Taking the twinkle out of stars and other highlights from the physics conference

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics
Taking the twinkle out of stars and other highlights from the physics conference post image

From Marc Duldig, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Welcome to our first bulletin of 2013. This bulletin focusses on our recent conference in Sydney.

It is also my last bulletin before ending my term as President at the AGM next week, so I thought it would be good to quickly review the physics and AIP highlights from the past two years. And what a two years it has been!

For me, the most noteworthy happening has to be Brian Schmidt’s Nobel Prize. This has kept the Australian physics community buzzing ever since.

But more than that, it has allowed Brian to have a hugely positive influence politically and socially for our field. It has helped him push the importance of teaching better science in schools into the public domain; something that we have all been trying to do for quite some time.

Other highlights include:

  • the SKA announcement—its positive impact will be felt for years to come
  • the synchrotron now being securely funded (but we still need additional beamlines to come into operation)
  • the Higgs boson arriving in CERN and Melbourne simultaneously
  • physicists across the country winning many national and international awards and many of our colleagues being elected Fellows of the Academy of Science
  • the release of the Physics Decadal Plan.

Speaking of the Academy, there has been a review of the national committee’s structure and function and we will see what comes of that in 2013.

On the political front, we have survived the crisis of the Defence Trade Control Bill, although there is still work to do over the trial period of the next two years, getting rid of a few problematic compliance requirements. We have lost out on the funding for access to international facilities though.

Within the AIP, the Australian Physics magazine has gone from being way behind schedule to an on-time publication with a standard of quality that we could only have hoped for a few years ago.

We have just turned 50 and we have plenty planned for our semi-centenary year. The first thing is our new web site, already up and running, at www.aip.org.au.

And to finish it all off we closed out 2012 with a hugely successful congress.

The Australian Institute of Physics congress and Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology, AIP/ACOFT 2012, at the University of New South Wales in December was the largest physics event of the year.

The congress attracted 832 delegates with representation from 15 countries other than Australia. About 300 undergraduate and post-graduate students attended. Delegates presented more than 280 posters and an exhibition displayed the latest products and services available to the industry.

Some of the physics that gained media interest included:

  • the future of quantum computing
  • Aussie research that will enable the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile to gain clear images of stars
  • an optical fibre that will help detect corrosion in aircraft, bugs in water and much more
  • a new, cheaper way to deliver accurate time across Australia
  • winners of a national school physics competition
  • a discussion on the  assessment used to test Australian science teaching.

And I thank the exhibitors who presented the latest products and services available in the industry at the conference.

Unfortunately this year began with bushfires at Coonabarabran, New South Wales.  Some of the facilities at Siding Springs Observatory were damaged or lost and many astronomers and retired astronomers who live in the area have lost property. Our thoughts are with all of them at this challenging time.

If you’d like to help, I encourage you to consider supporting the Warrumbungle Shire Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal.

If you have trouble reading the bulletin in this format, it’s also online at www.aip.org.au. And you can read it and RSS it on my blog here and on LinkedIn.

Please note that replies to this email go to Niall Byrne, Science in Public, whose team compiles and manages the bulletin on my behalf. They also handle corrections, updates and bounces. If you have news or other information for the bulletin, email Georgina Howden-Chitty at georgina@scienceinpublic.com.au.

It has been an honour and a pleasure to have served as President during this exciting time in Australian physics. I am happy to pass the baton to Rob Robinson knowing that the leadership is going into good hands and that I leave him a robust and thriving institution filled with outstanding physicists as members.

May you all have a wonderfully happy and fulfilling year.



Marc Duldig
President, Australian Institute of Physics

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In this bulletin:

1.Stories from the national congress
2.Congress exhibitors
3.AIP AGM and Council meeting
4.January events
6.Submissions to the bulletin and journal

Stories from the national congress

The mainstream media had a healthy dose of physics during the 2012 physics congress in Sydney, with more than 50 stories from the congress running in print, on radio and TV.

Three stories got a particularly wide run: Francis Bennet’s work with the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, Svein Sjoberg’s take on the PISA tests, and Tanya Monro and Roman Kostecki’s optical fibres in aircraft wings.

Coverage highlights:

  • ABC TV News and ABC News Breakfast did a story on future energy with plenary speaker Thom Mason.
  • Radio current affairs stories ran on ABC’s AM and PM programs; and interviews ran on ABC News Radio and local radio in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
  • Stories appeared in The Age, The Australian, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Canberra Times and other major papers.

The major themes covered were education, IT, communications, health care and energy. Key stories for each theme included:

  • IT and communications: How close is a quantum computer? The creation of a quantum bit, Seiji Armstrong’s research into squeezing laser beams together, quantum sensors, light powered communication, better time tracking across Australia, freeing up space on the mobile network, the design of the NBN and getting a good look at stars.
  • Health: A hand-held probe to detect cancer, tracking tumours as they move, ioning out tumours, warning airline crews about solar radiation and golden answers to nerve regeneration.
  • Energy: Why Australia should take part in the world’s largest energy project, overcoming the energy challenge with science and looking at how algae might help us make better solar panels.
  • Education: The decline of women in physics, confusing students to make them think, student physics prize winners and Svein Sjoberg’s take on the PISA exams.

Below are some highlights. Links to the full stories are online at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/aip/storiesfromthecongress

How close is a quantum computer?

Quantum computers promise ultra-powerful, high speed number crunching. They’ll help us to search vast databases and model biological molecules at an atomic level.

They will crack the encryptions we rely on for banking and online security but also help us make new, unbreakable codes.

UNSW’s Andrew Dzurak talked 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 in conventional computers.

Presentations by ANU researchers were:

  • Dr Andre Carvalho and his team reported their discovery of a way of making quantum devices more stable
  • Mr Seiji Armstrong and his colleagues described switching eight beams of entangled light in a laser – for high speed networks.

Goodbye twinkle, hello stars


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 have 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 to take clear images.

An example of media coverage of Francis Bennet’s work is online here: http://www.smh.com.au/world/science/a-mirror-kill-snuffs-out-the-twinkle-twinkle-20121212-2ba4q.html

An aircraft wing that knows when it is corroding

A new optical fibre – which can only be made in Australia – was presented by Roman Kostecki, a PhD student at the Institute of Photonics and Advanced Systems at the University of Adelaide. Roman 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.

In partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Roman is working on using his innovation to detect corrosion in the metal of aircraft bodies by the presence of aluminium ions when light is sent down the fibre. It could also be used in other metal structures such as ships and bridges. Roman is working with Professor Tanya Monro who is an ARC Federation Fellow and Director of the Institute.

An example of media coverage is online here: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1719975/Optic-fibres-can-detect-rust-and-bugs

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.

One way of marking time to the level needed would be to provide hydrogen maser clocks to ground stations, research laboratories, observatories and telescope sites across the nation at hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

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.

Nobel laureate presents school science project award


A team of students from Gosford High School in NSW 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.

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.

Congress exhibitors

If you can’t quite remember who you visited and chatted with at the congress exhibition hall, this list of exhibitors may prompt your memory. I thank them all for their support.

Agilent Technologies
AVT Services
Coherent Scientific
Cryogenic Australia
Engineers Enterprise
Ezzi Vision
IPAS, University of Adelaide
Javac – Australian Made Vacuum
Oxford Instruments Nanoscience
QS Australia
Raymax Lasers
Scitek Australia
SPIE/IGroup Australasia
Tesuco Gas Equipment
University of New South Wales
Warsash Scientific

AIP AGM and Council meeting

We will formally appoint new AIP President Dr Robert Robinson of ANSTO at the Annual General Meeting next week.

The AGM is on Tuesday at RMIT, Melbourne, after the first day of the Council meeting.

We will also appoint our other executive members and officers for 2013 to 2015.

January events

Next month we’ll resume our more comprehensive listing of upcoming events. Here are a few events for late January.

VIC: 5.45pm Tuesday 29 January – Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 launch

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb will launch the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth in Australia at the University of Melbourne.

VIC: 6.30pm Wednesday 30 January – Latest news from the cosmic frontier

Roberto Abraham from the University of Toronto reports the latest events in the quest to understand the origin of galaxies. The Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing public lecture is at Swinburne University of Technology’s Hawthorn Campus.

NSW: 3pm Wednesday 30 January – Fireworks in the night: art, science, perception

Michaela Gleave is a resident artist with the CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science division. Michaela will discuss the background of her artistic practice and the path that led her to the field of astronomy as part of the Australia Telescope National Facility Colloquium.


Australian Colloid & Interface Symposium (ACIS) 2013

Noosa, Qld

3 – 7 Feb 2013

2013 Physics Teachers’ Conference, VCE Science Conference Series (Science Teachers’ Association of Victoria)

Monash University, Vic

15 February 2013

2nd Heavy Ion Accelerator Symposium on Fundamental and Applied Science

8 – 12 Apr 2013

Canberra, ACT

17th International Conference on the Use of Computers in Radiation Therapy

Melbourne, Vic

6 – 9 May 2013

CRCA Collaborate | Innovate | 2013 Conference – the Cooperative Research Centres Association conference

Melbourne, Vic

15-17 May 2013

Submissions to the bulletin and journal

Our next bulletin will come out in early February 2013, with the usual listing of news and events. We welcome contributions about activities, conferences and announcements by Monday 4 February. Please send your submissions to Niall Byrne (by replying to this email) or Georgina Howden-Chitty from Science in Public on georgina@scienceinpublic.com.au or call (03) 9398 1416.

You can also submit your physics events directly to the AIP Events Calendar—they will be approved and publicly accessible in just a couple of days, and will also be included in the next month’s bulletin.

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


For more information on physics events go to the AIP Events Calendar.

If you know of anyone who would like to receive these updates, please feel free to forward this to them.

Kind regards,



Dr Marc Duldig

President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Phone: + 61 (0) 421 757 285

Email: aip_president@aip.org.au