Wednesday 8 December 2010
Today’s stories from the physics conference in Melbourne include:
- From the laser to quantum optics
Prof Kostya (Ken) Ostrikov (Kostya.Ostrikov@csiro.au), a CSIRO scientist who set the ground rules for constructing new materials atom by atom using collections of charged particles known as plasmas;
Prof Hans-Albert Bachor (email@example.com) from the Australian National University (ANU) whose work on the graininess or particle nature of light is leading to new technologies such as quantum encryption and teleportation;
- Laser controllers
A/Prof Robert Scholten (firstname.lastname@example.org), a University of Melbourne physicist who has established a thriving and profitable business which makes and exports laser controllers; and
- Acoustics of music
Prof Joe Wolfe (email@example.com) of the University of New South Wales, an expert on the acoustics of music whose multimedia learning resources are accessed about 60,000 times a day.
Diamond dust adds sparkle to medical imaging
Electronic paper makes itself
Bionic valves without the batteries
Invisible fibres disappearing soon
Acquiring a better feel for disease
Healthy and unhealthy brain states – what role does electrical conductivity play?
Is that a diamond in your eye?
And in Canberra the Ecological Society is asking hard questions about biodiversity and sustainability – challenging given the failure to achieve the 2010 Biodiversity Target to halt the decline in species diversity which the global community set in 2002.
- How can ecology be used to conserve biodiversity?
– Keynote speaker Professor William Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Chair of Conservation Biology, Cambridge University
- When continents collide: biological invasions and ecosystem theory
– Professor Herbert Prins, Wageningen University, The Netherlands:
- Identifying refugia for tropical savanna birds using weather patterns shows many species ranges are shifting, suggesting climate change is already having an impact
– Dr Alex Kutt, CSIRO
- Assessing ecological characteristics using high-throughput sequencing and DNA microarrays
– Dr Chris Hardy, CSIRO
For physics visit www.scienceinpublic.com.au/blog or contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or call Tim on 0422 817 372 (I’m in meetings most of the day).
Here’s more on the stories:
What technologies will surround us in 2060. The clues are in the work of four physicists recognised with medals today. Working in fields that will become household names – plasma nanoscience, quantum optics, acoustics and coherent radiation they are literally creating tomorrow’s world.
For example fifty years ago the laser was an esoteric research tool and the stuff of James Bond. Today we use dozens of lasers every day in computers, cars and telecommunications. Thirty years ago wireless computing was a dream, now it is taken for granted.
The physicists honoured are:
- Prof Kostya (Ken) Ostrikov (Kostya.Ostrikov@csiro.au), a CSIRO scientist who set the ground rules for constructing new materials atom by atom using collections of charged particles known as plasmas;
- Prof Hans-Albert Bachor (email@example.com) from the Aus
- tralian National University (ANU) whose work on the graininess or particle nature of light is leading to new technologies such as quantum encryption and teleportation;
- A/Prof Robert Scholten (firstname.lastname@example.org), a University of Melbourne physicist who has established a thriving and profitable business which makes and exports laser controllers; and
- Prof Joe Wolfe (email@example.com) of the University of New South Wales, an expert on the acoustics of music whose multimedia learning resources are accessed about 60,000 times a day.
Constructing new materials
Kostya (Ken) Ostrikov from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering has won the Walter Boas Medal for an Australian resident whose original research has made the most important contribution to physics in the past five years.
As an Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth II Fellow at the University of Sydney and, since 2008, as a CEO Science Leader at CSIRO, Kostya almost single-handedly has established the basis of the field of plasma nanoscience—how to select and generate the most suitable plasma particles for assembling materials from the ground up.
His work has made it possible to construct exciting new materials such as different forms of nanotubes, nanocrystals and graphene.
‘His research has created new ways to generate self-assembled nanomaterials, nanoelectronic and photonic structures, and devices for future computer chips, solar cells, communications systems and biosensors,’ to quote the citation for the Pawsey Medal of Academy of Science which Kostya won in 2008.
Kostya’s most recent work is on controlling matter and energy at the atomic and molecular level, which is critical to the development of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies for a sustainable future. This work will be the core of an ARC Future Fellowship project set to commence early in 2011.
Kostya is a serious over-achiever. For instance, he has held eight ongoing full-time, distinguished, and honorary professor level appointments in six countries and been granted more than $7 million in competitive research funding.
His three books, more than 270 refereed journal papers, hundreds of conference papers and one patent, are exceptionally influential and highly-cited. He convenes an annual international conference on Plasma Nanoscience, and attracts the world’s leading researchers to Australia. And nearly a quarter of Kostya’s 53 students have gone on to become full or associate professors.
In fact, Kostya Ostrikov has much in common with the man for whom the Walter Boas Medal is named. Both were immigrants to Australia, who made outstanding contributions to their adopted country. And both ended up working at the CSIRO in materials science.
The Harrie Massey Medal and Prize, awarded every two years, was specifically created to recognise such links between Australian physics and the rest of the world.
Established by the Institute of Physics, UK, and named for an Australian who established rocket and space research in Britain, it is awarded for contributions to physics made by an Australian physicist working anywhere in the world, or by a non-Australian resident working in this country. This year the work of Hans Bachor has been recognised.
Communicating with light
Hans is one of the founding fathers of the field known as quantum optics which explores the particle nature of light. Among other things, it is yielding technologies for secure communication and ultra-precise measurement. Through the efforts of Hans and his students, it is an area where Australia is at the forefront.
Bachor’s own achievements have included increasing understanding of the phenomenon of entanglement, where particles at a distance act as if they are directly and intimately connected. (Einstein referred to this as “spooky”.)
But Hans has contributed a great deal more—as a research leader and administrator. He played a significant role turning the Department of Physics at ANU into a world leader in its field and, as the inaugural director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum-Atom Optics, he helped pave the way for many other research centres, networks and groups involving quantum technologies.
Exporting laser technology
Robert Scholten has demonstrated how practical physics can be, by establishing a laser technology company which within three years has achieved an annual turnover of about half a million dollars without any investment of venture capital. MOGlabs, which is based in Brunswick, markets technology which controls lasers with very high precision. About half of its products are exported to laboratories overseas.
For this, Rob has been awarded the Alan Walsh Medal for Service to Industry. But that’s only part of his story, for Rob is also a prolific researcher. He is a program director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coherent X-ray Science, involved in developing new approaches to observing and imaging biologically relevant molecules within living and dying cells.
All these achievements of Australian physics depend on a constant supply of enthusiastic young researchers with strong backgrounds in physics. Joe Wolfe has been awarded this year’s AIP Education Medal for his work in instructing and interesting students in physics.
In particular, Joe has developed a web-based learning resource for physics students known as physclips (www.physclips.unsw.edu.au)—a combination of hyperlinked text, graphics, animation and video which attracts about 60,000 hits a day. Joe’s research is to do with the acoustics of the voice, the ear and musical instruments, and he is also a musician and composer.
He is world renowned in this field, publishing in the journals such as Nature and Science, and has received awards from the acoustical societies of Australia, the US and France.
Joe has also been active in bringing science to school students and the general public, via extensive websites and radio programs. He strongly believes that the best researchers are often the best teachers, and is worried by trends that lead academics to specialise in research-only or teaching-only careers.
A sprinkle of diamond dust could help doctors to diagnose disease better. Ewa Rej (firstname.lastname@example.org) and David Reilly (email@example.com) from the University of Sydney are testing nanoparticles of the precious gem for their potential to improve MRI scans. They are examining the possibility that giving patients tiny amounts of nano-diamond will boost the contrast of images, making it easier to spot disease.
Next-generation flexible displays and electronic paper could build themselves, thanks to the discovery of a new trick to get the materials comprising them to self-assemble. A compound known to switch from transparent to opaque when triggered by a current can be programmed it to assemble itself, says Scott Jones from the University of New South Wales (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The resulting arrays could form the pixels of an e-paper display.
Implanted medical devices may no longer need batteries, says Ajay Tikka (email@example.com ) from Victoria University in Melbourne. Instead, he and his colleagues have found a technique that could wirelessly beam power to a device implanted under the skin.
Using that power to open tiny valves remotely in an implanted drug delivery device is one potential application, according to the team from Victoria University and the University of Adelaide. Using such power to download data from an implanted diagnostic device could also be possible, they say.
Alessandro Tuniz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and colleagues at the University of Sydney have designed a fibre that would appear invisible, over a range of colours.
And because of recent developments in ways to draw hybrid materials into fibres, it may be relatively straightforward to make. Such fibres could provide interesting effects in art, architecture and fashion. They are also being studied in the broader context of building cheap, next-generation devices with special optical properties—such as fibre-based super-lensing which improves the resolution limit of microscopes.
And the fibres could also provide support without optical distortion for optical elements.
In recent years, several researchers have developed ways to cloak objectts, using metamaterials designed to interact with particular wavelengths of light, bending them around the objects so they cannot be seen. But the new approach creates a fibre that would actually be invisible, rather than hidden.
The world’s first high resolution, 3D pictures of the flexibility of living tissues could lead to significant advances in disease detection, according to Brendan Kennedy (email@example.com) and colleagues from the University of Western Australia.
Diseased tissues such as tumours give themselves away because they tend to be stiffer than surrounding healthy cells. Doctors can try to “feel” this variation in stiffness, but the new images produced at UWA promise a much higher resolution and more objective of this property.
The team’s rapidly-acquired pictures of a lacerated finger are the first step towards clinical trials for the technique, the researchers say.
A New Zealand research team hopes to understand the physical changes that underpin the abrupt switches in brain activity between being healthy and awake, and undergoing a seizure.
Marcus Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a biophysicist from University of Waikato, reports on their efforts to understand such brain states as natural sleep, unconsciousness and seizures by using electrical measurement technology linked with computer modelling.
Kumar Ganesan and colleagues from University of Melbourne think they may have found the perfect material from which to build bionic eyes—diamond. They are using the ultra-strong, biocompatible material to build the electrodes needed to pass light signals to the optic nerve. And they are already testing their devices.
In fact, diamond seems so well suited to life inside the eye that the team also plan to seal the bionic eye’s light-sensing chip inside a diamond box, which should protect its contents for a projected 80 years.
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