Targeting cancer, unlimited power and new optical fibre applications – the national physics congress in Sydney from Monday

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

Unlimited clean power; high speed communications; sophisticated, targeted treatment for cancer; our understanding of the Universe. These and more at the national physics congress starting in Sydney on Monday.

We’ll also have a story on Monday about Australia’s smallest and worst-paid miners.

More than 800 physicists will gather in Sydney next week for the national physics and optical fibre technology conference (AIP/ACOFT 2012). Australian and international scientists will present the latest in physics, ranging from fundamental particles to the Universe.

Throughout the week, we’ll be sharing stories including:

  • a Higgs boson update—six months on what’s the story, and is it what we expected
  • the physics of medicine—new technologies to detect, target and treat cancer and other diseases
  • quantum computing—how close are we?
  • optical fibres—for the National Broadband Network, keeping time and helping out the Square Kilometre Array telescope, and even for radio
  • the latest on the big telescopes in Australia, including newly launched Murchison Widefield Array, tracking space debris and designing components of the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile
  • photonics, the science of light, giving us imaging techniques for mining, and detecting proteins and DNA at the level of a single molecule
  • a big nuclear fusion experiment that could bring the world closer to virtually unlimited power

AIP/ACOFT 2012 is on from 9-13 December at the University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney. It is the joint Australian Institute of Physics Congress and the Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology.

Leading up to the conference, the Australian Academy of Science yesterday launched a ten-year plan for physics in Australia.

Monday at the physics conference

Ten-year plan for physics in Australia

Little miners strike gold

Monday at the physics conference

On Monday, at the physics and optics conference at UNSW in Sydney we’re discussing the possibility of unlimited, clean power, and the power of physics in medicine:

  • Australia’s role in the ITER fusion power experiment
  • probing cancer and helping homeland security
  • tracking moving prostate cancer tumours; and destroying tumours with ion beams
  • using gold to regenerate nerves and restore sight.

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). Under construction at a cost of $19 billion, 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. After all, Matthew Hole says, it was an Australian physicist, Sir Mark Oliphant, who more than 70 years ago first demonstrated nuclear fusion, the energy reaction of fusing atomic nuclei that powers the stars. Fusion can provide large-scale energy production from an almost limitless fuel supply with zero greenhouse gas emissions, argues Dr Hole. And it only generates short-lived radioactive waste compared to conventional nuclear fission cycles. Australia has world-class expertise in modelling, measuring and confining plasmas and in producing the resistant materials to do so.

Matthew Hole will be speaking in Room CLB1 at 11.00 am on The Potential for Australian Participation in ITER.

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.

The Centre for Medical Radiation Physics at the University of Wollongong holds many patents for advances in semi-conductor detection and measurement of radiation leading to improvements in cancer treatment and medical imaging.

Anatoly Rozenfeld will be speaking in Room CLB3 at 1.30 pm on From Higgs Detection to Saving Lives: Bench-to-bedside Technology Developments for Radiation Medicine.

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) which tracks the movement of tumours in 3D in real time with sub-millimetre accuracy. It has already been used in a clinical trial involving 10 prostate cancer patients.

Jin Aun Ng will be speaking in Room CLB3 at 2.45 pm on Tumour Tracking in Cancer Radiotherapy: from Mathematical Formalism to Clinical Implementation.

Ioning out tumours

Beams of charged particles 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. But they have been somewhat neglected because their complex effects have not been well understood. European expert, Professor Andrey Solov’yov from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, is leading a team trying to rectify that. He will tell the conference that ion beams cause damage at the physical, chemical and biological levels, particularly via heat and shockwaves, and which result in physical effects occurring on several different scales.

Andrey Solov’yov will be speaking in Room CLB 3 at 11.00 am on Molecular Level Assessments of Ion Induced Biodamage: Multiscale Approach.

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. The nanorods can be taken up by cells, are non-toxic, and absorb light at wavelengths that are not harmful to living tissue. And individual cells can be stimulated with laser light which is a huge advantage in the optic area. Chiara Paviolo says the system is now ready to be trialled in living organisms.

Chiara Paviolo will present her work on Tuesday in room CLB3 at 14.15 with a talk entitled Neurite Outgrowth in Neuronal Cells is Promoted by Laser Exposure of Gold Nanoparticles, and in the Tyree Room at 5 pm on Monday with a poster entitled Plasmonic properties of gold nanoparticles can induce intracellular calcium transients.

Key contact details:

The media website is at

The conference website is at

Media director:

Niall Byrne, +61 (417) 131-977,

Media contacts:

AJ Epstein, + 61 (433) 339 141,

Margie Beilharz, +61 (415) 448 065,

Media passes are available for the congress. Email to organise one or for more information.

Ten-year plan for physics in Australia

The National Committee for Physics of the Australian Academy of Science released the Physics Decadal Plan 2012-2021 – Building excellence in physics, underpinning Australia’s future in Canberra on Thursday 6 December.

The plan presents the Australian physics community’s strategic vision for the next 10 years. It is a joint project between the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Institute of Physics, the Australian Research Council and the wider physics community.

The plan aims to continue the process of strategic investment in teaching and research in physics in Australia, allowing Australia to build on present excellence and to remain a strong member of the world’s physics community.

The plan encourages:

  • supporting physics teachers to inspire and train our next generation of physicists
  • a landmark scheme to establish a new major research facility of global impact
  • innovation in clean power production
  • facilitating international collaboration, including attracting the world’s best and brightest to work and study in Australia.

More information at

Little miners strike gold

On Monday morning we’re releasing a Fresh Science story about Australia’s smallest and worst-paid miners.

The release will be online at from 8.30am.

For more information, contact Georgina Howden-Chitty on 03 9078 5398 or Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977.


Kind regards,




Niall Byrne


Creative Director

Science in Public

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