AIP President’s blog

Welcome to the Australian Institute of Physics – President’s blog

I use this page for my monthly ‘Physics in Australia’ bulletins and for other occasional physics news. It complements the AIP’s site at

Comments and other ideas are very welcome!

Rob Robinson,
President, Australian Institute of Physics

Prize nominations open for AIP awards and more: physics in March

Posted on behalf of Warrick Couch, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

This is my first bulletin as AIP President, and I’m looking forward to carrying on in the spirit of my predecessor, Rob Robinson.

I’m an astronomer by trade, and especially interested in the evolution of galaxies. I’m the Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and before that I was Director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University. A particular research highlight for me was being a member of the Supernova Cosmology Project, one of the two teams that discovered the universe’s accelerating expansion and whose leader, Saul Perlmutter, shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics with Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess (from the other team).

This year at the AIP we’ll be focusing on growing our membership, and we’ll be asking for your help by encouraging colleagues to join. We’ll also be modernising our constitution this year. And now that our Women in Physics group has been reactivated, we’ll be making sure it gets noticed.

We’re also planning a new prize for our members who are early-career researchers. Details will be announced soon, but in the meantime nominations are open for the Walter Boas Medal for excellence in physics research, the Bragg Gold Medal for the best PhD thesis, and the AIP Award for Outstanding Service to Physics.

On top of this, our NSW branch has their own award for community outreach, won last year by space science educator Ken Silburn—more details are below.

In the spirit of the recent Oscars (and wasn’t it great to see some physics in the limelight this year), prize nomination season is truly upon us, with the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, the Eureka Prizes, the Australian Academy of Science’s honorific awards, FameLab and Tall Poppies all open for entries.

Coming up on 24–25 March, the AIP will be taking part in Science and Technology Australia’s annual Science Meets Parliament event, bringing researchers together with parliamentarians, policymakers and the media. Our representatives will be Joanna Turner (Qld), Peter Metaxas (WA) and Laurence Stamatescu (SA).

There is plenty more to read in this bulletin, with events from our state branches and physicists’ views on poetry and climate science. And don’t forget to check our News in Brief section, with highlights of research from around the country and around the world. [click to continue…]

Australia Day honours for science outreach and a change of president: physics in February

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

The Australia Day Honours list again includes one of our own, with science communicator and AIP member Mike Gore being made Officer of the Order of Australia for his decades of work in public outreach and education. This recognises his roles in setting up the Questacon National Science Centre, the travelling Shell Questacon Science Circus and the Centre for Public Awareness of Science at ANU.

Last week saw the official launch of the International Year of Light in Paris. The AIP is proud to support the year’s Australian activities, which celebrate optics, astronomy and anything else involving light. You can read more below.

Next Monday the AIP’s annual general meeting will be held in Melbourne, and I once again encourage any members who are able to attend. This will include the election of, and handover to, the new Executive Committee, marking the end of the current team’s two-year term.

That means that this will be my last bulletin as AIP President. It’s been a privilege for me to serve and contribute to the Institute’s evolution over the past two years.

Reflecting on this time, there are encouraging signs that we’ve turned around our fall in membership numbers—a problem plaguing many professional societies. We’ve also embraced the trend of regional collaboration, forging tighter links in the Asia-Pacific and opening unique opportunities beyond from Europe and America.

These links further strengthen at the Asia-Pacific Physics Conference and AIP Congress to be held in Brisbane, 4–8 December 2016. This joint meeting will be chaired by Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop and Warrick Crouch, who is also the AIP’s new incoming president.

With such a promising future there’s no better time for AIP members to get involved and encourage their colleagues, students and friends of physics to be part of the Institute and its activities. [click to continue…]

Achievements in quantum tech & education, challenges for women & climate: stories from the physics congress

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

In this special mid-January bulletin, we present some stories from December’s AIP Congress in Canberra.

Among the personal highlights for me was the session on women in physics, where we learned about how, instead of improving gender diversity, Australia is going backwards in some areas. With so much more to be done, the AIP has revitalised its Women in Physics group with new members—you can read about them below.

I also had the honour of giving out the AIP prizes at the closing ceremony and the banquet, which was held in the National Gallery of Australia in the presence of Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles”—thankfully explained to us by an expert. Read on for more about the medal winners’ achievements with quantum lasers, nanotechnology and hands-on physics education.

You can also read about the plenary speakers, including Nobel laureates Steven Chu and Serge Haroche, who were featured guests in what was a very strong program. Abstracts from the presentations are still available on the Congress website.

My thanks to Congress Chair John Howard and his team for their efforts leading up to and throughout the week, and especially to Jodie Bradby for organising the main events.

The next AIP Congress will be in Brisbane in 2016, in conjunction with the 13th Asia-Pacific Physics Conference.

Last month saw a reshuffle of the federal cabinet and Australia once again has a Minister of Science, with Ian MacFarlane adding science to his industry title. This is surely good news, as were the soothing words about research funding from the Minister of Education, Christopher Pyne, in his speech opening the Congress. However, time will tell what these mean in real terms.

The International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies began on 1 January, with a giant light bulb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the fireworks. With the world’s attention once more shining on physics, I encourage you to make the most of it and have a happy and productive new year in physics. [click to continue…]

AIP Congress apps and awards galore: physics in December & January

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

It’s time to start packing your bags for the 2014 AIP Congress, which opens in Canberra on Sunday 7 December.

If you can’t come, you can follow us on Twitter at @aipc2014 or #aipc2014, or see our visiting speakers at public lectures and forums, including Nobel laureate Steven Chu’s televised address to the National Press Club (see the event listing below). There’s also still time to register.

The program includes some speakers and posters to close off the International Year of Crystallography, and many, many others fitting the theme of the coming International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. And our Art of Physics theme has been taken up by both speakers and exhibitors.

With so many good presentations, I advise you to plan in advance which talks to attend. A good way of doing this is by using the AIP 2014 mobile apps for phones and tablets—see below for links to download them.

One of the great privileges for me at the Congress is the chance to celebrate the achievements of our AIP medal and award winners. One of these is Les Kirkup, whose contributions to hands-on physics education have won him the 2014 AIP Education Medal. You can read about Les below.

And Yuri Kivshar will receive the biannual Harrie Massey Medal for his work in the exciting new field of nonlinear optics and metamaterials, which you can also read about below.

Congratulations again to Brian Schmidt and his colleagues, this time for receiving a share of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe and its implications for dark energy. Brian has said he’ll donate part of his prize to promote gender diversity in science.

Other prizes announced recently included the honorific awards from the Australian Academy of Science. We list below all the physicists, geophysicists and mathematicians studying physics-related problems who received awards.

These winners include Michelle Simmons from UNSW, who will also be taking up the post of editor-in-chief of npj Quantum Information, a new, open-access journal and the first Australian-based Nature Partner Journal.

New prize opportunities we’re featuring this month are the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Young Scientist Prizes in laser physics and photonics. These prizes will be awarded in June next year in Germany—see below for how to apply.

Speaking of Germany, a recent visitor to our shores was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, named by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in world. This surely makes her the most powerful physicist in the world as well.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend a reception with her in Sydney, where she spoke about importance of science and technology, particularly for Australia–Germany relations, and how she’ll lobby for a free-trade agreement. Closer ties between the two countries will hopefully lead to greater opportunities for us in physics.

On a more personal note, I’m sad to report the unexpected death of my friend and AIP member George Collins. George contributed greatly to ANSTO and other organisations over the years, and has recently been an inspiring leader of research at Swinburne University in Victoria.

This is my final newsletter for 2014, and I wish everyone a happy and safe summer break, as well as a successful, inventive and prosperous New Year (of Light). And I look forward to seeing many of you in Canberra! [click to continue…]

Physicists win Nobel Physics and Chemistry Prizes, Australian science funding under threat: physics in November

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

The 2014 Nobel Prizes have been announced, and both the physics and chemistry prizes fit neatly with the coming International Year of Light.

Blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have opened up a new era in energy-efficient lighting and computer and smartphone displays. They earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura. As my Japanese colleagues have proudly indicated, this is also a win for applied physics, with much of the initial work having been done in industry.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry also went to a team of physicists. Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner’s microscopy techniques give a resolution better than the diffraction limit of light. And since the announcement, news has emerged of another advance by Eric Betzig in the safe illumination and observation of living cells—more details below.

These Nobel Prize winning technologies are also used at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, which I was pleased to see launched recently. This new Centre brings physicists, chemists and biologists together to change the way we see the immune system and to help tackle cancer, infections and auto-immune diseases.

Congratulations too to all the winners at the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, especially Matthew Hill, winner of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work on nanoporous crystals, and astronomy and physics teacher Geoff McNamara, who won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. You can read their stories below.

Our annual Women in Physics lecture series continues this month, as Sheila Rowan from the University of Glasgow brings her talks on gravitational wave detection to Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. With clever use of props, such as a yo-yo, a whistle and ball bearings on a rubber sheet, her lectures engage school students and the public alike.

Another overseas visitor soon to arrive is the influential American theoretical particle physicist, cosmologist and author Lisa Randall. She’ll be one of the key speakers at the 2014 AIP Congress in Canberra in December—you can read more about her below.

Next Thursday is the annual AIP Physics in Industry day, with the theme this year being ‘Physics of the Mind. To get you thinking in advance of the event, we’re featuring an essay by our NSW Branch chair Scott Martin on the possibility and danger of artificial consciousness.

Australian science still faces funding uncertainty following threats to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) and the Future Fellows scholarship program. Science and Technology Australia (STA), of which the AIP is a member, is urging the government not to waste these programs’ valuable investments and opportunities. You can read the STA statement below.

As mentioned in the last newsletter, the AIP’s new Executive Committee will be elected unopposed at our next AGM. This will take place on 2 February 2015—full details are below. [click to continue…]

Quantum keys and traps, and gravitational waves: physics in October

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

Secret keys hidden in beams of light used to guarantee secure communication are part of the new age of quantum technology. I’m pleased to announce that commercialising quantum key distribution through their company QuintessenceLabs has won the team of Ping Koy Lam, T. C. Ralph and Thomas Symul the AIP’s Alan Walsh Medal for Service to Industry.

The medal will be presented along with other AIP medals and awards at our Congress in Canberra in December, where there you can hear more about exploring the quantum world from our high-profile guest speakers.

One of these guests is French physicist Serge Haroche, who won a Nobel Prize in 2012 for trapping photons between superconducting mirrors. You can read more about his work below.

You can also learn about quantum physics with a series of YouTube videos from UNSW physicist Andrea Morello, who last year won the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

Our 2014 Women in Physics lecturer Sheila Rowan, director of the Institute for Gravitational Research at the University of Glasgow, arrives this month. She’s kicking off her national tour with public and school talks in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. With the dust settling on claims of primordial gravitation wave discovery, now is a good time to hear about experiments to directly detect these ripples in space-time.

Preparations continue for the International Year of Light in 2015, with another briefing event planned for next Monday in Melbourne. We’ve already had great discussions at events in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra, so it’s worth coming along if you want to be involved.

Another highly anticipated AIP event is next month’s NSW Physics in Industry Day, which this year will have the all-encompassing theme of ‘Physics of the Mind’. There is sure to be lively discussion from many different perspectives, and the event will be covered by ABC TV’s Big Ideas program—so register now. [click to continue…]

Year of Light, a Nobel visitor and honouring postgrads: physics in September

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

2015 is the International Year of Light, giving all those of us who work with light a chance to shine. That covers most of physics, from nanophotonics through to astronomy.

We’re supporting our cognate, the Australian Optical Society, who are leading the way with activities around the country. In the next few weeks they’ll be holding networking events in different states to build momentum and share ideas. You can find out the details and register to attend by emailing

Using laser light to trap and cool atoms earned Steven Chu a Nobel Prize in Physics. He’ll be one of the headline speakers at this December’s AIP Congress in Canberra, and we profile him in this bulletin.

Postgraduate students in NSW and WA have the opportunity to win prizes for presenting their research, at events hosted by their state AIP branches. Registrations for both of these close soon, so read on and see how you can take part.

AIP Fellow and former President Tony Thomas was recently named South Australian Scientist of the Year, a worthy accolade for his decades of work here and overseas exploring the subatomic structure of matter. [click to continue…]

Physics in National Science Week – dark matter, dark energy and more

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

Once again it’s that exciting time of year, when scientists and science-lovers across Australia join together for National Science Week. This year’s festival officially runs for nine days, from 16 to 24 August. At the time of writing there are almost 700 events in the National Science Week calendar, with more being added all the time. This special bulletin brings you some of the physics highlights.

Juan Collar from the University of Chicago is a leader in dark matter research. He’ll be giving a series of free public lectures in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, in which he’ll talk about how researchers hunt for dark matter particles, often underground in mines and tunnels to reduce interference from known particles. He’ll discuss the challenges, the progress so far, and his optimism that discovery may be near.

In Tasmania, Australia’s Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt will describe the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe and the existence of Dark Energy. In lectures in both Launceston and Hobart, he will explain how astronomers, like his own High-Redshift Supernova Search Team, have used observations to trace our universe’s history back more than 13 billion years, leading them to ponder the ultimate fate of the cosmos.

Those in Western Australia can attend the AIP WA Branch’s Physics in Industry evening, bringing together physicists from industry, universities and elsewhere in an informal setting to share information and celebrate our common interests.

Stories of scientific and technological achievements from Melbourne will be told and celebrated by an expert panel, including the AIP’s past-president Cathy Foley.

And elsewhere:

  • The Sydney Science Forum will look at how physics is revolutionising medicine with new imaging techniques and nano-medicine.
  • The Everyday Einstein series at the Queensland Museum & Sciencentre will showcase young researchers and the Australian Synchrotron.
  • Astronaut Chris Hadfield of Space Oddity fame will appear in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
  • The Darwin Deckchair Cinema will put on a free screening of the documentary Particle Fever, about the discovery of the Higgs boson.
  • Astronomy nights around the country, but especially in outback areas, will treat stargazers to a view of western and Aboriginal astronomy.

Follow the links below to find out more about the selected events, and look for the AIP logo AIP event to see the events that the AIP is involved with. You can view the full Science Week program at, and you will also find plenty of great events after the 24 August too. [click to continue…]

Boas Medal, women in physics and video comps: physics in August

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

Congratulations to Chennupati Jagadish, whose work on semiconductor optoelectronics and nanotechnology has earned him the 2013 Walter Boas Medal. Jagadish will receive his award and deliver a lecture at a meeting of our Victorian branch later this year, and I look forward to hearing more about his research.

Gravitational waves will star in this year’s Women in Physics lecturers, to be delivered by Professor Sheila Rowan from the University of Glasgow. She’s known for being an excellent communicator, and we’ll bring you details of her national tour, with talks for schools and the public in October and November.

We’re also sponsoring delegates to the International Women in Physics Conference, with Australia’s team to be led by Cathy Foley (CSIRO), along with Helen Maynard-Casely (ANSTO) and Margaret Wegener (University of Queensland). The conference runs from 5 to 8 August in Waterloo, Canada, and is put on by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. We’ll get to hear all about it at our own Congress in Canberra in December.

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Congress registration, Queen's Birthday honours, Olympiad: physics in July

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

The 2014 AIP Congress is less than six months away and you have just one more day to submit an abstract for a presentation or poster. Registrations have opened, with early-bird rates available until 29 August, so book in now to get together with your colleagues in December.

Of course, on the other side of the world the summer conference season is now on, and many of us will be flying north for the winter. The connections made at these events are crucial to the health of Australian physics, so I wish everyone happy hunting.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours were announced earlier this month, and I congratulate physicists Steve Buckman (ANU), Jim Piper (Macquarie), Ian Allison (Tasmania) and Tomas Kron (Peter Mac), as well as applied mathematician and physical chemist Barry Ninham (ACT) and former physicist Ziggy Switkowski, whom I think we can also claim, on their awards.

Young stars are also shining, with the announcement of the team of students who will represent Australia at the International Physics Olympiad in Kazakhstan in July. I was fortunate to attend the event in Canberra, along with media personality Adam Spencer and Dennis Jensen MP. You can read more about the team below.

Finally, I and some fellow AIP members recently had the opportunity to attend lectures by visiting American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. He didn’t dumb things down too much, giving an entertaining performance to packed houses. It was inspiring to see so many people turn out and pay to hear a physicist speak, and a timely reminder of how much the public values what we do. [click to continue…]

Budget burdens, hidden history and mining for dark matter: physics in June

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

There have been many voices raised in response to the Federal Government’s budget, and the concerns of scientists need to be heard among the clamour.

Although we welcome some measures, including support for infrastructure like the Square Kilometre Array and the continuation of the Future Fellowship scheme, the $420 million cuts to agencies like ARC, CSIRO, DSTO, ANSTO and the CRC program will hit physicists very hard.

Together with changes to university fees that will see significant increases to the cost of earning a PhD (as described in The Conversation), we’re seeing increasing obstacles to research in Australia. This is especially disappointing when compared to the value countries like the United Kingdom are placing on their graduates.

The AIP is trying to make a difference by advocating for science funding as a member of Science and Technology Australia, but I also encourage all members to communicate to our elected representatives how much science brings to Australia’s prosperity and health as a nation.

Of course, we will celebrate everything physics does at the AIP Congress, to be held at the ANU in Canberra from 7 to 11 December, under the banner ‘The Art of Physics’. There’s already a fabulous program of speakers, including two Nobel Prize winners, so I encourage all of you to attend. And also to contribute: the deadline for submitting abstracts for presentations has been extend to 27 June. [click to continue…]

Being part of the art, supporting science funding and tickets giveaway: physics in May

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

There’s an art to presenting research, and that’s never been more true than it will be in December at the 2014 AIP Congress, ‘The Art of Physics’. Now is your chance to show off your creativity, by submitting an abstract for a 15-minute presentation or poster.

We’re fast approaching the federal government’s budget, and along with our fellow members of Science and Technology Australia and other research groups, we’re hoping to see a fulfilment of election promises for a long term, stable vision for science and research. There are worrying signs though with rumours of large cuts to CSIRO. Universities Australia have launched a campaign to[click to continue…]

Years of crystallography and light, Michio Kaku and prize opportunities: physics in April

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

This year we are celebrating the United Nations International Year of Crystallography, marking 100 years of using X-ray diffraction to study the structure of materials. There’ll be all kinds of events: the public art exhibition Crystals in the City will tour Australia in August, and the AIP and ANSTO will host a public talk on crystallography in May. [click to continue…]

The Art of Physics and why it matters: physics in March

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

This December we’re celebrating ‘The Art of Physics’—from the art of being a physicist to the extension of physics into the world of art—at the AIP’s 21st biennial Congress.

We already have some great speakers lined up, including Nobel laureate and former US Energy Secretary Dr Steven Chu. And it’s our chance to catch up with colleagues and see what’s happening across the various sub-disciplines.

Registration opens next month for the Congress, which will run 7-11 December at the ANU in Canberra. [click to continue…]

Australia Day honours and awards, and women in physics: physics in February

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Already, 2014 is shaping up to be an interesting year, in terms of both discoveries and the political and funding environment in which we operate.

But it’s great to start with a triumph, so we congratulate Professor Bruce McKellar who was named a Companion of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Australia Day honours. With his achievements in theoretical physics and his continuing contributions to scientific organisations here and overseas, this is an honour richly deserved.

For the AIP, this year we want to reinvigorate our Women in Physics programs. Physics has traditionally been a field dominated by men, and we must work to redress the deeply-rooted gender imbalances that prevent career advancement. [click to continue…]

Boas lecture, ANSTO apps, boson books, conferences and the return of Brian Cox: physics in December – January

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

The Australian Research Council announced a new grant round on 8 November, and there were of course winners and losers in this process. I congratulate those in physics who’ve been successful, and particularly the three AIP members who received Australian Laureate Fellowships in July this year.

Earlier in the year I congratulated Lloyd Hollenberg for receiving the 2012 Walter Boas Medal but, as is the tradition, I don’t actually hand it over to him until he delivers a lecture on his work at a Victorian Branch meeting. So his talk on 5 December is a good opportunity to hear more about what he’s been up to. Another chance is at this weekend’s Science, Technology and the Future Conference at RMIT University, where Lloyd will be presenting alongside people like Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty.

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Quantum computing, Higgs boson and the future of aerospace: physics in November

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

It’s been a great month for prizes and recognition of physicists.

Heartiest congratulations to physicist Andrea Morello on winning the 2013 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year— it’s a fantastic dream to make qubits in silicon, and Morello and others at UNSW are making it a reality. Thanks to my place on the Board of Science and Technology Australia, I was fortunate enough to attend the ceremony for this and the other Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science at Parliament House last night and see Andrea’s work receive this high-level recognition.

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Science in Cabinet, the Eurekas and the next Brian Cox: physics in October

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Now that the federal election is over, things are starting to settle down and, while “Science” no long has its own named Cabinet seat, my own perception is that we may have a strong friend of science in Ian Macfarlane as the new Industry minister. I met with Mr Macfarlane twice last year—he visited us at ANSTO, and joined Science Meets Parliament, and he showed a keen and educated interest in a wide variety of research issues.

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Speakers celebrate our 50th, women in physics and Einstein: physics in September 2013

From Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Welcome to my round-up of physics news and events for September and beyond.

It’s 50 years since the Australian Institute of Physics broke away from the UK-based Institute of Physics to represent Australian physics in research, education, industry and the community.

To help us celebrate, Hans Bachor AM, Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, will give a series of 50th Anniversary talks across the country over the next few months. An expert in experimental quantum optics and an active promoter of physics, Hans is a Fellow of the AIP whose contributions to physics have been recognised with many AIP and other awards over his career. I’ll bring you details of his talks in future bulletins. [click to continue…]