Black Lives Matter, gravity wave detector, Hidden Physicist in review, physics in the news, and more physics fun in July

This month’s photo is the AIP National Executive team on a recent Zoom meeting. I’m sure many of you have had hours and hours of such meetings over the past few months and for those who are doing online teaching or learning I sincerely hope you get a wonderful mid-year break and stay well.

This month we welcomed the news that Murdoch University has dropped its legal action against AIP member Dr Gerd Schroder-Turk. The AIP strongly defends the rights of staff and students to respectfully question their organisations in the pursuit of excellence, equality, and freedom of speech.

Read the latest on the case below.

We also added our voice to the statement released by Science and Technology Australia supporting the #BlackLivesMatter and #AboriginalLivesMatter movements. Read the full statement below.

On June 19 the government’s proposed education package was announced which will see students paying much more for various humanities degrees but also a total funding reduction for science of about $4,758 per student. I spoke to a Times Higher Education reporter about my disappointment at this announcement. You can find the story later in this bulletin.

In this bulletin we look back on a full year of our Hidden Physicists, #PhysicsGotMeHere series. I am always in awe of all the amazing things people do with a physics degree.

The proposed Australian high-frequency gravitational wave detector is the subject of the next AIP-FLEET seminar. Read on for details.

Nominations are open for the AIP Executive roles, including President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Registrar. See below.

Huge congratulations to CSIRO Chief Scientist and past AIP president Dr Cathy Foley AO, and 2011 Women in Physics lecturer Professor Tamara Davis AM, who were both recognised in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours List. See below for details.

From X-ray-spewing pulsars to a citizen science project measuring light pollution, there have been some brilliant stories of Australian physics in the news recently. Take a look at our top picks below.

And, of course, you’ll find listings for exciting physics jobs and other upcoming events.

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

AIP News

The OzGrav High Frequency gravitational wave detector is the subject of the next AIP-FLEET live-streamed talk

The planned Australian high-frequency gravitational wave detector will be invaluable for understanding the physics of binary neutron stars. OzGrav’s Paul Lasky will explain how in the next of the monthly series of talks from physics-themed Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence organised by AIP and the Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET).

The free live-streamed event will take place on Friday, July 3, at 10am AEST.  Head to https://monash.zoom.us/j/99757729237 and use the password ‘AIP-OzGrav’.

More details here: https://aip.org.au/event/ozgrav-high-frequency-ozhf-gravitational-wave-detector-ozgrav-streamed-seminar/

Global STEM community backs justice, equality, and respect

The AIP endorses the following statement released by Science and Technology Australia on Wednesday 10 June 2020.

Today our colleagues in the STEM community all around the world speak as one in support of equality, respect and justice – and we raise our voices with theirs.

In recent weeks, we have drawn hope from seeing so many people globally support the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter and #AboriginalLivesMatter movements to end racism, injustice and inequality.

The science, technology, engineering and maths workforce in Australia joins our colleagues worldwide in the STEM community to express our support for these defining values.

This movement has called attention not only to Indigenous deaths in custody in our country and abroad, but also to racism, exclusion, disrespect and a lack of safety for people of colour.

This historic moment offers all Australians an opportunity to ask ourselves and our leaders what more can and should be done to end inequality and injustice.

STA members Deadly Science and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance work daily to celebrate Indigenous excellence, create opportunity and tackle inequality.

We stand together to say there is no place for exclusion, inequality or injustice anywhere – including in the STEM community.

Throughout today, Science & Technology Australia will use our social media channels to highlight the sophisticated STEM expertise embedded in Indigenous knowledge systems across this country.

We invite members of our own communities across Australia to share this content, along with their own messages of hope, respect, dignity, and strong support for equality.

Joint statement from:
Science & Technology Australia President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie
Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert
Deadly Science founder Corey Tutt
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance Chair Professor Chris Matthews
Science & Technology Australia EDI committee co-chair Tanya Ha
Science & Technology Australia EDI committee co-chair Associate Professor Sumeet Walia

Looking back at a year of Hidden Physicists

#PhysicsGotMeHere

Each month for the past year, we have profiled physics graduates and the places they’ve ended up. Looking back at them demonstrates just how many career paths a degree can open up!

June 2019 – Stuart Midgley: Systems Architect for DownUnder GeoSolutions. Stuart builds supercomputers, invents cooling systems, and writes high-performance computing applications.

July 2019 – Eliza-Jane Pearsall: Assistant Director of the Policy Analysis section for the Department of Social Services. Eliza-Jane’ssection builds and uses a model of the entire Australian pensions, allowances, family payments, childcare payments and personal tax system to provide estimates of the cost and broader effects of proposed policy changes.

August 2019 – Matthew Lay: Registered Patent Attorney, Associate at FB Rice. Matthew’s work includes drafting patent applications covering scientific instrumentation, medical devices, and mining tools.

September 2019 – Jane Turner: Chief Petrophysicist at Woodside Energy Ltd. Jane is responsible for ensuring all petrophysical work performed by Woodside or on its behalf is reliable, transparent and fit for purpose.

October 2019 – Mark Turner: CEO of Turner Laser Systems LLC. In 2018 Mark founded a silicon valley start-up that provides laser micro-machining solutions to high-tech manufacturing companies.

November 2019 – Virginia Drumm: Radiation Oncology Medical Physicist at Icon Cancer Centre, Warrnambool. Virginia looks after the linear accelerator used to deliver radiotherapy to treat cancer patients, and was responsible for collecting the data to characterise the machine.

December 2019 – Max Post: Area Operations Manager for Holcim Australia & New Zealand. Max is responsible for managing the operations of several concrete-manufacturing plants in the Melbourne.

February 2020 – Toby Hendy: YouTube Content Creator. Toby makes videos about physics and maths on her channel, ‘Tibees’.

March 2020 – Andreas Schreiber: Bioinformatics leader, Centre of Cancer Biology and the ACRF Cancer Genomics Facility in Adelaide. Andreas uses computational and statistical techniques to analyse molecular data produced with the aid of modern high-throughput genome sequencing machines.

April 2020 – Jonathan Hall: Co-founder and director of Life Whisperer & Presagen. Jonathan uses a machine-learning medical imaging technique to identify viable human embryos prior to implantation.

May 2020 – Sarah Lugay: Senior Consultant (Cyber Security) for EY. Sarah’s team provides companies, including banks, with guidance on securing their systems against cyber-threats such as malware, hackers, human error and downtime.

June 2020 – Matthew Wiggins: Health Physicist at Radiation and Nuclear Sciences,  Queensland Health. Matthew provides radiation science-based solutions to the Queensland Government, as well as other public and private sector clients.

If you’d like to nominate a ‘hidden’ physicist for us to profile please email physics@scienceinpublic.com.au

Nominations open for Executive roles

Every two years the AIP elects a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Registrar. Any financial Member, Fellow or Honary Fellow can be nominated for these positions. Under the institute’s constitution, the current president and vice president can’t seek re-election for the same position.

Nominations for all positions are now open, and will close on August 21 2020.

If you’d like to submit one, it should be accompanied by signed endorsements from two financial Members, Fellows or Honorary Fellows, as well as a letter of consent from the nominee.

Send the documents via email to aip@aip.org.au, or by mail to AIP, PO Box 480, West Ryde, NSW 1685, Australia.

The current Executive has put forward the following nominations:

  • Sven Rogge (as President)
  • Kirrily Rule (as Honorary Secretary)
  • Stephen Collins (as Honorary Registrar)
  • Judith Pollard (as Honorary Treasurer)

The positions will be decided at the Annual General Meeting of the AIP in February next year.

Nominations open for Queensland’s excellence in physics teaching award

The Queensland branch of the AIP wants to honour an outstanding high school physics teacher. 

It is looking for a talented educator who promotes student interest in physics, mentors other physics teachers and enjoys continuous professional development as an effective science educator.

The successful nominee will receive a cash prize, plaque, and certificate.

If you have a colleague, or perhaps an inspiring teacher in your circle of friends, please consider nominating them by filling out this form and sending it to: aip_branchsecretary_qld@aip.org.au. Deadline is Friday, July 24.

More honours for Australian physicists

Queen’s Birthday Honours

CSIRO Chief Scientist, past AIP president and Honorary AIP Fellow, Cathy Foley received an AO for distinguished service to research science, to the advancement of women in physics, and to professional scientific organisations. Cathy is a superconductivity expert, blue laser pioneer, and champion for women in science. The award follows her election to the Australian Academy of Science in May.

2011 AIP Women in Physics lecturer Tamara Davis, from the University of Queensland, received an AM for significant service to astrophysical science, to education, and to young astronomers. Tamara is a leader in the fields of dark energy and supernovae. You can watch a video about her research here.

Read the full 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours list here: https://www.theage.com.au/national/queen-s-birthday-2020-honours-the-full-list-of-this-year-s-winners-20200607-p550cd.html

Other physics opportunities

Webinar for early career physics teachers 

A webinar to help early career physics teachers come to grips with changes to curriculum and assessment criteria is being organised by the Vicphysics Teachers’ Network. Experienced teachers might also like join in.

The event will be held on Friday, July 10,  between 9:30am and 12:30pm.

More information and registration here: https://www.vicphysics.org/webinar.html

Australian physics in the news

STEM fee cuts in Australia “don’t add up”

From Times Higher Education:

The Australian government’s proposal to slash tuition fees for STEM courses helps signpost the importance of STEM to the country’s future, but the government has mixed the message by cutting the overall funding envelope, according to commentators.

Education minister Dan Tehan has said that a key objective of the proposals is to boost graduate numbers in areas of expected employment growth, including STEM.

The government says that it wants to align course fees and subsidies with the real costs of teaching. It estimates that funding for science courses currently exceeds teaching costs by about $3,750 a year, suggesting that the proposals will bring the two closely in line.

AIP President Jodie Bradby said the overall funding reduction for science, which will lose $4,758 per student per year under the government’s proposals, had caught the sector off guard. “This is not at all what we were expecting.

“To have it announced this year when the sector is facing a big hole from the lack of overseas students plus additional costs [from] transitioning rapidly to off-campus education – [and] then, shockingly, we get less money. I was hoping that there would be something to help us through the next 18 months or so.”

Details are yet to emerge about some elements of the government’s proposals, including the $900 million STEM-focused National Priorities Industry and Linkage Fund.

Source: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/maths-fee-cut-australia-doesnt-add

Murdoch University withdraws case against AIP member Dr Gerd Schröder-Turk

From ABC News:

Murdoch University has withdrawn all legal action against associate professor and AIP member Gerd Schröder-Turk following widespread criticism for trying to silence him after he raised concerns about student welfare and admission standards in a Four Corners program last year.

For speaking publicly about his concerns, the university sought to remove Gerd from his position on the university’s Senate

Following the withdrawal of the case, Murdoch University stated, “Associate Professor Schröder-Turk remains a valued member of both the Murdoch University academy and of the Murdoch University Senate.”

As part of the settlement, the university has also promised it will facilitate a comprehensive and independent review of its Senate governance processes.

Gerd told the ABC the case had taken a toll but he was thrilled with the outcome.

“It’s been a difficult year which was at times pretty hurtful. It’s certainly affected my family as well,” he said.

“I think it is essential that open debate about problems that exist in the sector and I think academics should be encouraged to raise concerns that they have.

“I think good debate would suggest when a topic is raised it is taken seriously and discussed.

“What I hope is the outcome of this court case will empower academics to make sure that the public debate is had.”

Gerd was one of three Murdoch academics who told a Four Corners investigation they were concerned for the welfare of a group of international students who were failing courses in higher than normal numbers.

After the broadcast he launched legal action seeking an injunction to stop the university taking disciplinary action against him and seeking to reinforce his right to academic freedom of expression.

Murdoch then counter-sued him for costs and damages, which they estimated could amount to several million dollars, claiming international student numbers were down and the university’s reputation had been damaged because of his comments on Four Corners.

The move to personally sue the senior lecturer was widely criticised by academics around the world, who saw it as a suppression of free speech.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-12/murdoch-university-withdraws-legal-action-against-whistleblower/12348012

Australian astronomers capture pulsar devouring star before massive X-ray blast

From Nine News:

Monash University-led astronomers have made the first full observation of material spiralling into a distant neutron star and triggering an X-ray outburst thousands of times brighter than the sun.

Astronomers tracked an “accreting” neutron star as it entered an outburst phase where about 10 years’ worth of the total energy output of the sun was released over just a few weeks.

In an accreting neutron star system, a pulsar – a dense remnant of an old star – strips material away from a nearby star, forming an accretion disk of material spiralling in towards the pulsar.

It is the first time the event has been observed in this detail and in multiple frequencies, including high-sensitivity measurements and X-ray.

The physics behind this switching-on process have eluded physicists for decades, partly because there are very few comprehensive observations of the phenomenon.

The researchers caught one of the accreting neutron star systems entering outburst, revealing that it took 12 days for material to swirl inwards and collide with the neutron star, much longer than the two to three days most theories suggest.

Source: https://www.9news.com.au/national/monash-university-astronomers-capture-pulsar-devouring-star-before-massive-xray-blast/efc88643-bd9d-4ee9-80fa-37a0232b6e7a

Citizen scientists stepped outside on the longest night of the year to help measure light pollution

From ABC News:

Winter is the best time to see the rich beauty of the sky when we look straight into the centre of the Milky Way.

And Sunday 21 June was the longest night of the year in the Southern Hemisphere, which made it perfect for counting the stars in the Southern Cross.

Those that did, contributed to a world record attempt to map light pollution across Australia.

Whether or not you get to see full beauty of the Milky Way — or even the Southern Cross — depends upon where you live, says astronomer Fred Watson.

If you’ve struggled to find the Southern Cross from your backyard during COVID you’re not alone.

In areas that have high levels of light pollution you can see only four — or even three — of the constellation’s main stars.

“If we don’t do something about light pollution it will be the Southern Triangle,” Professor Watson says.

While satellites can detect raw points of light across the globe, there is very little data about how Australians are affected by light at ground level.

But if you count how many stars you can see in the Southern Cross you can help fill in some of the gaps.

The information collected contributes to the Globe At Night international citizen science program, which measures light pollution around the globe.

There were only six readings from Australia until April, when the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, ran its first star count during lockdown. Now there are 770.

The idea was to do the star count again on a much larger scale to get a baseline across Australia and New Zealand, said Marnie Ogg, who heads the Alliance.

“It’s a way of working out where we sit in the world. How much of our continent is dark? Where are the light patches or the patches people are preserving? she says.

“And it becomes a way councils can gauge what their residents are interested in and give the councils some statistics about how bright it is there as well.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-06-19/count-southern-cross-stars-winter-solstice-map-light-pollution/12073804

In brief

WA space project to drive industry growth
https://www.minister.industry.gov.au/ministers/karenandrews/media-releases/wa-space-project-drive-industry-growth

Where robotics meets quantum computing
https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/where-robotics-meets-quantum-computing/

University of Melbourne to build and launch innovative satellite
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-06/uom-uom061620.php

Mystery astronomical object in ‘mass gap’: Neutron star? Black hole?
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200623145318.htm

It happened in just zeptoseconds: Physicists calculate the speed of nuclear reactions.
https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/it-happened-in-just-zeptoseconds/

New horizons parallax experiment observes an alien sky
https://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/solar-system/new-horizons-parallax-experiment-observes-an-alien-sky/

Astronomers warn ‘wilderness’ of southern night sky at risk from SpaceX satellites 
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/05/astronomers-warn-wilderness-of-southern-night-sky-at-risk-from-spacex-satellite

University staff must find their voice, says Murdoch whistleblower
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/university-staff-must-find-their-voice-says-murdoch-whistleblower

Jobs Corner – physics employment opportunities

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. 

Core Facility Manager – Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy Peter Mac

Beamline Scientist – ANSTO

Data Scientist

Science Teacher

Postdoctoral Research Associate – modelling solid-state quantum bits UNSW

Research Fellow – Computer Vision & Machine Learning UWA


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

PhD Scholarship: Quantum Optomechanical Ultrasound Sensing UQ

PhD Scholarship: Plasma Physics Uni SA

2021 Graduate Institute Industry Foundations Scholarship ANSTO

Development Internship – Python, Summer 2020/2021

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate scholarships CSIRO

CSIRO Vacation Scholarship (should open soon watch this space!)