Unlimited clean power; sophisticated, target treatment for cancer and more – national physics congress in Sydney

These and more at the national physics congress starting today in Sydney.

More than 800 physicists are gathering in Sydney this week for the national physics and optical fibre technology conference. AIP/ACOFT 2012, the joint Australian Institute of Physics Congress and the Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology, is at the University of New South Wales, Kensington.

Why Australia should take part in the world’s largest energy project

Australian researchers should get involved with one of the world’s largest experiments, says Dr Matthew Hole from ANU, talking about the French-based fusion project (called ITER). It will explore the possibility of virtually limitless clean power generation. The idea is to build a fusion reactor which generates 500 megawatts, more than seven times the amount of energy used to start it up.

The politics, fundamental problems and intriguing results of PISA

Prof Svein Sjøberg from the University of Oslo asks whether the international assessment tests known as PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) are valid measures of the quality of national schools systems, as they do not test school knowledge, or test according to national curricula. Yet it’s against these measures that much school policy is set and, in Australia, Prime Minister Gillard wants Australian school students to rank in the top five nations by 2025.

Overcoming the energy challenge with science

Dr Thom Mason from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee says that to provide for our future energy needs without creating intractable conflict over resources or causing irreparable harm to our environment “demands not only the full exploitation of today’s best energy technologies, but also the rapid development and deployment of new technologies for producing, storing, and using energy”. With physics underpinning virtually all energy technologies, breakthroughs in physics will be central to overcoming the energy challenge.

A hand-held probe to detect cancer

Wollongong’s Prof Anatoly Rozenfeld and Dr Michael Lerch have developed and patented a handheld probe that can pinpoint the presence of cancerous tissue in the body. This same technology has many other applications including for homeland security where it can be used to identify masked radioactive material, thus exposing the illicit trafficking of isotopes in cargoes.

Tracking tumours as they move

We often forget that tumours are alive—and they move. It’s a significant problem for doctors who wish to kill off cancer cells using X-rays. Missing the target and striking healthy cells is clearly not good for the patient. As part of an international team, PhD student Mr Jin Aun Ng from The University of Sydney has helped to develop Kilovoltage Intrafraction Monitoring (KIM) to accurately track the movement of tumours in 3D in real time.

Golden answer to nerve regeneration

Gold rods less than a ten-thousandth of a millimetre long lodged inside cell bodies can stimulate nerve regeneration when heated by a short burst of infra-red laser light, Swinburne University doctoral student, Chiara Paviolo and her colleagues have found. The work has application, not only to treating damaged peripheral and spinal nerves, but also to improve the efficiency of optical stimulation of cells.

Ioning out tumours

Professor Andrey Solov’yov from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, will tell the conference that ion beams have advantages in destroying tumours over electromagnetic radiation such as X-rays because they can be more tightly targeted, can penetrate more deeply into tissue and cause maximum cell damage in several different ways.