January 2009 special bulletin to AIP members

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics

Welcome to a much anticipated year for physics in Australia. Not only is it the International Year of Astronomy, but there are also several significant astronomy projects starting in Australia. We have a physicist as Australia’s chief scientist, another as chief defence scientist, and two physicists will serve as senior advisers to President-elect Obama.

In this, our first 2009 bulletin for AIP members, I’ll tell you more about our plans for 2009, our new executive team, astronomy celebrations and more. In the next bulletin for February we’ll restart our regular summary of physics events around the country.

Physics will play an important role in science and science policy this year. I expect that this year physics and physicists will be called on to help solve important problems for Australia such as climate change, provision of energy, dealing with environmental degradation and its monitoring, national security and safety, providing new ways for effective and efficient health care, and assisting Australian industry to move to green technologies, create new products and develop new processes that are clean and efficient.

It could also be a tough time for some of our private sector members following the dramatic end of the mining boom.

And the debate about the Australian innovation system will continue. Your executive will participate in this debate both directly and through FASTS.

The AIP finished 2008 on a high with a high energy Congress in Adelaide (thanks to the South Australian branch for hosting this wonderful gathering of physicists!). 2009 will start with the election of a new AIP national executive who take over in February after the AGM. I welcome A/Prof. Brian James who is our President-elect, Dr Marc Duldig our Vice-President-elect, Dr Judith Pollard our Honorary Treasurer-elect and Prof. John Humble and Dr Olivia Samardzic as the executive members. I will be in the role of immediate past president. We say thank you and farewell to Prof. David Jamieson and Dr Ian Bailey who finish 6 years on the national executive. Their contribution has been outstanding and we have all benefitted greatly from the substantial volunteered contribution they have given to the AIP.

This year the AIP will be working hard to assist you in your career, provide activities and opportunities to meet with other physicists, promote the importance of physics to government and the community and ensure the future generations of physicists are well educational and trained. We also plan to diversify our ways of communicating with you through a revamped membership system, a more effective web site and web 2.0 tools such as Facebook. Our Facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=12004370659&ref=mf.

Earlier this week you will have received a renewal email. I hope you will join me and engage with the AIP to make the most of your membership and contribute where you can.

If you want to contact me regarding other AIP or physics matters please email me at aip_president@aip.org.au.  If you have any questions or comments on this bulletin, the AIP or physics in Australia please let me know.

Best wishes

Cathy Foley

AIP President until Feb 2009.

1.    The International Year of Astronomy

2.    Brian James – the incoming AIP President

3.    Update on membership renewals

4.    The AIP 2008 Congress – a success for participants and the AIP

5.    Physicists in leadership positions

6.    About the AIP – how it works

7.    Call for information for the February bulletin and articles Australian Physics

8.    Darwin

Later today the International Year of Astronomy will be launched at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Australia is represented by our new Chief Scientist. The launch will be marked with a 33 hour observation of three quasars. Seventeen telescopes, including three in Australia, will participate. Their observations will be combined in real time by a supercomputer. The process known as e-VLBI can produce images with up to 100 times those of the best optical telescopes.

AIP members are also invited to the launch of IYA in Australia. It’s at Questacon in Canberra on 28 January. Contact Niall Byrne, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au for more information.

The Year is a huge global celebration and an opportunity of us to engage with the next generation of physicists, now in schools, and with the wider community. Astronomy is arguably the most accessible of the physical sciences. Everyone can look up at the night sky and throughout the year there will be many opportunities for the public to do so.

Please take a look at the IYA website and see what’s happening in your part of the world. Also, if your organisation is holding an event, please register it with the IYA secretariat via their web www.astronomy2009.org.au.

Highlights of the Year in Australia include:

  • 2-5 April: “100 hours of astronomy”, an umbrella event around the world for celebrating astronomy. There will be dozens of stargazing events around the country, and Australia will take part in an international webcast from professional observatories around the world
  • 18-21 July: the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The anniversary (in Australia) is on Tuesday 21 July: celebrations and open days will be held at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory in NSW on 18-19 July. Other events in Canberra will mark the involvement of the ACT’s Honeysuckle Creek tracking station in the Moon landing
  • 15-23 August: National Science Week
  • Dark skies/quiet skies; and touring exhibitions in the second half of the year.

There will be hundreds of other events around the country for example this month NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has organised 15 ‘Starry Starry Night’ events across the State.

Highlights in February include:

  • 15 February: celebrations of Galileo’s birthday at the Sydney Observatory and other venues.
  • 20 February: jazzman James Morrison and astronomer Fred Watson present an IYA concert, “Hot Stars, Cool Jazz”, at the Sydney Conservatorium.

More information at www.astronomy2009.org.au.

After the February AGM, Brian James will be the AIP President for the following two years. Brian is a graduate of the University of Sydney where he obtained a PhD in plasma physics. His research interests remain in the field of plasma physics, particularly spectroscopic diagnostics.

In recent years he established an experimental program on complex plasmas at the University of Sydney and has collaborated on diagnostics for the H-1NF heliac magnetic confinement device at the ANU. He has had visiting appointments at the Culham Laboratory (UK), UCLA, Kyushu University and Dublin City University.

Brian was head of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney (2003-2006), and prior to that Associate Dean (Postgraduate) in the Faculty of Science (1996-2002). He now holds an honorary appointment at the University of Sydney. Having been a member of the Australian Institute of Physics since student days, he was secretary of the NSW Branch 1988-1989. In 2007 he became vice-president of the AIP, and took over the newly-created position of editor-in-chief of Australian Physics. He is also a member of the Australian Optical Society, the Institute of Physics and the Optical Society of America.

As you know we have been developing our website to enable our members to have greater access to information and benefits, upgrade membership and renew and change their details online. You should have received an email with your user name and password earlier this week.

If you log in and renew your membership before the end of January you will get a discount for early payment. Please access the member login function of the Australian Institute of Physics website at http://www.aip.org.au/content/membership and click the “secure online portal” link or connect directly to http://aip.rentsoft.biz/ccms.html and log in using your username and password.

If you experience any problems, or did not receive the email with your username and password, please contact Vivien Cheah at our office on (03) 9326 6669 or email to aip@aip.org.au.

We hope that you find the new online system easy to use and an improvement in our member services. We will be further developing the website throughout 2009.

The 18th National Congress of the AIP was held in Adelaide from 30 November to 5 December 2008. The Congress was attended by 620 delegates, with 870 papers being presented across seven parallel sessions. Plenary lectures were held in the Elder Hall of the University of Adelaide with posters, the trade exhibition and refreshments, including a very popular free barista, being predominantly in the nearby Bonython Hall. An aim of the organisers was to keep the Congress as compact as possible and parallel sessions were held close-by in university lecture theatres. There were another 15 more or less informal meetings arranged to take advantage of the concentration of physicists.

As usual, the morning plenary sessions were highlights and eleven plenary speakers attended, covering a wide range of topical physics of particular interest to Australian physicists from solar energy systems through education and medical physics to the physics of the LHC.

The Congress incorporated two public lectures, one on solar energy systems and the other on pulsars, plus a ‘Science Outside the Square’ activity which was jointly organised by the Bragg initiative, together with the Congress Organising committee, entitled ‘Physics to blow your mind’. This event was run in the Governor Hindmarsh hotel with 450 members of the public enjoying a unique question and answer session on particle physics, string theory, and black holes!

The media also took a keen interest in the Congress with several of the plenary and keynote speakers, along with the AIP Walsh Medal winners, being interviewed by The Australian, The Advertiser, ABC Radio National and local radio stations.

The Congress was well supported by sponsors, notable amongst which were the three South Australian Universities and ANU.

The contributions that physicists can make to society are highlighted in four recent high profile appointments.

In the US, President-elect Barack Obama has appointed John Holdren, who has a PhD in plasma physics from Stanford, as his national science advisor. John is a highly respected scientist and science and technology policy advisor, focussing on energy technology and policy, global environmental change and nuclear arms control and non-proliferation.

Also, Steve Chu, a Nobel laureate physicist and Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be Obama’s Secretary of Energy.

In Australia, Penny Sackett took up her position as Australia’s Chief Scientist in November 2008.  Penny is a physicist, having completed her PhD (titled ‘Scale parameters for finite temperature actions of lattice gauge theories coupled to fermions’) at the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional work has been as an astronomer, and her personal research interests include dark matter, galactic structure, and extrasolar planets.

Penny is also an educator and science communicator, and a great advocate of science as a career for secondary school students. Throughout her career she has fostered cross-disciplinary science and in her role as Chief Scientist she is well placed to see where physics fits into the broader community.

She spoke on this at the AIP 2008 Congress, in a talk titled ‘Why physics is important to Australia (and vice versa)’. In this talk she gave us her thoughts on the importance of physics to Australia, its people, and its future – and the role of scientists in an increasingly global society.

Talking to an audience of physicists, Penny felt that she did not need to labour the importance of doing physics, whether it is research driven by curiosity, which might only lead to unanticipated benefits many years later, or research focussed on providing solutions to immediate problems. Also, the areas in which physics is needed today are obvious, including the exhaustion of fossil fuels, climate change and nanotechnology.

Yet, why are scientists becoming in ever more short supply? Why are MBAs rated more highly than PhDs in some quarters?

Penny’s take home message was that the more physicists interact with the world outside of physics, the more influence physics will have in the broader community (and vice versa). She was pleased to see from the Congress that the physics presented covered a wide range of topics; that physics was interfacing with all questions of how the universe works and why.

Click here to read the full speech.

And last September Robert Clark was appointed as Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist.

Robert Clark’s early career involved 10 years’ service with the Royal Australian Navy (1969-79) with service on eight ships. He was promoted to Lieutenant before leaving the RAN to complete a PhD in Physics at UNSW and the Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford.

He returned to Australia in 1991 to take up the position of Professor of Experimental Physics at UNSW, where he established the ARC Special Research Centre for Quantum Computer Technology.

The AIP is a not-for-profit, limited-liability company registered in Victoria. All executive and committee positions are not remunerated except for the Australian Physics Editor which has an honorarium. We are required to report our audited financial status and provide a company annual report every year to ASIC. Income is from membership fees, Australian Physics advertising, any profits from conference underwriting and donations. We are currently going through a process to obtain tax deductibility for donations to a newly formed Physics Foundation to fund student scholarships, bursaries, awards etc. When this is finalised, the AIP will have a special committee to manage this foundation.

The AIP is run by a national executive that is elected every two years. The current executive nominates members for the future executive. These are published in November and then the full membership is invited to nominate for any of the positions. This year no nominations were forthcoming from the membership and so the current executive’s nominations will be deemed to be the elected officer bearers at the AGM held on February 16 at University of Melbourne.

Each state has a local branch which has its own branch committee headed by the branch chair. This committee is elected every year in November/December at the local branch AGM. The branch organises events and activities for their branch members and every two years one branch hosts the AIP Congress. The next congress will be hosted by the Victorian Branch in 2010.

There are also seven special interest groups that all members are invited to join. Each interest group operates in a way to suit the group’s interests and needs.

The AIP also has several cognate societies. These are other professional societies such as the Optical Society of Australia (OSA) and the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA). We offer discounts those who are members of both. The AIP cooperates with the cognate societies and works together with them such as we plan to do for the International Year of Astronomy with the ASA.

The AIP is also a member of the Federation of Australian Science and Technology Societies (FASTS). This organisation is a political lobby group that assists promoting the importance of science and technology with government.

The AIP is also represented on the Australian Academy of Science Physics Committee and participates in the International Union of Physics and Applied Physics (IUPAP) through this committee.

The AIP has several international professional societies with which it offer reciprocal rights such as reduced fees for conferences and publications charges.

Finally the AIP developed from being a branch of the Institute of Physics based in the UK. The AIP and the IOP co-operate closely and the IOP offers substantial discounts for AIP members to join the IOP.

We will be continuing our regular monthly bulletins, with news, events and notices. The next issue will be out by the end of January. We are seeking submissions of upcoming events. To make sure your event is included, send its details to Margie at margie@scienceinpublic.com.au or call (03) 9398 1416. Items are usually required by approx. the 25th of each month for inclusion in the bulletin for the following month. This month, because of the Australia Day holiday, please send your information by Friday 23rd January. I encourage you to send in items well in advance.

And the AIP’s journal, Australian Physics, welcomes your articles. These articles can cover all aspects of physics in Australia: little known areas of physics, physics at a smaller university that doesn’t get a lot of attention, an unusual physics career or news about physics. If you’d like to write an article for Australian Physics contact editor-in-chief Brian James on B.James@physics.usyd.edu.au.

The next deadline is Friday 13 February for the March/April issue.

It’s Darwin’s 200th birthday on 12 February.

Yes, I know he wasn’t a physicist. But his ideas have permeated across society and there are several events throughout the year that will travel from the evolution of the universe to the evolution of life.

One of the early highlights of the year is a birthday party at Melbourne Museum on 12 February where guests will eat their way through the evolutionary tree.

Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral is holding a service on 8 February exploring the intersection of science and faith. And there’s a fantastic exhibition at the National Museum in Canberra.

Further details at www.evolutionaustralia.org.au.

For more information on physics events visit http://www.aip.org.au and click on ‘physics events’ or on your state branch.

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

Kind regards


Dr Catherine P. Foley

President of the Australian Institute of Physics

Phone: + 61 2 9413 7413

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)