Stargazing in science week and prizes galore: Physics in March

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics

One of the year’s highlights for me as AIP President is our Annual

Professor Andrew Peele Director, Australian Synchrotron

Professor Andrew Peele
Director, Australian Synchrotron

Council Meeting, which gives us the chance to meet in person, hear about what our interstate colleagues are up to, and share our vision for the coming year for the AIP.

For me it’s exciting to see the volume of activity being managed through the state branches of the AIP. Not just in the traditional talk formats—where we continue to share some of the newest and best research from around the country—but also events such as physics in the pub, careers nights and debates, which encourage interaction and sharing of ideas.

One of the reasons that physics is able to feature at the highest levels of international science, and at the highest levels of public recognition, is because of the quality of grass-roots activities like these. The Council Meeting is a great way to bring to light some of this work, which can otherwise get overlooked, and to recognise its value.

Reflecting on another grass-roots activity—our first Summer Meeting—I think we can be pleased with the outcome for this first-time event. The low-cost event featured many opportunities for our early-career researchers and students, whilst also providing a collaborative and informative space for productive discussions. I want to thank those who put time and effort into bringing this event to fruition, and I am sure there will be more discussions about how we make the most of this event in the future. Meanwhile, it’s an AIP Congress year this year, so save the dates of 9-14 December, and keep your eyes on this bulletin for calls for content.

It was also my absolute pleasure to present an award for Outstanding Service to Physics at our AGM to Brian James. Brian’s most recent contribution to physics has been editing our member-only magazine Australian Physics for the past five years. Brian deserves to be recognised wholeheartedly for the time, effort and passion he has put into the magazine during his tenure. He will be stepping away from the role in coming months. Peter Kappen and David Hoxley will be taking over the reins and I look forward to a full introduction from them in the magazine pages once they do. Read more about Brian’s award below.

And on the topic of awards, included in this bulletin are the details of a number of science prizes. I’d encourage each state branch to consider who you’ve awarded prizes to over the past 12-18 months, and to put those people forward for some of these awards. We on the National Exec will do the same. If you are working on a nomination, please let us know so we don’t double up.

Kind Regards,

Andrew Peele
President, Australian Institute of Physics

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ISSCR Announces Recipients of 2018 Awards

Conferences, International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting

Media release issued by ISSCR

The ISSCR today announces the recipients of its 2018 awards, to be presented at the society’s annual meeting, 20-23 June in Melbourne, Australia.

  • ISSCR Award for Innovation: Michele De Luca, MD, and Graziella Pellegrini, PhD, Full Professors at the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, Center for Regenerative Medicine, University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy;
  • ISSCR Dr. Susan Lim Award for Outstanding Young Investigator: Shuibing Chen, PhD, Associate Professor of Chemical Biology in Surgery and in Biochemistry, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY, U.S.;
  • ISSCR Tobias Award Lecture: Connie Eaves, PhD, FRS (Canada), Distinguished Scientist, Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer, and Professor of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;
  • Public Service Award: Megan Munsie, PhD, Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Centre for Stem Cell Systems, The University of Melbourne, and Head of Education, Ethics, Law & Community Awareness Unit, Stem Cells Australia, The University of Melbourne, Australia.

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Robots: 22 international teams, 51 Aussie teams competing at Sydney Olympic Park from Sunday

Macquarie University, Media releases

FIRST Robotics Competition Australian Regionals kick off in Sydney from 11-18 March.

Move over Olympians! It’s athletes of a different kind that will be pitting their skills against each other at Sydney Olympic Park from 11 March-18 March.

High school teams from across the Asia Pacific are descending upon the Quaycentre to battle it out at the FIRST Robotics Competition Australian Regionals.

“It’s a competition, but it also teaches students design and engineering skills when they’re building their robots,” explains FIRST Australia director Luan Heimlich.

“They benefit from learning how to work together in teams, and cooperate and solve problems with tangible outcomes.”

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Michaelia Cash at FIRST

Beatrix Potter, pioneering scientist; using whales and fish to trace emerging viruses; travelling back in time; and uniting women in earth and environmental sciences

Macquarie University, Media releases

Female scientists have played a critical role in many scientific discoveries throughout history, but their contributions have often been overlooked.

Ahead of International Women’s Day this Thursday, Macquarie University scientists are celebrating the work of forgotten women of science through history; explaining how their work today is changing the world; and making the case for why women in earth and environmental sciences need to stand together.

  • Lesley Hughes researches the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. Now she’s celebrating the work of Beatrix Potter and other pioneering but forgotten women of science, through the exhibition Hidden Figures of STEMM.
  • Evolutionary biologist Jemma Geoghegan is using whales and fish to better understand how new viruses emerge.
  • Kira Westaway uses glowing grains of sand to travel back in time. Her work has transformed our understanding of human evolution.
  • Volcanologist Heather Handley’s research into volcanoes in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ is improving our understanding of volcanic hazards. She’s also the co-founder and chair of new network Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMESSA).

More on each of these stories  below.

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Nominations for 2018 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are open

Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

Can you help us recognise the best in Australian science, innovation and science teaching?

Each year the Australian Government honours Australia’s best scientists, innovators and science teachers through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, and they need your help to find potential winners.

The prizes recognise:

  • Leading Australian scientists who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge through science—for the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.
  • Exceptional innovators from both industry and research who have translated scientific knowledge into substantial commercial impact—for the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.
  • Early to mid-career scientists whose research is already making, and will continue to have, an impact on our lives—for the $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year and $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.
  • Promising early to mid-career innovators from industry and research whose work has the potential to enhance our economy through the translation of scientific knowledge into a substantial commercial impact—for the $50,000 Prize for New Innovators.
  • Inspiring science, mathematics and technology teachers who are dedicated to innovative teaching and inspiring the next generation—for the $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (Primary and Secondary).

Note that the guidelines for the prizes have been updated for 2018 so make sure you review the latest information, including nomination forms, at: or contact 13 28 46.

Read about past winners below, or at

Nominations are open until 5.00pm (AEDT) 26 March 2018.

New rotavirus vaccine could benefit millions of children

Media releases

22 February 2018: 

A rotavirus vaccine that can be given days after birth has been developed by Australian and Indonesian researchers.

Rotavirus is the common cause  of severe diarrhoea and a killer of approximately 215,000 children under five globally each year.

The oral vaccine, called RV3-BB, was given in three single doses, the first within five days of birth. Until now, the vaccine against rotavirus was available in Australia and only on the private market in Indonesia, and could only be administered from six weeks of age.

After three doses of RV3-BB administered from birth:

  • 94 per cent of infants were protected in their first year of life against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis
  • 75 per cent of infants were protected to 18 months of age.

The success of the RV3-BB vaccine is the culmination of more than four decades of work, which started with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Professor Ruth Bishop and the discovery of rotavirus in 1973.

The trial was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PT BioFarma.

Read the full media release on the MCRI website.

Read an earlier story on the work in our Stories of Indonesia-Australia Innovation collection from 2016.


Physics in footy and Indigenous astronomy activities amongst National Science Week Grant recipients

National Science Week

Media release from Senator the Hon Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation

Hospitals, art galleries and sports stadiums are amongst the more unusual locations set to come alive with science during this year’s National Science Week, thanks to over $600,000 in Australian Government grants announced today.

The 2018 National Science Week Grants will provide funding for science engagement activities, events, and competitions to take place during Australia’s largest celebration of science this August.

Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Zed Seselja today congratulated the 45 grant recipients, welcoming the diversity of projects to be funded.

“This year’s grants recipients have exhibited tremendous creativity in developing such an exciting range of activities to engage people of all walks of life and in all corners of Australia with science,” Senator Seselja said.

“NASA scientists are headed to Australia to celebrate the end of Kepler and Cassini, in a series of events where audiences can hear about what we learnt from the Cassini spacecraft’s 13 years with Saturn and the hundreds of planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope.

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Physics in the limelight, let’s keep it there; AIP AGM; LIGO lecture and more

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics
Professor Andrew Peele Interim Director, Australian Synchrotron

Professor Andrew Peele
Interim Director, Australian Synchrotron

I am very excited about starting 2018 with Michelle Simmons awarded Australian of the Year – what better way is there to bring physics into the limelight than having people discussing the benefits of quantum physics.

Michelle is a great advocate for our discipline, women in science and physics education – her 2017 Australia Day Address was a great example.  We offer our sincere congratulations to Michelle on this honour, and you can share your messages with her too via our Facebook post.

I’d also like to offer congratulations to those physicists awarded in the Australia Day honours roll – see list below.

These accolades are a timely reminder that the only reason physicists win these awards is because someone nominates them.

Nominations are now open for Australian of the Year 2019 and the honours roll. You can also nominate for FameLab, the Eureka Prizes, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and many other awards will open in the coming months.

So let’s make sure we keep the momentum going, think about who you can nominate to keep physics in the spotlight.

Last but not least, this month we also recognise Professor David McClelland – who has been awarded the Walter Boas Medal for key contributions to LIGO, and “one of the greatest achievements in the history of physics”, the discovery of gravitational waves. You can read more about David’s achievements below.

You can hear more from David at a Public Lecture at Melbourne’s RMIT on 15 February, immediately after the AIP’s AGM.

I hope to see you there.


Andrew Peele
President, Australian Institute of Physics

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World’s largest-ever ape; more efficient aircraft; and why having more women in science matters

Macquarie University, Media releases

Science needs more women and four Macquarie scientists can tell you why ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this Sunday.

  • Professor Barbara Messerle is a research chemist and leads a team of 360 academic staff and 6,400 students as the Executive Dean of Macquarie University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering.
  • Dr Shari Gallop was surprised by the level of gender inequality she encountered at the start of her academic career, so she co-founded the network to do something about it.
  • Associate Professor Kira Westaway is leading a team to hunt in China for fossils from Gigantopithecus blacki, the largest ever ape to walk the planet.
  • Dr Sophie Calabretto is developing the maths that will help designers build more efficient aircraft and climate scientists develop the next generation of global climate models – and she’s worried about the declining number of girls studying maths.

More on each of these scientists below.

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Fighting the rise of non-communicable diseases starts with children and adolescents

The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Indonesia and Australia’s rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is being tackled with a suite of projects designed to bring attention to risk factors early in life and improve overall health.

The work, which is supported by The Australia-Indonesia Centre, focuses on three areas: tobacco use, mental health and improving communication between healthcare providers and young people.

Funding for nine projects in Indonesia comes from The Australia-Indonesia Centre’s Health Cluster, with the aim of building healthier, more empowered communities for generations to come.

NCDs such as diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular disease and mental disorders are the world’s leading cause of morbidity and mortality in adults. Prevention is a critical part of reducing this burden.

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Science Communicator position – now closed


We’re looking for a science communicator to join our team at Science in Public. We need someone who is organised, loves science and wants to help scientists get their work into the public space.

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Media kit: 2017 CSL Florey Medal

CSL Florey Medal, Media releases

Using viruses to restore sight


Researcher restoring sight Elizabeth Rakoczy (UWA) wins $50,000 CSL Florey Medal for lifetime achievement

Press materials available

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Summer Meeting underway; PhD and post-doc opportunities; and more – Physics in December

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics
Professor Andrew Peele Director, Australian Synchrotron

Professor Andrew Peele
Director, Australian Synchrotron

In this edition of the AIP’s monthly email bulletin, we extend  a very warm welcome to the committee members elected at  recent the recent state branch AGMs.

The AIP is active through its branches, and a wide network of volunteer physicists keep the business of the Institute moving smoothly. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming our new committee members, as well as acknowledging everyone who has worked to keep the AIP moving from strength to strength in 2017.
Speaking of volunteers, they are also running the first AIP Summer Meeting now underway. A good turnout from students is already making the meeting a success and I look forward to returning to Sydney on Wednesday to hear more about the latest developments in physics across Australia. More on that below. 

National meetings like this are a great way for students (as well as those of us who are no longer students) to make connections, and to find out about employment prospects around the country. Not coincidentally, the Summer Meeting is held at the time of year that universities start thinking of recruiting, and to help that process there are plenty of job opportunities in this bulletin.

Finally, we offer our congratulations to Professor Judith Dawes on her appointment to the role of Treasurer of Science & Technology Australia (STA). We also extend our sincere thanks to outgoing STA President Professor Jim Piper, Walter Boas medalist and long-time stalwart of the Australian physics community, for his unfailing and enthusiastic advocacy of Australian science throughout his Presidency.

And read on to find out how you can make use of the AIP’s association with STA to get your voice heard in the “Halls of Power” in Canberra next February.


Andrew Peele
President, Australian Institute of Physics

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Improving rail safety in Indonesia and Australia

Media releases, The Australia-Indonesia Centre

The sweet spot for rail repair vs efficiency

Computer models to predict how railcars will respond to different track conditions are being developed by Indonesian and Australian researchers, to improve rail safety and efficiency in both countries.

They’ve already created a successful model for passenger carriages, which has been validated against the performance of trains in Indonesia. Now the researchers are working on models for freight trains.

“For railways, it’s standard practice to measure the conditions of the track periodically,” says Dr Nithurshan Nadarajah, a research engineer at the Institute of Railway Technology at Monash University.

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Saving our species and the future of weeds: protecting biodiversity in a changing climate

Macquarie University, Media releases

Biodiversity Node at Macquarie University wins 2017 BHERT Award for Outstanding Collaboration for National (Non-Economic) Benefit

New South Wales is better placed to manage and protect its biodiversity in a changing climate thanks to the deeply collaborative work of the Biodiversity Node of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub, hosted by Macquarie University.

Since it was established in 2013, the Node has delivered research to support the management of biodiversity conservation in NSW under climate change. As a result of this research the Node has produced a suite of evidence-based online tools including:

  • Niche Finder: baseline maps of ecological ranges and climate niches
  • Threatened Species: metrics on the vulnerability of NSW threatened species to climate change
  • Weed Futures: predicting how weeds will respond to climate change
  • Climate Ready Vegetation: step-by-step instructions on revegetation planning for future climates.

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2017 Metcalf Prizes – Media release

Media releases, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Building a blood cancer treatment from the ground up – Mark Dawson, Melbourne

How we and our stem cells get old – Jessica Mar, Brisbane

Winners of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s Metcalf Prizes announced

Scientists available for interviews

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How we and our stem cells get old

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Jessica Mar is analysing stem cells to discover the changes that influence ageing.

We all started life as a stem cell. Throughout our lives, stem cells repair and replace our tissues, but as we age they stop working as well. Understanding how this decline occurs is fundamental to understanding—and influencing—how we age. [click to continue…]

Building a blood cancer treatment from the ground up

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Mark Dawson has helped to build a new drug to fight an aggressive form of blood cancer, discovering the basic science of gene expression in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), developing the drug to block that action, and leading an international clinical trial to test it.

Mark first explored how genes function in leukaemia, then identified molecules that interrupt the key genetic instructions that perpetuate cancer cells. The drug subsequently developed to treat AML is now the subject of more than 50 clinical trials around the world. [click to continue…]

Watching inside living cells; the genesis of gold; plus awards, prizes and more – Physics in November

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics

There are lots of winners in this month’s bulletin.
Professor Andrew PeeleInterim Director, Australian Synchrotron
I’d like to personally congratulate Professor Dayong Jin who received one of this years’ Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, and Dr Jacq Romero who received a L’Oreal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship, as well as all of those who received NHMRC grants, and those elected Fellows of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. You can read more about all of their achievements below.

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Tiny diamonds light the way for new quantum technologies

Macquarie University, Media releases

Dr Thomas Volz in the Diamond Nanoscience Lab

Nature Communications paper Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Background information below.

Macquarie University researchers have made a single tiny diamond shine brightly at room temperature, a behaviour known as superradiance.

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