LIGO Director coming to Australia this year, and Federal physics funding – physics in June

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics

With Warrick away this month, I am taking on the task of writing to you on behalf of the AIP Executive.

As current AIP Vice President it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the wider physics community, beyond my day job as Director of the Australian Synchrotron – there is always so much activity underway in Australian physics.

Last month’s Federal Budget included new funding for some important physics infrastructure projects. See later in this bulletin for details, as well as an excellent analysis from the Australian Academy of Science (AAS).

The AAS announced the election of 21 new Fellows last week, including three AIP Fellows and one member of the AIP Executive.

I’d like to extend the AIP’s congratulations to the very-deserving Ian Allison, Ben Eggleton, Susan Scott and Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop. You can read more about their contributions to physics and Australian science below.

Are you bringing your physics to the AIP Congress in Brisbane in December? If so, it’s time to send in your abstract: the call for abstracts closes on 4 July. In this bulletin we profile an exciting plenary speaker for the Congress –LIGO Director David Reitze, who announced the first detection of gravitational waves in February this year.

In the most recent copy of Australian Physics we raised the issue of cost restricting access to the two-yearly AIP Congress. We asked for members’ feedback, including on the proposal to hold a ‘Congress Lite’ every two years. Please email your thoughts to

Andrew Peele
Australian Institute of Physics
Vice President, AIP

Congratulations to new Australian Academy of Science Fellows

AIP Fellows Ian Allison, Ben Eggleton and Susan Scott, and AIP Executive member Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, have been elected new Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science.

Ian Allison is a geological physicist who, at the University of Tasmania and Australian Antarctic Division, has made many significant contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms of Antarctic sea ice change.  video

Ben Eggleton is a nano-photonics researcher who runs the University of Sydney’s new Nano Centre’s quantum laboratory—harnessing light, sound and nanoscale matter to build optical photonic circuits, which will provide faster, more powerful, greener processing. Ben was the winner of the 2011 AIP Walter Boas medal. video

Susan Scott is a general relativity and gravitational wave researcher at the Australian National University and a leading expert in the singularity structure of space-time, including the singularities at the heart of black holes. video

Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop is Director of the Quantum Science Laboratory at the University of Queensland, and is internationally recognised for her work in laser physics, linear and nonlinear high resolution spectroscopy, laser micromanipulation, atom cooling and trapping and nano-optics. Halina is a Special Project Officer on the AIP Exec and was the AIP 2003 Women in Physics Lecturer. video

“We did it!” AIP Congress speaker David Reitze

As Executive Director of LIGO, it fell to David Reitze to make the announcement in February this year that gravitational waves had been detected for the first time. David is one of the international speakers recently added to the agenda of the AIP Congress in December (details below).

One of the most exciting discoveries in physics of recent years, the detection of gravitational waves by LIGO’s two US observatories sparked a level of media and public interest unseen since the Higgs boson in 2013.

The confirmation of General Relativity and colliding black holes is exciting from a purely theoretical point of view. In addition, practically, as David has noted, LIGO also represents the most precise measurement device ever built—measuring a distortion that was only a thousandth of the width of a proton.

David is involved in planning for a global gravitational wave observatory network: the Virgo observatory in Italy will come online later this year, KAGRA in Japan will come online in 2018, and the IndIGO group are investigating building an observatory in India.

The capabilities of gravitational wave detection will expand with each new observatory, both with increased ability to pinpoint sources and improved sensitivity to weaker sources (allowing detection of waves from events less cataclysmic than the 60-odd solar mass collision announced in February).

A larger geographical spread of observatories will also allow more precise pin-pointing of the sources of the waves, so that detection could immediately be followed up by optical and EM observations.

Australian groups have been working towards building a southern hemisphere detector in Australia that would optimise the directional resolution of the world network.

A larger geographical spread of observatories will also allow more precise pin-pointing of the source of the waves, so that detection could immediately be followed up by optical and EM observations.

Projects are aiming to detect gravitational waves at much lower frequencies, either by using multi-million kilometre space-based detectors or through the timing of pulsar signals.

Rewatch the announcement.

This year’s AIP Congress will bring together physicists from Australia and the Asia Pacific region for a week-long program of science and networking. We are calling for abstracts until 3 July.

  • Brisbane 4–8 December 2016
  • Calling for abstracts – deadline 3 July
  • Registration and call for abstracts at
  • Meeting co-chairs: Warrick Couch and Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop
  • Joint 13th Asian-Pacific Physics Conference and 22nd AIP Congress

Federal physics funding

The Federal Budget released last month included support for some important physics infrastructure with another $12.6 million the Australian Astronomical Observatory over two years, $39.4 million for ANSTO over three years, and an additional $145 million for the Australian Synchrotron over four years.

There was also new funding for Geoscience Australia and Antarctic science, funding for the Bureau of Meteorology’s new supercomputer, and confirmed support for the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project.

The Australian Academy of Science has published an excellent summary of the Budget with respect to science, research and education. Read it here.

The art of physics: seeking fluid images

Do you work in computational fluid flow? American Scientist is seeking imagery that illustrates ongoing fluid-flow research and drives the accompanying story of the research. Details below.

  • Image submissions only from image creators or members of the research team.
  • Must be a part of published or publishing research.
  • Image suggestions must be links to web addresses, not attached image files.


Free undergrad AIP membership

Did you know that the AIP has a category of membership that’s free for undergraduate physics students?

Electronic-only student members receive the President’s monthly bulletin, an electronic copy of the Australian Physics magazine, and information from their local AIP Branch about events being held.

Upon graduation, they will be invited to become full Members of the AIP (MAIP). By then we hope they will have gained an appreciation of some of the work the AIP does in terms of lobbying for physics in Australia and representing professional physicists.:

To apply, click here.

AIP talks and events

In April the South Australian AIP hosted Munich physicist Harald Fritzsch, a past winner of the Dirac Medal, one of the creators of quantum chromodynamics strong-force theory, and a pioneer of unification theory–the attempt to unify all four forces.

Prof Fritzsch is also the author of Escape from Leipzig, telling the tale of his dramatic escape from East Germany at the time of the Berlin Wall, including crossing the Black Sea in a folding canoe.

AIP’s best physics PhD prize: an important piece in the particle puzzle

We announced last month that Phiala Shanahan has been awarded this year’s AIP Bragg Gold Medal for the best PhD thesis in Australia for her thesis, Strangeness and Charge Symmetry Violation in Nucleon Structure, completed at the High Energy Physics group at the University of Adelaide.

Phiala studied the theory of the strong force, quantum chromodynamics, looking at the quark–gluon structure of hadrons like the proton and neutron. In particular, she was looking to quantify the role of the quantum vacuum (fluctuating quark–antiquark pairs) in generating observables such as the proton mass.

Phiala’s work not only significantly improved upon the best previous determinations of a number of important measurables such as the difference in mass between protons and neutrons. She also eliminated the limiting uncertainty on experimental measurements of a property of the nucleon related to the interaction of the fluctuating quark–antiquark pairs with electromagnetic fields.

Quantifying the role of the quantum vacuum is a necessary step in the search for particle physics beyond the Standard Model. The work has already had considerable impact in nuclear physics phenomenology, astrophysics and cosmology, including dark matter searches.

“I feel honoured to be recognised on a national level as the Bragg medalist. The award is a testament to the excellent mentoring I received at the University of Adelaide. 

“Since completing my PhD I have continued my research career, now working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I am investigating the gluonic structure of protons, neutrons, and nuclei.”

—Phiala Shanahan

AIP Women in Physics tour: August dates announced

Last month’s bulletin introduced the 2016 Women in Physics Lecturer, Catalina Curceanu (if you missed it, you can catch up here).

Lecture dates have now been released, with more details to come soon.

  • Tasmania 8–9 August
  • NSW 10–12 August
  • Queensland 15–16 August
  • South Australia 17–18 August
  • Western Australia 19 August (TBC)
  • ACT 22 August
  • Victoria 23–25 August.

AIP Prize deadlines extended

The deadlines for two AIP medals and awards have been extended, and the following three are open for nomination:

  • Education Medal for significant contributions to university physics education—until 17 June
  • Alan Walsh Medal for contributions to industry by a practising physicist in Australia—until 17 June
  • NSW Community Outreach Award for contributions to physics education or community engagement and demonstrated passion for the study of physics—until 9 October

More information can be found at or from Olivia Samardzic.

AIP membership

Enjoy the fellowship of other physicists? Think physics is important to Australia’s future?

Did you know that the Australian Institute of Physics:
•    fosters fellowship among physicists, providing a forum for views and meetings with colleagues
•    maintains standards of physics qualifications
•    expresses views of physicists to government
•    promotes physics as a discipline
•    holds regular conferences, and provides financial support
•    publishes views of members
•    supports women in science
•    encourages excellent researchers, teachers and students with awards and prizes
•    enables discounted membership of related societies such as the IOP
•    produces and distributes the Journal of Australian Physics, six editions per year.

How to join. Also see free, electronic-only membership for undergrad students, above.

Physics shorts

Physics news from around Australia
Experimental physicists from ANU, University of Adelaide and UNSW ADFA used artificial intelligence to optimise conditions for a Bose-Einstein condensate experiment, and found their AI could find optimal experimental conditions in less than an hour.

UNSW photovoltaic researchers set a new solar-energy record, achieving 35 per cent efficiency by splitting sunlight into four wavelengths, each of which hits a layer of the cell maximised for that wavelength.

CSIRO astronomers used the rotational speed of gas clouds to ‘weigh’ a supermassive black hole at the heart of a distant galaxy, finding it tipped the scales at a hefty 3.8 billion solar masses.

Swinburne physicists used the powerful FERMI free-electron laser to control and monitor electrons ejected by an atom within a few attoseconds of emission – technology with the potential to detect and control the movements of electrons within a chemical compound.

Gravitational wave detection capabilities could be magnified by a factor of seven by tiny ‘catflap’ pendulums developed at the University of Western Australia and fabricated on the University’s new ion-beam etching machine.

University of Queensland photonics researchers used laser heating of superfluid liquid helium coating a microscopic disc to generate periodic forces that make the disc ring like a bell.


Reach a bigger audience. The Australian physics events calendar is the definitive source for physics events around the country. If your physics event isn’t listed here, ask us about adding it, having it included in these regular bulletins, and tweeted from the AusPhysics account.


There are no upcoming events.

STANSW/AIP Physics Teachers Conference

Mon, 6 June, 2016
University of Sydney

Physics in the Pub
Mon, 20 Jun 2016, 6:30pm
Three Wise Monkeys Hotel


UQ Physics Colloquium: Michael Breakspear Brain Waves
Fri 3 June 2016, 3pm
Frank White Building (St Lucia) 43-102

There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


Mount Burnett Observatory members night
Fridays from 27 May 2016, 8pm
420 Paternoster Road, Mount Burnett, VIC

Fact or Fiction – Ballarat 2016
Thu, 16 June 2016, 7pm
Founders Theatre, Ballarat Campus, Federation University

Making Darkness Visible
Fri, 17 June 2016, 6.30pm
Swinburne University, Hawthorn

Western Australia

There are no upcoming events.