Sydney)

Physics teacher (Melbourne)

Data Scientist (Sydney)

Quantitative Analyst (Sydney)

Senior Process Engineer – Device Fabrication CSIRO (Sydney)

CB & GF Robertson Research Fellowship UWA (Perth)

Research Fellow Thermal-solar energy (ANU)

Student scholarships/top-ups/internships/vacation scholar programs

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate scholarships CSIRO

PhD Scholarship Monash Uni – Mapping a glassy “phase diagram”

Funded PhD Project – Role of structure in glass formation and mechanical properties (Monash University)

PhD scholarship for the Australian Research Council Discovery Project on unravelling the dominant drivers of ion specificity

PhD Scholarships – physics and engineering – ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (TMOS)

PhD Scholarship – Prediction of new electrolyte solutions for improved electrical energy storage (University of Queensland)