Weighing the earth at school – physics in February 2013

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics
Australian Institute of Physics

From Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute  Physics

It is a great pleasure and honour to be the incoming president of the Australian Institute of Physics, and to be joined by Warrick Couch, of Swinburne University, the incoming Vice-President.

For me, one of the highlights of 2012 was to help organise the recent Congress in Sydney:  one of my main roles was as overall Scientific Program Chair, and I got to know more about the wide range of physics activities, beyond my own interests in condensed-matter physics.  I like the idea of a “big physics” that asserts inclusion of all the overlap with chemistry, astronomy, biology and indeed engineering and medicine.  The alternative of a small “ivory-tower” of pure research will lead, I fear, to marginalisation of our subject.  So I think that we need to be relentless in promoting ourselves to physicists (and others who are really doing physics) as broadly in society as possible.

Welcome to my first bulletin as president, with physics news and events across Australia.

Just yesterday Science and Technology Australia announced that their new CEO is Catriona Jackson. We look forward to working with Catriona, who brings a lot of experience at federal politics, the tertiary sector and the media.

Deborah Kane still has vivid memories of her excitement when she discovered new features of atomic structure in the wee hours of a morning 30 years ago as a PhD student. Deborah, who is still researching laser physics, generated atomic spectra that resolved previously unseen features. She will reflect on what her decision to do a PhD achieved for herself and for society during a NSW Branch talk in Sydney next month.

Australia was home to the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere after Melbourne Observatory erected The Great Melbourne Telescope in 1869. After spending more than 60 years in Canberra and surviving a bushfire, the telescope is back in Melbourne undergoing restoration. Museum Victoria’s Richard Gillespie will delve into the history of the Great Melbourne Telescope and the public understanding of science at the Victorian Branch meeting, which will also include the AGM.

You can also hear about the Universe in lectures from Brian Schmidt and Lawrence Krauss in Queensland and from PhD students at Swinburne University; and about the first woman in radio astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott, in Melbourne.

Star-Craving Mad – Tales from a Travelling Astronomer is the title of Fred Watson’s new book. Fred is the Astronomer in Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Coonabarabran and he’ll be launching his book in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane over the next six weeks. His book is one of three available for review for Australian Physics.

The AIP’s 50th birthday celebrations begin with the launch of a national experiment on 1 March—we are inviting school children around Australia to ‘weigh the earth’ using Galileo’s pendulum experiment to measure gravity.

This month I have news on a number of opportunities for physicists to be recognised for their work, and to have the chance to get out and talk to people about physics. The AIP is looking for an inspiring women  physicist to be the 2013 Women in Physics lecturer. The successful nominee has an enjoyable task, and a great opportunity – to present talks to school children and the public across Australia over the year.

I encourage you to consider nominating, or encouraging others to nominate, for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, which includes the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physics as well as the overall science prize and prizes for teachers.

And please also encourage our top young physicists whose research has produced exciting results to nominate for Fresh Science, a media training boot camp that will produce the future spokespeople for science.

Details of all these are below.

Also in this bulletin, I update you on some new positions in the AIP for 2013 – branch committees and the Editor of Australian Physics. And there are already lots of departmental seminars timetabled over the next couple of months.

Finally, there is a comprehensive list of contact details at the end of the bulletin.



Rob Robinson
President, Australian Institute of Physics

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In this bulletin:

Australian Institute of Physics news and events

AIP events

The 2013 AIP Women in Physics lecturer – seeking nominations from inspiring women.

The BIG little g project – school children weigh the earth.

Australian Physics magazine has a new editor

Report from the 2013 AIP AGM and Council meeting

2013 AIP Branch positions

Books for review

Other physics news and events

Other physics events for the general public, students and teachers

Australia Day Honours

Catriona Jackson is the new CEO of Science and Technology Australia


Physics jobs

Departmental seminars


Contributions and contact details



Australian Institute of Physics news and events

AIP events

VIC:     The Great Melbourne Telescope: Astronomy and the public understanding of science – Dr Richard Gillespie, Museum Victoria
Thursday 21 February, 6pm – VIC Branch February meeting and AGM
University of Melbourne

VIC:     Roller coasters and the Roulettes – VCE Physics Days at Luna Park
Tuesday 5 – Thursday 7 March – student excursion

VIC:     AIP Vic Branch Education Committee meeting
Tuesday 12 March, 5pm – for teachers
Kew High School (non-members welcome)

NSW:   To PhD or not to PhD: that is the question – Prof Deb Kane, Macquarie University
Tuesday 26 March, 6pm – NSW Branch public lecture
University of Sydney

The 2013 AIP Women in Physics lecturer – seeking nominations from inspiring women

We’re looking for a woman who has made a significant contribution in a field of physics, and who can give engaging presentations to school students and the public, to be the 2013 AIP Women in Physics lecturer.

The AIP Women in Physics Lecture Tour celebrates the contribution of women to advances in physics. Our last Women in Physics lecturer, astrophysicist Tamara Davis from the Universities of Queensland and Copenhagen, revealed the dark secrets of the Universe and how physicists confirmed that dark energy is real, when she talked at schools and public events in 2011.

Previous lecturers have included Elizabeth Winstanley from the UK, Christine Charles from ANU and Tanya Monro from the University of Adelaide. These impressive women are fantastic role models for girls who are thinking about whether science could be a career for them, as well as presenters of interesting talks about great science.

Nominations are now open. The successful nominee will present lectures across Australia in 2013, both to expert and non-expert audiences.

Details are at http://www.aip.org.au/info/?q=content/women-physics-lecturer and nominations close 28 March, 2013.

The BIG little g project – school children weigh the earth

We are inviting school children around Australia to join in a national experiment to ‘weigh the earth’ as part of the AIP’s 50th birthday celebrations. They will be recreating Galileo’s famous pendulum experiment—using a simple pendulum to probe the local gravitational field. So they are ‘weighing’ the Earth by measuring the acceleration due to the Earth’s gravity, known as ‘little g’. Together we will make a map unlike any other: a gravity map of Australia!

Little g connects our mass to our weight, and fighting against it allows us to launch rockets into space. Although we usually think of g as being a constant, because the mass distribution of the Earth is not uniform and can change over time, g also varies. This variation can help us locate ore bodies, map ground water to understand the impact and severity of droughts, and measure the shrinking polar ice caps.

We’ll be launching the project on 1 March, and details of the project are online at http://www.aip.org.au/littleg

You can also find out more from coordinator Andrew Greentree on andrew.greentree@rmit.edu.au

Australian Physics magazine has a new editor

I am pleased to announce that Tony Farmer has taken on the honorary job of Editor of Australian Physics. Tony is an Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and lives in New South Wales. He can be contacted on tony.farmer@csiro.au.

Many thanks to Peter Robertson, who very capably edited Australian Physics for the last two years and is handing it over to Tony in good shape.

Brian James continues as Chair of the Editorial Board. If you have an article you would like to submit to Australian Physics, please send it to Brian on b.james@physics.usyd.edu.au or Tony.

Report from the 2013 AIP AGM and Council meeting

The 2013 – 2015 AIP Executive is:

President: Robert Robinson (aip_president@aip.org.au)
Vice President: Warrick Couch (wcouch@astro.swin.edu.au)
Immediate Past President (ex-officio): Marc Duldig (marc.duldig@utas.edu.au_
Treasurer: Judith Pollard (judith.pollard@adelaide.edu.au)
Registrar: Ian McArthur (mcarthur@physics.uwa.edu.au)
Secretary: Joe Hope (joseph.hope@anu.edu.au)
Special Projects Officer – Prizes and Awards: Olivia Samardzic (olivia. samardzic@dsto.defence.gov.au)
Special Projects Officer – 50th Anniversary Events: Andrew Greentree (andrew.greentree@rmit.edu.au)

2013 AIP Branch positions

Here are the key positions from the 2013 committees for most of the AIP branches, with contact details. We’ll update you on Victoria in upcoming bulletins.


Chair: Wayne Hutchison (w.hutchison@adfa.edu.au)
Vice Chair: Cormac Corr (cormac.corr@anu.edu.au)
Secretary: to be decided
Treasurer: Andre Carvalho (andre.carvalho@anu.edu.au)

New South Wales

Chair: Scott Martin (scott.martin@csiro.au)
Vice Chair: Graeme Melville (gmel@tpg.com.au)
Secretary: Fred Osman (fred_osman@exemail.com.au)
Treasurer: Michael Lerch (michael_lerch@uow.edu.au)


Chair: Igor Litvinyuk (i.litvinyuk@griffith.edu.au)
Vice Chair: Joanna Turner (Joanna.Turner@usq.edu.au)
Secretary: Till Weinhold (Till.weinhold@gmail.com)
Treasurer: Christian Langton (christian.langton@qut.edu.au)

South Australia

Chair:  Kristopher Rowland (kristopher.rowland@adelaide.edu.au)
Vice Chair: Gunther Andersson (gunther.andersson@flinders.edu.au)
Secretary: Laurence Campbell (laurence.campbell@flinders.edu.au)
Treasurer: Murray Hamilton (murray.hamilton@adelaide.edu.au)


Chair: Raymond Haynes (rhaynes.tas@gmail.com)
Vice Chair: to be decided
Secretary: Steve Newbery (stephen.newbery@dhhs.tas.gov.au)
Treasurer: Andrew Klekociuk (andrew.klekociuk@aad.gov.au)

West Australia

Chair: David Parlevliet (d.parlevliet@murdoch.edu.au)
Vice Chair: Chris Creagh (c.creagh@murdoch.edu.au)
Secretary: Andrea Biondo (andreaatuni@gmail.com)
Treasurer: Bruce Hartley (bruce.hartley@teamhartley.com)

Books for review

John Macfarlane, the book review editor for Australian Physics, is seeking reviewers for the journal to write a short review (300-500 words). If your review is accepted for publication you may keep the book for your own use.

There are three books available for review:

Guesstimation 2.0 – Solving Today’s Problems on the Back of a Napkin by Lawrence Weinstein

Icon in Crisis – The Reinvention of CSIRO by Ron Sandland and Graham Thompson

Star-Craving Mad – Tales from a Travelling Astronomer by Fred Watson

Contact John at jcmacfarlane@netspace.net.au if you are interested in reviewing a book or have a suggestion of another book to review.

Other physics news and events

Other physics events for the general public, students and teachers

New South Wales

Launch of Star-Craving Mad, Tales from a Travelling Astronomer, Fred Watson’s journey through time and space – public book launch, on the following dates:
Monday 18 February, 7pm – Concord Library, Sydney
Friday 22 February, 6.30pm – University of New South Wales
Monday 4 March – Bathurst Book Club
Thursday 7 March, 1pm – ABC Ultimo, Sydney
Monday 25 March, 7pm – Mosman Library, Sydney
Wednesday 3 April – Bowral Supper Club


Brian Schmidt: The Accelerating Universe
Thursday 21 February, 12.30pm – public lecture ***NOTE: Not 6.30pm, as originally posted
University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus

Lawrence Krauss: A Universe from Nothing
Wednesday 20 February, 6.15pm – public lecture
University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus

Launch of Star-Craving Mad, Tales from a Travelling Astronomer, Fred Watson’s journey through time and space – public book launch, on the following dates:
Tuesday 26 February – Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane
Wednesday 27 February – University of Southern Queensland, Brisbane

South Australia

Launch of Star-Craving Mad, Tales from a Travelling Astronomer, Fred Watson’s journey through time and space – public book launch
Saturday 16 March, 4pm – The Science Exchange, RiAus, Adelaide


Old galaxies in the aging Universe – Pierluigi Cerulo and Nicola Pastorello, Swinburne University
Friday 15 February, 6.30pm – public lecture
Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Under the radar, the first woman in radio astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott – Miller Goss, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA
Wednesday 20 February, 8pm – public lecture
Elisabeth Murdoch Building, University of Melbourne

Australian Young Physicists’ Tournament(AYPT) at Melbourne High
Friday and Saturday 8-9 March – student tournament

The lives of stars: from birth to death – Sarah Maddison, Swinburne University
Friday 22 March, 6.30pm – public lecture
Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Anna Sippel, Swinburne: Title TBA
Wednesday 17 April, 6.30pm – public lecture
Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Launch of Star-Craving Mad, Tales from a Travelling Astronomer, Fred Watson’s journey through time and space – public book launch, on the following dates:
Sunday 17 March, 6.30pm – Monash University, Melbourne
Monday 18 March, 12pm – Ballarat Observatory, Ballarat
Tuesday 19 March, 2pm – Scienceworks, Melbourne

The “Gran Telescopio de Canarias” (GTC): first light of the largest optical telescope on Earth – Rafael Guzman, University of Florida
Friday 3 May, 6.30pm – public lecture
Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Jonathan Whitmore, Swinburne University: Title TBA
Friday 17 May, 6.30pm – public lecture
Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology

Western Australia

Astrofest 2013, Curtin Stadium, Curtin University
Saturday and Sunday 16-17 February – astronomy festival

Australia Day Honours

As outgoing president, Marc Duldig noted in an email to members on 28 January that AIP Fellow Brian Schmidt, Australian National University (ANU), was appointed a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) for “eminent service as a global science leader in the field of physics through research in the study of astronomy and astrophysics, contributions to scientific bodies and the promotion of science education”.

I’d also like to acknowledge and congratulate others in the physics field who received awards in the Australia Day honours list:

Astronomer Professor Mike Dopita, Australian Federation Fellow from ANU, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) “for significant service to science in the field of astronomy and astrophysics”.

Brian Boyle, CSIRO SKA Director, was awarded the Commonwealth Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service to Australian astronomy and for leadership of the Australian team bidding to host the international Square Kilometre Array facility”.

Robert Clark, Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to science and technology through leadership and governance of the scientific community of the Australian Defence Force and through contributions to quantum computing and nanotechnology”.

Catriona Jackson is the new CEO of Science and Technology Australia

Catriona Jackson was announced yesterday as the new CEO of Australia’s peak body for science and technology. She comes from the Australian National University where she led the Communication and External Liaison Office. Earlier she was a senior staff member for former science and research Minister Senator Kim Carr.

She brings with her 25 years of experience in federal politics at a senior level, tertiary education and print and radio journalism.

The Australian Institute of Physics is a member of Science and Technology Australia, and we look forward to working with Catriona on issues affecting the physics community.

More info at http://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/in-the-media/new-ceo-for-science-technology-australia/


Prime Ministers Prizes for Science – nominations now open

Each year the Prime Minister rewards and celebrates the nation’s best scientists and science teachers through the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. In 2012, the Prime Minister’s prize for Science was awarded to ANU astronomer Ken Freeman, who discovered that what we see of galaxies – stars, gas and dust – is only a small fraction of their mass and determined that the rest is dark matter. And the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientists went to University of Western Australia engineer Eric May for his analytical understanding of gas behaviour. Eric’s work is making liquefied natural gas even cleaner and potentially saving billions of dollars in processing costs.

Nominations for the 2013 prizes are now open, and the process has been divided into two parts to simplify it.

For the first step of nomination, all you need is:

  • an achievement summary of no more than 800 words
  • a two-page CV
  • proof of Australian citizenship or permanent residency.

The five prizes for which physicists and physics educators are eligible are:

  • The $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, awarded for an outstanding specific achievement or series of related achievements in any area of science advancing human welfare or benefitting society
  • The $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientists, designed to recognise achievements of scientists at an early-mid stage of their research careers that advances, or has the potential to advance, human welfare or benefits society
  • The $50,000 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary and Secondary Schools, awarded in recognition of contributions by science teachers in their commitment and dedication to effective and creative science teaching.

There are a few changes to the criteria this year:

  • eligibility to the Malcolm McIntosh is extended to outstanding research outcomes within ten years’ full time equivalent, including research conducted as part of studies for a Master’s degree or PhD
  • past recipients of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize are eligible to be nominated for the major prize
  • the $50,000 cash component of the Science Teaching Prizes will be shared equally between the prize recipient and the school in which the prize recipient was teaching at the time of nomination.

More info at http://www.innovation.gov.au/Science/InspiringAustralia/PrimeMinistersPrizesforScience

Fresh Science 2013 – nominate your best young scientists for a media training boot camp

Fresh Science takes young researchers with no media experience and turns them into spokespeople for science. If you know any smart young researchers, please forward this information and encourage them to nominate for Fresh Science 2013.

We’re looking for:

  • early-career researchers (from honours students to no more than five years post-PhD)
  • a peer-reviewed discovery which has had little or no media coverage
  • some ability to present ideas in everyday English.

State finalists will meet journalists and learn essential communication skills in a one-day media training course, followed by a public event where they’ll get to practice their new skills.

Then, the 12 best candidates from the state finals will head to Melbourne for the Fresh Science national final – an intense four-day media boot camp, where they’ll present their work to the media, meet government and science leaders, explain their work over a beer with strangers and try to inspire a room full of school kids with their science.

Nominations are now open and close 5pm, Friday 1 March 2013.

Read the full selection criteria and nominate online at: www.freshscience.org.au

Physics jobs

Professor and Chair in Photovoltaic Engineering – ANU

Lecturer in Experimental Particle Physics – University of Melbourne

Departmental seminars

New South Wales

CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF), Marsfield

Wednesday 13 February – Impact of CSIR/CSIRO Solar Noise Research -1945 to 1951- on the Development of Radio Astronomy Techniques, Miller Goss (NRAO)

Wednesday 27 February – Victor Flambaum (UNSW)

Wednesday 6 March – Shinsuke Ideguchi (Kumamoto University)

Wednesday 20 March – Shoshanna Cole

School of Physics, University of New South Wales

Tuesday 12 February – Accurate cosmology from gravitational lens time delays, Sherry Suyu (Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan)

Tuesday 19 February – One molecule to rule them all: constraining variations in the proton-to-electron mass ratio from astronomical observations of methanol, Simon Ellingsen (University of Tasmania)

School of Physics, University of Sydney

No seminars currently listed, check the website for updates


Physics colloquia, University of Queensland

No seminars currently listed, check the website for updates

South Australia

School of Chemical and Physical Science, Flinders University

Monday 18 February – Controlled and stimulated release- from biosciences to materials science, Helmuth Möhwald (Max-Planck-Inst of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany)

Tuesday 19 February – Multiple-probe SPM and related nanotechnology toward neuromorphic nanosystem research, Tomonobu Nakayama (National Institute for Materials Science, Japan)

Tuesday 12 March – Semiconductor nanowires for optoelectronic device applications, Chennupati Jagadish (Australian National University)

Tuesday 26 March – Susanne Blum (University of California, Irvine, USA)


Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University

Thursday 14 February – Multiple stellar populations in globular clusters – detailed observations, big consequences, Sarah Martell (AAO)

Tuesday 19 February – Emily Petroff

Thursday 7 March – Aaron Dotter (ANU)

Tuesday 12 March – Rebecca Allen, Swinburne: 6-month review

Thursday 14 March – Tyler Evans, Swinburne: 30 month review

Thursday 21 March – Jakob Walcher (AP Postdam)

Tuesday 26 March – Genevieve Shattow: 18 month review

Thursday 28 March – Elisa Boera: 18-month review

Monash Centre for Astrophysics, Monash University

Tuesday 12 February – Large scale structure and the galaxy-matter connection, Greg Poole (Swinburne University)

Tuesday 19 February – Tearing up the disc: how black holes accrete, Chris Nixon (JILA, Colorado)

Western Australia

Department of Physics, University of Western Australia

No seminars currently listed, check the website for updates


2013 AAAS Meeting
14 –18 February, Boston, USA

2013 Physics Teachers’ Conference, VCE Science Conference Series (Science Teachers’ Association of Victoria)
15 February 2013, Monash University, Vic

2nd Heavy Ion Accelerator Symposium on Fundamental and Applied Science
8 – 12 Apr 2013, Canberra, ACT

NEW 2nd Geant4 School and Monte Carlo Workshop
19 – 24 April 2013, University of Wollongong, NSW

17th International Conference on the Use of Computers in Radiation Therapy
6 – 9 May 2013, Melbourne, Vic

CRCA Collaborate | Innovate | 2013 Conference – the Cooperative Research Centres Association conference
15 – 17 May 2013, Melbourne, Vic

NEW 6th Chaotic Modeling and Simulation International Conference
11-14 Jun 2013, Istanbul, Turkey

NEW 21st International Symposium on Plasma Chemistry (ISPC 21)
4 – 9 Aug 2013, Cairns, Qld

NEW Joint International Conference on Hyperfine Interactions and Symposium on Nuclear Quadrupole Interactions 2014
21 – 26 Sep 2013, Academy of Sciences, Canberra

Contributions and contact details

Please get in contact if you have any queries about physics in Australia:

  • Rob Robinson, AIP President  aip_president@aip.org.au
  • the AIP website for more information is www.aip.org.au (note this is a new site – don’t get stuck in the old one at aip.org.au)
  • membership enquiries to the Secretariat aip@aip.org.au
  • ideas for an article for Australian Physics to the Editor, Tony Farmer, on  tony.farmer@csiro.au; or the Chair of the Editorial Board, Brian James, on b.james@physics.usyd.edu.au
  • contributions to the bulletin (e.g. activities, conferences and announcements) to Georgina Howden-Chitty from Science in Public on georgina@scienceinpublic.com.au or call (03) 9398 1416, by the 23rd of the month prior.
  • the AIP Events Calendar to check what’s on, and also to submit your own physics-related events (any queries to Georgina, as above)
  • to receive these bulletins, please email Georgina, as above (you don’t need to be a member of the institute).



Dr Rob Robinson

President of the Australian Institute of Physics
Phone: +61 (2) 9717-9204
Email: aip_president@aip.org.au

(Sent by Niall Byrne, Science in Public, on behalf of the Australian Institute of Physics, www.aip.org.au)