Stories from the 2012 AIP Congress

Australian Institute of Physics, Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media bulletins
Stories from the 2012 AIP Congress post image

New ideas on our energy future; hand-held cancer probes; ultra-powerful, high speed quantum computers;  and freeing up space on the mobile network.

These stories and more were presented at the national physics and optics conference, AIP/ACOFT 2012, at the University of New South Wales, Kensington.

Communication stories

  • Freeing up space on the mobile network
  • A new, cheaper way to deliver accurate time across Australia
  • Light-powered communication
  • The man leading the design of Australia’s information superhighway

IT stories

  • How close is a quantum computer?
  • Light-powered communication
  • Materialising quantum sensors

Health stories

  • A hand-held probe to detect cancer
  • Tracking tumours as they move
  • Golden answers to nerve regeneration
  • Ioning out tumours
  • Warning airline crews about bad solar weather

Energy stories

  • Why Australia should take part in the world’s largest energy project
  • Overcoming the energy challenge with science
  • Could algae help us make better solar panels

Education stories

  • The politics, fundamental problems and intriguing results of PISA
  • Nobel laureate presents school science project

Other stories

  • Stop twinkling little star
  • An aircraft wing that knows when it is corroding

Communication stories

Freeing up space on the mobile network

As mobile networks become increasingly congested, Sydney engineers have designed new technology that can be retrofitted into mobile communication systems to increase their capacity and reduce the cost of mobile calls.

A new FM radio-over-fibre system developed by Professor Graham Town of Macquarie University and his co-workers should make the transition of signals between the wireless network and the optical fibre network, which increasingly forms the backbone of Australia’s communication systems, much more straightforward.

A new, cheaper way to deliver accurate time across Australia

The GPS system, space tracking, geological mapping, and the SKA all depend on incredibly accurate measurement of time—knowing exactly when events occur and coincide across the entire continent. Instead of using individual hydrogen maser clocks costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, researchers reckon we could bounce signals through the national’s optical fibre network.

Physicists from a consortium including five Australian universities, AARNet, the CSIRO, the National Measurement Institute (NMI) and the Paris Observatory are involved in the National Time and Frequency Network project which aims to set up a more accurate service at a fraction of the cost using optical fibre links.
Read more here.

Light-powered communication

A new chip, which uses light instead of electronic signals to process information, could lead to high security, energy-efficient internet links more than 1,000 times faster than today’s networks, says Prof Ben Eggleton and his team at the Australian Research Council Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) at the University of Sydney. This “photonic chip” uses special glass, photonic crystals, to bend light and slow it down. The slower the light travels, the more efficiently the chip can operate—and the smaller and more energy efficient the resulting devices are.

The man leading the design of Australia’s information superhighway

Prof Peter Ferris, NBN Co. Executive General Manager of Planning and Design, speaks about the NBN’s structure, what it was designed to do, the clever software behind determining access to it and where it will run, and the general schedule of its deployment.

IT stories

How close is a quantum computer?

UNSW’s Professor Andrew Dzurak talks about progress and his team’s creation in September of a quantum bit – writing and reading the quantum state of a single electron in a silicon system – like those used in conventional computers.
Read more here.

Fighting fire with fire

Until now quantum computing systems have been very fragile and easily disrupted. Dr Andre Carvalho from ANU and Mr Martin Ringbauer from the University of Vienna talk about ways in which researchers are fighting back and stabilising quantum systems.

They have shown that adding more energy to the system using laser light actually allows it to maintain its integrity, provided the system is measured in the right way. They’ve also found that entanglement may be unnecessary, even counterproductive.
Read more here.

Branching out

Mr Seiji Armstrong and his colleagues at ANU were profiled on ABC-TV’s New Inventors when they showed they could squeeze multiple entangled beams of light or modes into one laser, allowing for faster and more efficient transfer of information. They can now use one detector in real time to switch between up to eight of these modes in a single laser beam. It’s all part of developing the next-generation super-fast networks needed to drive the quantum computing of the future.

Materialising quantum sensors

Silicon carbide (SiC) looks like becoming a material of choice for quantum sensors, says Dr Stefania Castelletto of Macquarie University. Within its multilayered structure, the spin states of electrons can be altered and controlled by microwaves – and the changes in electron spin are linked to the emission of photons or packets of light. Her research group has been the first to use the material as a stable, room temperature source of single photons. The work paves the way to merge together several areas of quantum research and should allow the engineering of fully integrated quantum devices, she says.

Health stories

A hand-held probe to detect cancer

Wollongong’s Prof Anatoly Rozenfeld and Dr Michael Lerch have developed and patented a hand-held 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, says 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.

Warning airline crews about bad solar weather

When the Sun sneezes, the Earth is dosed with radiation. For airline crews, who spend their working day in the upper atmosphere, that’s a concern. Marc Duldig from the University of Tasmania talks about a system of detectors which would warn us when the solar weather’s looking bad.
Read more here.

Energy stories

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.

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.

Could algae help us make better solar panels?

Algae get their food from the sun through photosynthesis – and Queensland researchers are trying to understand that process to make more efficient solar cells. And they reckon that algae and other plants might even take advantage of the effects of quantum physics when transferring the energy of sunlight to make sugars during photosynthesis.

Until recently physicists assumed such quantum effects would be disrupted by heat and could only persist at very cold temperatures. Not so says Drew Ringsmuth, a PhD student at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems.

He has been modelling the energy transfer systems of the photosynthetic proteins of algae, and with his colleagues has found that it may be possible to engineer materials inspired by such proteins, structured in such a way as to filter out the disruption. The work may also contribute to the development of quantum computing.

Education stories

Nobel laureate presents school science project

A team of students from Gosford High School in NSW have won a national school physics competition for their experimental finding that the size of the ripples water makes when you turn on your tap are determined by more than simple pressure forces.
The four students received their $1,000 prize from Professor Brian Schmidt, Australia’s 2011 Nobel Laureate for Physics.
Read more here.

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.

Other stories

An aircraft wing that knows when it is corroding

A new optical fibre – which can only be made in Australia – will be presented at the national physics congress in Sydney today.
Roman Kostecki, a PhD student at the Institute of Photonics and Advanced Systems at the University of Adelaide, has created a fibre that can sense its target at any stage along its entire length – and tell you where along the fibre it was found. Roman is working with Professor Tanya Monro who is an ARC Federation Fellow and Director of the Institute.
Read more here.

Stop twinkling little star

Australian researchers are taking the twinkle out of stars for the world’s biggest light telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile.
The first of seven mirrors has just been made for the largest optical telescope ever built. The mirrors are each 8.4m across but they’ll need new Australian technology presented at the congress today to take clear images.
Read more here.