The PM’s Prizes, online gigs galore, new links with Korea and more physics news for November

Since our last bulletin we had the announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Physics which was of course awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for work on Black Holes. I was delighted to see Andrea Ghez being honoured as the fourth women to win a Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, announced last week, saw physics very well represented. Congratulations to David Blair, Susan Scott, David McClelland, Peter Veitch and Xiaojing Hao. I was especially thrilled to hear this news given David and Susan joined us online last month to discuss the result of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics. You’ll find a link to a recording below if you missed it.

Coming up this week there are several online AIP talks and panels around the country, including three Zoom events and talks organised by the NSW branch. This replaces the regular AIP Industry Day at CSIRO and there is a strong career development theme in the first event Three Faces of Physics on Tuesday 3 November. Register here. We are also hosting an online discussion with Dietmar Dommenget from ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes on November 6, at 11am AEST. See below.

Read on, too, to meet this month’s latest Hidden Physicist, Leon Smith.

For physics film buffs, we have five double passes to give away to the new movie, Radioactive, which charts the life of Marie Curie.

We are also looking for an eye-catching physics picture for our 2021 letterhead – please send in your physics pics now! In 2020 we featured ANU Physicist Cormac Corr and a pretty purple plasma. What physics will feature in the AIP’s 2021 communications? See below for details.

On more serious matters, the AIP is proud to announce a new working relationship with a prestigious physics institution in Korea, and our colleagues over at Science & Technology Australia have just released an important survey of the fears and plans of Australian scientists. Details below.

Teachers and researchers might like to note that we’ve added a new section to our website, which is chock full of teaching tools, information packages and handy contacts. Check it out at https://aip.org.au/resources-2/

Finally, I was delighted to celebrate ‘double donut day’ (zero COVID cases, zero COVID deaths) in Victoria last week and the resulting relaxing of lockdown. Thus, this month’s image is of the Australian Synchrotron – Melbourne’s biggest double donut (as pointed out in this tweet by Jessica Hamilton). Well done Victorians and let’s keep up the physical distancing, handing washing, and mask wearing!

Kind regards,

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

Physicists honoured at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Physicists Emeritus Professor David Blair, Professor David McClelland, Professor Susan Scott and Professor Peter Veitch from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) have won this year’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

The team was instrumental in the 2015 world-first detection of gravitational waves.

Professor Blair and colleagues were involved in a number of ways, from designing systems to ensure the stability of high-powered laser beams to developing mathematical models used to identify the source of the first signal detected.

In presenting them with the $250,000 prize during a virtual ceremony on October 28, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the discovery embodied the very best of Australia’s scientific community.

“This year more than ever we have turned to our scientists in the face of one of our biggest challenges in recent memory, the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Prime Minister said.

“Discoveries such as the detection of gravitational waves were led by Australian technology and insight, and practical applications of scientific breakthroughs will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that science, innovation and education are key components of Australia’s economic future.”

Physicist Xiaojing Hao, UNSW Scientia Associate Professor, was awarded the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year. Associate Professor Hao has emerged as a world-renowned leader in thin-film solar photovoltaics. She was recognised for her work developing more environmentally friendly and efficient solar cells has set global records for energy conversion efficiency.

Find the full list of prize winners here.

AIP News

AIP Industry Day at CSIRO goes virtual

The annual AIP Industry Day at CSIRO’s Lindfield site in Sydney has been cancelled due to the pandemic and replaced by a trio of virtual events.

Three Faces of Physics, on Tuesday, November 3, at 11am AEDT, features Matthew Rendell, Brianna Ganly and Benjamin Dix-Matthews – all CSIRO Scholarship alumni – talking about their research. Details here

Wednesday, November 4, at 8pm AEDT finds Tibor Molnar and Geraint Lewis presenting Podcast Club – Does Time Exist?, a Zoom discussion on the nature of time. Participants are strongly advised to do a bit of homework first, and listen to an episode of the BBC’s excellent The Infinite Monkey Cage. The BBC show can be found here and the Zoom link is here.

On Friday, November 6 at 11am AEDT join LuciGem CEO Jim Rabeau, Movandi co-founder Mike Boers, Kimiya co-founder Matthew Worsman, and Katie Green, leader of CSIRO’s Lindfield Collaboration Hub, for an informative discussion titled Start-ups in Lockdown. Details here.

ARC Climate Extremes: get set for our latest livestreamed event

The AIP is teaming up with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) to present an introduction to the field of climate modelling.

Join Kirrily Rule, from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), as she chats with Dietmar Dommenget from CLEX and Monash University about current issues in climate modelling and how the field can be improved.

The event takes place on Friday, November 6, at 11am AEST. It is part of an ongoing series of talks involving the AIP and Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence.

More info here

Register here

In case you missed it: AIP talk on the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics

In response to the announcement that the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics had been awarded to Sir Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, the AIP organised an online event to discuss the significance of the science involved.

Professors David Blair and Susan Scott, both from OzGrav, joined AIP president Jodie Bradby for a wonderful talk on black holes, gravitational waves, singularities and general relativity.

You can view the event here.

AIP signs Memorandum of Understanding with Asia Pacific Centre for Theoretical Physics (APCTP)

A new agreement struck between AIP and the Asia Pacific Centre for Theoretical Physics, located in Pohang, Korea, will lead to greater cooperation and collaboration between scientists in the two nations.

The Memorandum of Understanding, signed at the start of October, will see the two organisations working closely together to facilitate joint research and training in theoretical and mathematical physics.

The agreement was formalised by AIP President Jodie Bradby and APCTP President Yunkyu Bang, and marks the start of an exciting period for physics research in the region.

AIP President Jodie Bradby joins STA board

Jodie Bradby is one of four new appointments to the board Science & Technology Australia (STA).

STA President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie warmly welcomed her and the other new members — Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa, Dr Vipul Agarwal, and Mr Michael Walker. The board oversees governance and sets strategy for the organisation.

“STA’s governance reflects our diverse membership, which collectively represents over 80,000 STEM professionals in Australia,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.

“Our incoming Board is genuinely diverse across the STEM disciplines represented, as well as across gender and culture.”

“Diversity of experiences and expertise is vital to strong Boards. It’s essential to robust decision-making, quality governance and visionary leadership for organisations.”

WA AGM dinner & speaker: dark matter, super-cooled Helium-3 and deals with Russian nuclear reactors

Western Australia’s physics gala event of the year is approaching, and tickets are selling fast.

The AIP WA Branch AGM and annual dinner is set for November 26, starting at 6pm WA time from 18:00 at the University Club of Western Australia, in Crawley.

Guest speaker will be Ben McAllister from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems. He will be covering topics including dark matter, super cooling Helium 3 to near absolute zero and doing deals with Russian nuclear reactors.

Details and tickets here.

We want your best lab pics!

AIP’s 2020 Photo – featured ANU Physicists Cormac Corr and pretty plasma.

The AIP is on the hunt for new physics photos to use on our 2021 emails and website. Please send us your best landscape-orientation shots to help us pretty up our pages. The only prize is the pride but we will acknowledge contributions in the next newsletter. Please forward this request to anyone who has an interest in taking awesome physics pics!

Closing date for entries is November 31. We look forward to seeing your images via aip@aip.org.au.  

New resources page for teachers and researchers

Teachers and researchers might like to note that we’ve added a new section to our website, which is chock full of teaching tools, information packages and handy contacts. Check it out here.

Win tix to Radioactive, the Marie Curie biopic

Radioactive, a feature film biography of Marie Curie with Rosamund Pike in the title role, opens in Australia on November 5 – and we have five double passes to give away!

The passes are valid for any showing of the film in any cinema in Australia, until the season ends.

To win one, sum up in one sentence what you think is Marie Curie’s greatest achievement and send your answer along with your mailing address to aip@aip.org.au by November 5.

With thanks to StudioCanal.

Meet Leon Smith, this month’s Hidden Physicist
#PhysicsGotMeHere

Employer: NSW Health

Job title and description: Trainee Doctor

I work on the rehabilitation ward in a NSW hospital, where I mostly look after patients who have recovered from their acute illness but are still unable to go home, either because they’re weak and deconditioned or their illness has brought them to the point that they need rehab input to get them back to their previous level of function. So I spend a lot of time speaking to patients and their families, developing treatment plans and working with other members of the care team.

Even though I don’t do a whole lot of physics these days, I still use a lot of the skills I developed in my current role. You need a strong scientific foundation in this job, and I still apply my mathematical and technical skills in research and quality activities in the health setting. There’s a huge role for advanced technology in healthcare and I think that’s something we’re going to see more and more of as time goes by- although the human touch is always going to be important too!

My career story so far:

Honours in Medical Physics (University of Sydney 2012), then studied medicine at University of Sydney. Worked in NSW health as a junior doctor from 2016 until now. It’s a long pathway to become a specialist in Australia, lots of training and exams, but it’s well worth the effort!

Membership renewal season

Renewing your AIP membership between now and the end of January means a $10 discount! This special offer is applied automatically when you make your payment through our membership portal, which you can find at: https://aip.org.au/joining-the-aip/

Recurring Payments

We have now set up Automatically Recurring Payments to give you the option of making your annual renewal faster, smoother, and stress-free. To set up automatic annual payments, login using the button below to change your Membership Level to a Level with *Automatically Recurring Payments*.

If you wish to continue making annual payments manually, no action is required.

When you change your membership level to one with *Automatically Recurring Payments* you will be prompted to pay a Membership Level Change invoice online. Payment of this invoice is your membership payment for the 2021 calendar year. 

Your membership will automatically renew annually starting from the 1st of January 2022, with a payment taken from your saved credit card.

You may stop Automatically Recurring Payments or update your credit card details anytime in your Membership Profile.

Renewing now for 2021, will give you the early payment discount of $10; for more information on fees see our membership page, here.

If you have physics-related income, your AIP membership subscription is tax deductible; retirees without physics-related income can claim a tax deduction of $42.

Please feel free to call 0478260533 or email aip@aip.org.au if you would like assistance. 

News from Australian Physics magazine

In our current issue

The fascinating physics of bead and ball lightning leads the features in the September-October issue of Australian Physics. The piece is written by Richard Morrow, and sits alongside other interesting articles, including an obituary of John Jenkin and a call to action by Sven Rogge. Then there are the regular columns, such as The Young Physicist, #PhysicsGotMeHere, and a host of snippets from the best of recent international research.

If you haven’t received your copy, please let us know on aip_editor@aip.org.au

Calling all physics writers …

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

Current editors Peter Kappen and David Hoxley are always on the hunt for material to include in forthcoming issues.

To that end, they also invite members to submit:  

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

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

FROM THE VAULT: stories from The Australian Physicist

This month in 1965: Seeing out of motor cars

The physicist was paying his fine. It was a lot, that five quid, but it wasn’t much when you consider he ran into a cop. He didn’t know that the old car was being driven by a policeman. In fact, he didn’t see the car until it swelled up terrifyingly from behind his blind-spot. He didn’t take to driving deliberately at other cars, but the magistrate fined him as if he had deliberately run the old Essex down …

But his irritation couldn’t overcome the nagging fear that he didn’t understand the real cause of the accident. That blind-spot? How could you possibly fit an old Essex behind the windscreen pillar of a modern car? With binocular vision operating, the eyes together could see the entire forward hemisphere. Real ocular blind-spots and the nose modified this a little, but there was no convincing reason why he, allegedly skilled in observation, should not have seen the old car. Peripheral vision which evolved as a safety device to warn man of movement out of his direct line of sight, must have been working …

That was the clue. He turned and walked away with a lighter step.

Read the full story here.

More physics around the traps

Nobel Physics Prize awarded to three scientists for black hole discoveries

Three scientists have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for advancing our understanding of black holes, the all-consuming monsters that lurk in the darkest parts of the universe.

British physicist Sir Roger Penrose received half of this year’s prize “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity”, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

German Reinhard Genzel and American Andrea Ghez received the second half of the prize “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy”, the academy’s secretary-general, Goran K Hansson, said.

The prize celebrates “one of the most exotic objects in the universe”, black holes, which have become a staple of science fact and science fiction and where time even seems to stand still, Nobel committee scientists said.

Sir Roger Penrose proved with mathematics that the formation of black holes was possible, based heavily on Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

“Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist, these super-heavyweight monsters that capture everything that enters them,” the committee said.

Read more here

Watch “Physics of the Impossible Revisited”, by Professor Michio Kaku

Teleportation, time machines, force fields and interstellar spaceships—the stuff of science fiction or potentially attainable future technologies? Inspired by the fantastic worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars and Back to the Future, renowned theoretical physicist and bestselling author Professor Michio Kaku from City College of New York is set to dissect our current understanding of the Universe’s physical laws, and what they may permit in the near and distant future.

This event, organised by the St Cross Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics, will be livestreamed via Zoom on Saturday, November 21 at 4am AEDT (because it’s taking place in the UK at the far more civilised time of 5pm Friday GMT).

More details here.

Physicist MP to champion state’s stem education

The educational future of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is in good hands, with the appointment of a Victorian Government ambassador for STEM education.

Minister for Education James Merlino today announced the appointment of South East Metropolitan MP Dr Tien Kieu as the Government’s STEM Education Ambassador.

Along with his role as a Member of the Legislative Council, Dr Kieu is a respected physicist and Adjunct Professor at the Swinburne University of Technology and a former Fellow of the Australian Institute of Physics.

Dr Kieu’s appointment is part of the Victorian Government’s Education State reforms, which include a strong commitment to STEM education and pathways.

Read the full release here.

Science & Technology Australia releases report into the science workforce

STA’s report, released on October 26, found almost 1 in 5 scientists surveyed has thought about leaving the profession permanently, citing lack of recognition and career advancement opportunities.

Science & Technology Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the report identified a disconnect between the clear value of science to our community – and tangible recognition of scientists.

“With the world’s hopes pinned on scientists to find us a way out of the pandemic, the value of science has never been clearer – yet our scientists don’t always feel that recognition,” she said.

“It’s a timely reminder how important it is to celebrate our scientists more often and more visibly, thank them for their inspiring work, and support them to do their hugely important role.

“Just as our community celebrated frontline health workers in the pandemic, we invite all Australians to show their appreciation for scientists – and remind them that we value their work.”

The full report is available here.

Chief Scientist launches #STEMeverywhere


The Office of the Chief Scientist is running a campaign celebrating how STEM is present in every aspect of our lives. Using the hashtag  #STEMEverywhere, you’re encouraged to share the cool and different ways science feeds into the everyday. The campaign will run until the end of 2020.  For useful resources and ways to get involved, head to the Chief Scientist’s website.

Pawsey launches next generation supercomputer

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre plays a vital role in the research of over 1,600 researchers in Australia. 

Pawsey supercomputers support projects from discovering new galaxies, to developing improved diagnostic tests for coronaviruses and finding AI-enabled ways to reduce herbicide use, to name a few. 

This month, Pawsey announced that Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) will deliver its new supercomputer, which will power future high-impact Australian research projects by delivering 30 times more computer power than predecessor systems Magnus and Galaxy.

The new supercomputer will help meet the exponentially increasing computing needs of Australian researchers in fields such as medicine, artificial intelligence, radio astronomy and more.

The new supercomputer is part of Pawsey’s Capital Refresh Program, which is being delivered under a $70 million grant from the Australian Government announced in 2018 to upgrade Pawsey’s supercomputing infrastructure. This is in addition to the $80 million granted in 2009 to establish the petascale supercomputing facility.

Read more about this exciting new chapter for Pawsey on their website

More Australian physics in the news

Element of surprise: Carbon creation finding set to rock astrophysics

A new measurement of how quickly stars create carbon may trigger a major shift in our understanding of how stars evolve and die, how the elements are created, and even the origin and abundance of the building blocks of life.

Physicists at the Australian National University and the University of Oslo reproduced how stars make carbon through a fleeting partnership of helium atoms known as the Hoyle state in two separate measurements. They found that carbon – the building block of life – is produced 34 percent faster than previously thought.

“It’s a really surprising result, with profound implications across astrophysics,” said Associate Professor Tibor Kibédi, one of the lead researchers from the Department of Nuclear Physics at ANU.

The Oslo experiment was reported in Physical Review Letters, and the ANU findings were published in Physical Review C.

Read more here

Pushing the laser limit

Australian quantum researchers have shown it’s possible to vastly improve the coherence of lasers, overcoming a bound that has been accepted as a fundamental limit for 60 years.

The results are published in the journal Nature Physics.

Lasers are defined as highly directional, monochromatic, coherent light. This means that light is emitted as a narrow beam in a specific direction, and every photon has the same wavelength and phase.

The coherence of a laser beam can more specifically be thought of as the number of photons that can be emitted in this manner, which is a property crucial in determining the performance of a laser in precision tasks like quantum computing.

A quantum limit of laser coherence was determined in a seminal 1958 paper by US physicists Arthur Schawlow, a Nobel Prize winner, and Charles Townes.

Read more here.

A taste of James Webb’s potential

How good will NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope be? Good enough to uncover things never before seen by humanity, astronomers say.

Two studies led by Madeline Marshall from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) have found that the most powerful and complex space telescope ever built – due to launch late next year – will be able to reveal galaxies currently masked by powerful lights called quasars.

With colleagues from Australia, the US, China, Germany, and The Netherlands, Marshall first used the near-infrared capabilities of no less than NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study known quasars in hopes of spotting the surrounding glow of their host galaxies.

Read more here.

In brief

Scientists figure out when red supergiant Betelgeuse will go supernova
https://news.sky.com/story/scientists-figure-out-when-red-supergiant-betelgeuse-will-go-supernova-12105347

Defence partners with BAE Systems to enhance radar capability
https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/intel-cyber/7010-defence-partners-with-bae-systems-to-enhance-radar-capability

Australian telescope to enable high-speed data connections from space
https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/10/telescope-facility-to-enable-high-speed-data-connections-from-space/

Now you see it, now you don’t: Hidden colors discovered by coincidence
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/acoe-nys101420.php

Jobs Corner – physics employment opportunities

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. 

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.

To view full details including the Position Description see here: https://bit.ly/3leafQb

Applications close: 31 December 2020 11:55:00 PM AUS Eastern Daylight Time

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

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.

To view full details including the Position Description see here: https://bit.ly/3lg6Osk

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. 

Physics Teacher (Brisbane) At least 100 physics teachers jobs on Seek this month

Data Scientist

Scientist, Lasers and Optics MOGLabs (Melbourne)

Freelance/Contractual Editors – Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Medicine

15 Research positions applications by women, gender diverse, and Indigenous Australians. https://tmos.org.au/opportunities/jobs/

Beamline Scientist BioSAXS (Melbourne)

Innovation Coach (ANSTO)

Materials Engineer (ANSTO)

CSIRO SKA Telescope Integration Leader (Perth)

CSIRO Research Scientist (Qld)

CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellowship – Machine Learning for Robotics

Data Scientist (WA)

Senior Research Engineer/Scientist – Materials Processing (NZ)

Junior Data Scientist