Australia’s smallest miners; Unlimited energy from fusion and more

Australian Institute of Physics, Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Bulletins

At the national physics congress this week:

And from Fresh Science

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 this week.

Prof Svein Sjøberg from the University of Oslo asks whether the international assessment tests known as PISA (Program of International Student Assessment), which assess 15-year-olds in reading, writing and maths, are valid measures of the quality of national schools systems, when  “PISA states that it does not test school knowledge, and that it does not test according to national curricula”.

Yet it’s against these measures that much school policy is set and, in Australia, Julia Gillard wishes Australian school students to rank in the top five nations by 2025. Svein discusses the politics, fundamental problems and intriguing results of PISA.

Dr Thomas 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. And the Oak Ridge National Lab is a model of the required close coupling of basic and applied research and development, with a sustained focus on the translation of scientific discoveries and technical innovations to practice.

Coming up later in the week we have:

  • keeping precise time across the continent with the optical fibre network
  • designing and building Australia’s information superhighway – Peter Ferris from NBN Co is talking Tuesday morning
  • the potential for high speed number crunching with quantum computers
  • tracking space debris
  • the status of women in physics – where they are, and what are the issues that affect female participation in this field.

And on Wednesday evening, Prof Brian Schmidt, Australia’s 2011 Nobel Laureate in physics gives a public lecture on The Accelerating Universe, at UNSW. The warm-up act is the high school winner of a student physics experiment project, who will receive the prize from Brian and then present their group’s award-winning work.

More stories coming up today:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Chiara Paviolo will present a poster in the Tyree Room at 5 pm entitled Plasmonic properties of gold nanoparticles can induce intracellular calcium transients.

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.

Key contact details for AIP/ACOFT 2012:

The media website is at

The conference website is at

Media director:

Media contacts:

Little miners strike gold

Termites and ants are Australia’s smallest, most numerous and worst paid mining prospectors. They can show us where new gold deposits are, CSIRO researchers in Western Australia have found.

In Australia—geologically the world’s oldest continent—new mineral resources are becoming harder and harder to find, because they tend to be overlain by layers of weathered rock. But termites and ants dig up the subsoils which include grains of metal, thereby revealing buried treasures beneath.

“What is really great about ants and termites is that we can use their work instead of spending vast amounts on drilling,” says Dr Aaron Stewart, a research scientist with CSIRO in Perth. “After 150 years of exploration, the easiest deposits near the surface have been discovered. We need new ways of finding gold.”

The full release is online at

Contact Georgina Howden-Chitty on 0419 391 057 or Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977 for more information and interview requests.