Budget burdens, hidden history and mining for dark matter: physics in June

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics, Bulletins
Budget burdens, hidden history and mining for dark matter: physics in June post image

Posted on behalf of Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

There have been many voices raised in response to the Federal Government’s budget, and the concerns of scientists need to be heard among the clamour.

Although we welcome some measures, including support for infrastructure like the Square Kilometre Array and the continuation of the Future Fellowship scheme, the $420 million cuts to agencies like ARC, CSIRO, DSTO, ANSTO and the CRC program will hit physicists very hard.

Together with changes to university fees that will see significant increases to the cost of earning a PhD (as described in The Conversation), we’re seeing increasing obstacles to research in Australia. This is especially disappointing when compared to the value countries like the United Kingdom are placing on their graduates.

The AIP is trying to make a difference by advocating for science funding as a member of Science and Technology Australia, but I also encourage all members to communicate to our elected representatives how much science brings to Australia’s prosperity and health as a nation.

Of course, we will celebrate everything physics does at the AIP Congress, to be held at the ANU in Canberra from 7 to 11 December, under the banner ‘The Art of Physics’. There’s already a fabulous program of speakers, including two Nobel Prize winners, so I encourage all of you to attend. And also to contribute: the deadline for submitting abstracts for presentations has been extend to 27 June.

Please note that replies to this email go to Science in Public, who send the bulletin out for me. You can contact me directly on aip_president@aip.org.au, and there is a comprehensive list of contact details at the end of the bulletin.



Rob Robinson
President, Australian Institute of Physics

In this issue…

AIP member news

Abstracts wanted for AIP Congress

You still have time to make a submission for this December’s 21st biennial AIP Congress, with the deadline extended until late June.

Your abstract can be for either a 15-minute oral presentation or a poster, on any of a wide range of fundamental research areas, as well as physics education, industrial physics and applications, women in physics, and of course the Congress theme, ‘The Art of Physics’.

Please submit your abstract online at the Congress website by 5.00 pm AEST on Tuesday 27 June 2014.

Find out more and submit your abstract at aip2014.org.au/abstracts/?IntCatId=60.

Half a century of hidden AIP history

Article by Chris Creagh

In a dry, dark cupboard, one of many lining a long musty corridor in the University of Western Australia Physics Department, papers telling the story of the inception of the WA branch of the AIP lay untouched for 50 years.

The story still exists in living memory but the custodians of those memories are scattered far and wide across state, country and globe. Perhaps it was good luck, perhaps it was good planning to use such a storage space; these corridors had never been “upgraded” and the space was too small to be prime storage real estate.

So there the story sat until 2013, when the dust was dusted off, and a half century’s accumulation of good intentions and serious considerations was bundled into seven archive boxes and taken for electronic scanning and preservation.

The packer and collector was, of course, yours truly but the funds to make this all possible came from Neil Shaw, CEO of Octans IM Consultants, and it is he who deserves the thanks for saving the history of the AIP in WA. Without his help it would just be another seven archive boxes of paper in a UWA cupboard.

There is still much to do. The hardcopy needs to be catalogued so it can be deposited in the state archives. The electronic copy needs to be tagged and bookmarked so it becomes more easily searchable and then it can be uploaded onto the internet for future research and past memories. We will keep you posted on our progress.

I am sure there is more than one story in there and likely a PhD or two, perhaps “The Impact of Physics on the Economy of WA” would be a good place to start? Any takers?

Link in with us

LinkedInDid you know the AIP has a LinkedIn group?

It’s a great place to network with your fellow members, start or join a discussion, promote an event or even advertise a job.

Entry is open to AIP members only—more incentive to join!

Teaching videos now online

The AIP’s own Chris Creagh has uploaded to YouTube a series of videos for first year university students. These are very short (two-minute) lecture demonstrations of topics like air pressure, buoyancy and resonance and standing waves.

Intended for external students, or those who can’t make it to classes, the videos show demonstrations that would otherwise be missed in typical online lecture transcripts and screen captures.

Chris and her colleagues at Murdoch University have filmed about 30 of these and will be progressively uploading them as they are edited. Naturally, everyone is welcome to use them and she welcomes feedback about the content.

NSW award for community outreach

The New South Wales branch of the AIP is offering its inaugural Community Outreach to Physics Award.

This award will be given annually to an individual involved in physics in NSW who has:

  • worked to engage the academic community
  • effectively developed community events
  • increased physics awareness, knowledge or experiential learning opportunities for students.

The winner will receive $500 and a certificate recognising their achievements.

Nominations close 10 October 2014. You can find out more at the NSW AIP website.

Other physics news

Budget cuts $420m from science

Among the big hits in the recent Federal Budget were significant cuts to many science agencies and grants bodies. These reductions included:

  • $74.9m from the Australian Research Council (ARC)
  • $111.4m from the CSIRO
  • $120m from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO)
  • $27.6m from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)
  • $7.8m from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
  • $80m from the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program.

Science and Technology Australia—of which the AIP is a member—has released a statement in response to the budget. As its CEO Catriona Jackson said, “It is very disappointing to see funding to the trusted national icon CSIRO cut when they have already made significant staff reductions. There is little fat left to trim, the brutal reality is that research programs will now have to be slashed.

“Also, ending the current round of CRCs midway through is very hard to understand, and sends the wrong message to industry and academia, who have together delivered such concrete and consistent returns to the Australian public through CRCs.”

For more detail on the full extent of the cuts to the various agencies and initiatives, the Australian Academy of Science has released an analysis of the Budget impact.

Dark matter goldmine

Australia could soon have its own direct-detection dark matter experiment, following investigations that are underway at the Stawell Gold Mine deep in the heart of Victoria.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP), in conjunction with Northern Grampians Shire Council, is assessing the mine’s suitability using equipment supplied by ANSTO.

CoEPP Director Geoff Taylor surveying the mine site (photo Matteo Volpi)

CoEPP Director Geoff Taylor surveying the mine site (photo Matteo Volpi)

Direct-detection experiments often look at the rate of particle interactions, rather than trying to identify individual events. The idea is that, as the Earth orbits the Sun, its velocity relative to the galaxy’s dark matter halo should vary throughout the year, leading to a detectable annual modulation in the signal. The proposed Australian experiment could help confirm or deny this theory.

Elisabetta Barberio, the Australian leader of the proposed experiment, says, “The site is looking promising. Right now we’re measuring radon concentration and will soon be taking rock samples to further assess background radiation levels. If all goes well, the experiment would be an Australian first.

“If successful, the mine would house a direct dark matter detector complementary to one at Gran Sasso in Italy. These ‘twin’ detectors, in similar conditions on opposite sides of the world, could lead to an answer on the dark matter question.”

Crystallography photo winner

The winner of the Australian satellite of the International Year of Crystallography photo competition is Graziano Lolli, with his picture “Romanesco broccoli” (shown below).

Graziano’s picture, visualising the contest theme “crystallography in everyday life”, was voted number one by delegates at the CRYSTAL 29 conference in Queensland in April.

AIP events

The Art of Physics, 2014 AIP Congress
7–11 Dec 2014
ANU, Canberra

Hey Mate—where’s my jetpack? Physics research shapes our future—more than you might think

Fri 30 May 2014, 12:40pm
Room SL-1, B21, ADFA campus, UNSW Canberra, Northcott Drive, Canberra, ACT

Departmental seminar

Hans Bachor and Alison McGregor look at some of the highlights, the thrills, the motivation and success of Australian physics over the last 50 years.

Physics in the Pub

Thu 19 Jun 2014, 6:30 pm
3 Wise Monkeys Hotel, 1/555 George St, Sydney, NSW

Public event

Eight brief, informal talks of a few minutes each given by physicists hand-picked by MC Phil Dooley.

More events below

News in brief

Pitch drops around the world

Another slow science experiment at Trinity College Dublin beat UQ to YouTube.

Turn your phone into a microscope

ANU researchers invent a x160 magnifying gel lens for fitting to a smartphone camera.

High school masterclass at CoEPP

Students in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney can learn about the search for the Higgs.

Join the meteorite hunters

Curtin University researchers and citizen scientists seek space rocks with the Desert Fireball Network.

WA physicists win Clunies Ross award

Eugene Ivanov and Michael Tobar received an Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) Clunies Ross Award for their work on low-noise oscillators.

Diamonds are a laser’s best friend

Macquarie University scientists use the special thermal properties of diamonds to improve the quality of high-powered laser beams.

New element on the table

Element 117 confirmed at German lab by an international team including researchers from ANU.

Thin film photonics cheap as chips

Researchers from Swinburne University have created a micrometre-thick graphene oxide film with high-quality optical components fabricated by laser.

Galactic telescope views neutron star

Radio astronomers use interstellar medium as a giant lens to make the most precise ever measurements of a pulsar.

Forecasting weather… in space

Researchers from RMIT University and the Bureau of Meteorology analyse predictions of equatorial plasma bubbles.

Optical fibres detect traces of explosives

Using changes in the colour of light emitted by polymer in an optical fibre, University of Adelaide researchers can detect as little as 6.3 ppm of explosives.

Fossil stars record the Universe’s history

The chemical signatures of ancient stars in the Milky Ways halo give insights into the formation of galaxies.

Deadly viruses caught by high-speed detectors

Tunable photonic nanocrystals, or ‘tau-Dots’, have successfully detected virus DNA within minutes in an experiment by researchers at Macquarie University.

Start of universal cooling identified

Swinburne University researchers have found that the Universe’s ‘fever’ broke about 11 billion years ago, ending a warming caused by the switching-on of active galaxies.

Curved space gives new outlook

In this University of Melbourne podcast, Bart Pindor explains how gravitational lensing helps us see planets and galaxies.

Physics documentaries at Sydney festival

Particle Fever, about the hunt for the Higgs, and Sepidah: Reaching for the Stars, about an aspiring female astronomer in Iran, are screening at the Sydney Film Festival.


AIP event denotes AIP events


AIP event Hans Bachor & Alison McGregor: Physics research shapes our future—more than you might think
Fri, 30 May 2014, 12:40pm
Room SL-1, B21, ADFA campus, UNSW Canberra, Northcott Drive, Canberra
Departmental seminar

Brian Cox – Making Sense of the Cosmos
Fri, 24 Oct 2014, 7pm
Royal Theatre, National Convention Centre Canberra
Public lecture


Sydney Film Festival: Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars
Thu, 5 Jun 2014, 10am
Event Cinemas George Street 4, 525 George St, Sydney
Movie screening

An evening with Dr Michio Kaku
Sat, 7 Jun 2014, 6pm
Sydney Town Hall
Public lecture

Sydney Film Festival: Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars
Sun, 8 Jun 2014, 12pm
Event Cinemas George Street 9, 525 George St, Sydney
Movie screening

Sydney Film Festival: Particle Fever
Sat, 14 Jun 2014, 9:30am
State Theatre, 49 Market St, Sydney
Movie screening

Sydney Film Festival: Particle Fever
Sun, 15 Jun 2014, 5:15pm
Event Cinemas George Street 9, 525 George St, Sydney
Movie screening

AIP eventPhysics in the Pub
Thu, 19 Jun 2014, 6:30pm
3 Wise Monkeys Hotel, Level 1, 555 George St Sydney City (close to Hay Market)
Public lecture

International masterclass for high-school physics students: The search for the Higgs
Thu, 10 Jul 2014
The University of Sydney
For students and teachers

5th Annual Poster Presentation Lecture Evening (A.P.P.L.E)
Mon, 21 Jul 2014, 6pm
Trinity Grammar School, Dining Hall, 119 Prospect Road, Summer Hill

Brian Cox – Making Sense of the Cosmos
Wed, 22 Oct 2014, 7pm
State Theatre, Sydney
Public lecture


An evening with Dr Michio Kaku
Thu, 5 Jun 2014, 6pm
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
Public lecture

Journey Through the Cosmos with Brian Cox and the QSO
Thu, 6 Nov 2014
QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane
Public lectures and music


International masterclass for high-school physics students: The search for the Higgs
Thu, 10 Jul 2014
The University of Adelaide
For students and teachers

Brian Cox – Making Sense of the Cosmos
Tue, 14 Oct 2014, 7pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre
Public lecture


No upcoming events are currently listed.


An evening with Dr Michio Kaku
Fri, 6 Jun 2014, 6pm
The Plenary, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
Public lecture

Australian Academy of Science: New fellows & medallists symposium
Thu, 12 Jun 2014, 5:30pm
Auditorium, Melbourne Brain Centre, Kenneth Myer Building, 30 Royal Parade, Parkville
Public lecture

Wayne Rowlands: Photonics! …physics applications for today
Thu, 12 Jun 2014, 6pm
Laby Theatre, School of Physics, The University of Melbourne
For students

Practical Activities Workshops and Equipment Fair
Mon, 30 Jun 2014
Camberwell Grammar School, Mont Albert Rd, Canterbury
For teachers

International masterclass for high-school physics students: The search for the Higgs
Thu, 10 Jul 2014
The University of Melbourne
For students and teachers

Brian Cox – Making Sense of the Cosmos
Sat, 18 Oct 2014, 7pm
The Plenary, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
Public lecture


Brian Cox – Making Sense of the Cosmos
Thu, 16 Oct 2014, 7pm
Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre
Public lecture



Powerful AGN and Their Host Galaxies Across Cosmic Time
16–20 June 2014, Port Douglas, Qld

19th OptoElectronics and Communications Conference/39th Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology (OECC/ACOFT 2014)
6–10 July 2014, Melbourne, Vic

6th Pacific Rim Conference on Rheology
20–25 July 2014, The University of Melbourne, Vic

Joint International Conference on Hyperfine Interactions and Symposium on Nuclear Quadrupole Interactions 2014
21–26 September 2014, Academy of Sciences, Canberra, ACT

MEDSI 2014 – Mechanical Engineering Design of Synchrotron Radiation Equipment and Instrumentation
20–24 October 2014, Hilton on the Park, Melbourne

2014 Australasian Radiation Protection Society Conference
26–29 Oct 2014, Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart, 1 Davey St, Hobart, Tas

XRM2014 — 12th International Conference on X-ray Microscopy
26–31 October 2014, Melbourne, Vic

The Periphery of Disks
3–6 Nov 2014, Sydney, NSW

OSA Optics and Photonics Congress on Light, Energy and the Environment
2–5 December 2014, Australian National University, ACT

AIP Congress – The Art of Physics
7–11 December 2014, Australian National University, ACT

NEW Annual Condensed Matter and Materials Meeting (“Wagga 2015”)
3–6 Feb 2015, Wagga Wagga campus of the Charles Sturt University, NSW

AMN7 Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology
8–12 February 2015, The Rutherford Hotel, Nelson, New Zealand

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 is www.aip.org.au
  • membership enquiries to the Secretariat aip@aip.org.au or 03 9895 4477
  • ideas for articles for Australian Physics to the Chair of the Editorial Board and Acting Editor Brian James, on b.james@physics.usyd.edu.au, or the editorial board, which is listed in your latest copy of the magazine
  • contributions to the bulletin (e.g. activities, conferences and announcements) to Chris Lassig from Science in Public on chris@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 Chris, as above)
  • to receive these bulletins, please email Chris, as above (you don’t need to be a member of the Institute).

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