Four degrees – a message for Lima; laser privacy; letting the quantum cat out of the box

Australian Institute of Physics, Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media bulletins

Tomorrow at the national physics and optics conference in Canberra:

  • The catastrophe of a four degree temperature rise – clouds not helping
  • LabPunk – scientific jewellery
  • Letting the quantum cat out of the box
  • Finding airports on Alpha Centauri’s planets
  • Laser beams guarantee data privacy for companies and governments
  • Shrinking X-ray microscopes down to fit on the laboratory bench
  • Using science to create patterns
  • Bending light for faster communication and light-driven computing

There’s more information on these below and much more at

The catastrophe of a four degree temperature rise – clouds not helping

Steve Sherwood’s work on clouds suggests a 4°C rise is more likely than 2°C. But are they listening in Lima?

Improved modelling of clouds has indicated that it may no longer be possible to limit the warming of the globe to 2°C by 2100—an increase that was considered merely ‘dangerous’.  Potentially we could be facing 3°C, or even 4°C.

Steve Sherwood is Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW, and models both the expected temperature increase from given CO2 levels; and the effect of that new climate on human population. His team’s improved modelling of expected cloud reductions has shown that the upper level is more likely than previously thought. And what would it be like? “4°C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” says Sherwood. “It would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet”.

This year remains on course to be the hottest year on record, meaning that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record will all have occurred in the 21st century.

Letting the quantum cat out of the box

French Nobel laureate Serge Haroche is exploring the peculiar quantum world, in which Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. But instead of a cat in a box, he’s trapping photons between superconducting mirrors—and finding things are just as weird as expected.

Prof Haroche will receive the Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics and give the 2014 Dirac Public Lecture at UNSW (Sydney) today at 6-7.30 pm: ‘The beauty and serendipity of blue sky research’. The Medal has been awarded by the UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics since 1979 and commemorates Prof Dirac’s visit to the university in 1975.

Finding airports on Alpha Centauri’s planets

Research astronomer Lisa Harvey-Smith from CSIRO is part of the team working towards Australia’s part in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

Lisa will present recent results from the prototype for the SKA—the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP)—which is being put through its paces prior to going into action next year. ASKAP, with 36 radio dishes, and the SKA, with many more receivers again, will produce pictures of the universe covering a greater area and looking deeper into space than is currently possible. So sensitive that it would be able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away, SKA will show us stars and galaxies forming in the very early universe.

She also actively supports women in science and is a keen ultramarathon runner, currently in training for ANZAC Ultra 2015—a six-day, 435 km race on the Canberra Centenary Trail.

Strobe light flashes to capture a speeding electron

Strobe lights and camera flashes have let us capture the motion of galloping horses and speeding bullets, but Paul Corkum can make flashes of light so quick that he can watch electrons in orbit around an atom, or see how they move in chemical reactions.

These attosecond pulses—a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second—have put the Canadian physicist on pundits’ hotlist for a Nobel Prize in Physics. It’s a long way from when, as a grad student, he had to convince interviewers he could handle the shift from theoretical to experimental physics: “It’s no problem. I can take the engine of a car apart, repair it and put it back together so it will work.” He got the job.

Laser beams guarantee data privacy for companies and governments

Computers of the future will be fast enough to crack current encryption methods—we need something better. Researchers from ANU, UQ and their spin-out company QuintessenceLabs have cracked the problem by sending quantum particles of light down optical fibres to guarantee that no one has eavesdropped on the shared encryption key. The creators will receive the Alan Walsh Medal for service to industry on Wednesday night. The recipients are ANU researcher and co-founder of QuintessenceLabs, Ping Koy Lam, Timothy Ralph (UQ) and Thomas Symul (ANU).

Shrinking X-ray microscopes down to fit on the laboratory bench

A portable synchrotron? The $200 million Australian Synchrotron’s creates amazing X-ray microscopic images. But a Monash physicist thinks he can create an X-ray microscope sized to fit on your lab bench. X-ray microscopes offer resolution down to a few tens of millionths of a millimetre—the size of an average-sized virus, or a thousandth of the size of a blood cell. But X-ray microscopy usually requires really, really significant machinery: Australia’s most powerful X-ray microscope—the Synchrotron at Clayton—takes a hundred scientists to operate, and is the size of a football field. What if you could realise the amazing resolution of X-ray microscopy on a machine that sat on your laboratory bench? Daniele Pelliccia of Monash University is working on making this possible.

Picking endangered parrots out from the dawn chorus

For the first time, artificial sound recognition is matching the abilities of the human ear. A ‘universal’ sound recogniser isn’t restricted to only recognising music, or only recognising speech. It can be set to recognise any sound, or any group of sounds.

Lab junk into Labpunk

                                                    Credit: Green Vale Gallery

A physicist with a passion for art and an artist with a passion for science are re-purposing scientific lab equipment to make original jewellery and sculpture art.

Margaret Wegener (the physicist) and Anita Milroy (the artist) have turned an old laser crystal into a flash bulb lapel pin (top right). The pin will be presented on Tuesday to plenary speaker Paul Corkum, who uses lasers to create incredibly fast ‘flash bulbs’ to catch electrons in orbit around an atom.

Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall’s memento is a silver space-time cuff (left), depicting her ‘warped spacetime model’ of the universe.

Physicists require pure materials, such as quartz crystals that provide extremely accurate measures of time, which also makes them excellent for art, says Margaret. “Some broken crystal resonators that were given to me have been cut as gemstones (bottom right), and they look fabulous.”

Margaret and Anita have created a unique piece of wearable art for each plenary speaker at the Congress derived from that speaker’s area of physics. Their work will be on exhibition at the Congress.

Using science to create patterns

                   Credit: Briony Barr/Andrew Melatos

On Wednesday 10 December, conference delegates will use coloured electrical tape and stickers to create a collaborative drawing investigating complex systems, in an art-science experiment by artist Briony Barr and physicist Andrew Melatos.

The art work will emerge from simple rules of interaction determined by genetic codes—repeated by many participants these interactions will create complex patterns. The final outcome will be unpredictable—a characteristic of a complex system such as the stock market or a weather system.

Previous installations in the Drawing on Complexity series have taken place in Melbourne, Sydney (pictured) and Seoul.

Briony and Andrew will be supervising the installation on Wednesday 10 December, in the foyer of Melville Hall, ANU.

The media website is at
The conference website is at
7-11 December 2014

Media contacts
Niall Byrne 0417 131 977
Errol Hunt 0423 139 210
Margie Beilharz 0415 448 065
@aipc2014 #aipc2014

Science in Public

We’re always happy to help put you in contact with scientists. Our work is funded by the science world—from the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes to Nature. We’re keen to suggest interesting people and stories—and not just those of our clients’.

If you’re looking for ideas or people for features we know hundreds of science prize winners past, present, and future and are always happy to chew the fat about the developing themes in Australian science.

Feel free to pass these stories along to colleagues. And between bulletins, you can follow me on Twitter (@scienceinpublic) for more science news and story tips.

Kind regards,

Niall Byrne

Creative Director

Science in Public

03 9398 1416, 0417 131 977



Copyright © 2014 Science in Public Pty Ltd, All rights reserved.
This is the Science in Public media bulletin – an occasional bulletin to give you the heads-up on media stories, events, and talent available for interview. If you no longer wish to receive these emails, please let us know by unsubscribing below.

Our mailing address is:

Science in Public Pty Ltd

82 Hudsons Road (PO Box 2076)

Spotswood, Victoria 3015