Nobel for gravitational waves; Australia joins the space race; flip-flop qubits and quantum internet – Physics in October

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics

Professor Andrew PeeleInterim Director, Australian SynchrotronSpace has featured strongly in recent news.

A new gravitational wave detection, and the first from a detector other than the LIGO detectors, means we are improving our ability to identify the source of these signals and strengthening arguments to build more, and more advanced, detectors.

Of course, there is also the small matter of a Nobel Prize!

Overnight Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”. Like the Higgs Boson before it there was very little doubt that this significant work was going to win a Nobel Prize, it was more a matter of who would be awarded the prize and when. You can read the full media release here.

Another success was celebrated with the end of the Cassini mission bringing world-wide media attention and reminding us just how much can be achieved with good planning and a dedicated team.

The International Astronautical Congress also gathered its share of media attention. While Elon Musk headlined with plans for going to Mars and a new acronym for a very large rocket (read the story!), the news for Australia was even more important. The announcement of a space agency for Australia signals exciting times for physics and for members of the Australian Institute of Physics.

On the topic of space, but in a different way, there are some important spaces to fill at Science & Technology Australia, with nominations open for executive committee positions. The AIP is a member of STA and this opportunity to play a role in Australia’s peak body in science and technology is one of the benefits of AIP membership. More on how to nominate below.

For more physics news you can:
1) read on;
2) renew your membership to keep receiving the AIP member only magazine – Australian Physics;
3) stay in touch with other members through events and conferences around the country; such as the Summer Meeting at the end of this year, and the 2018 AIP Congress; or
4) all of the above.

Space News

Introducing Australia’s new space agency

A “crucial” step for the nation

space agencyAfter years of speculation, Australia is finally set to launch its very own space agency. Formally announced at last week’s International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, the agency will anchor Australia’s participation in the burgeoning $420 billion global space industry and stimulate what local space entrepreneurs have called “the next industrial revolution”.

The decision, first mooted in June, is the result of an exhaustive review by former CSIRO chief Megan Clark which revealed an overwhelming need for a local space agency. Education Minister Simon Birmingham broke the big news at the opening of the Congress, promising that the new space agency would feature in next year’s May budget and articulating the government’s vision for a “private sector-driven undertaking” that would “make sure Australia is at the forefront” of the booming space economy.

Acting Science Minister Michaelia Cash also lauded the “crucial” addition to Australian national infrastructure and the “several billion dollars of extra economic activity” it could bring. The initiative has bipartisan support, with Opposition science spokesman Kim Carr lauding the “enormous opportunities” in store.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement made major national and international news, not to mention a big splash on social media after fake news articles promoted a humorously scatological acronym for the new agency:

Destination Mars: human exploration possible in ten years

IAC concludes with big announcements from Lockheed Martin, SpaceX
mars base camp
Australia has chosen an exciting time to step up to the plate. Last week’s International Astronautical Congress culminated in the reveal of not one, but two proposals to put bootprints on Mars within 20 years.

Long-term partners of NASA, Lockheed Martin, presented a plan that puts humans on Mars by the mid-2030s. Lockheed’s proposal can be implemented solely with present technology, with key components adapted from vehicles and space systems already in intensive use. The scheme involves:

  • A ‘Deep Space Gateway’ – a moon-orbiting refuelling station and construction yard
  • ‘Mars Base Camp’ – an interplanetary spaceship which transforms into a permanent Mars-orbiting research station
  • A reusable, single-stage shuttle which will ferry water ice from the Moon to the Deep Space Gateway and shuttle scientists from Mars orbit to the surface
  • A three-year mission plan sustaining an almost two-year human presence on or around the Red Planet

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Elon Musk also gave a keynote address at the International Astronautical Congress promoting astronautics firm SpaceX’s own bid for Mars. Far more ambitious than NASA’s plan, Musk aims to put humans on Mars in 2024 with the aid of what he calls a ‘BFR’ – to paraphrase, a very big rocket. The explorers will manufacture their own fuel for the return journey, but later trips will be one-way, with the ultimate goal of building a self-sustaining city of over one million people within the century.

While some commentators, including NASA, expressed skepticism at the plan, others pointed to SpaceX’s unprecedented domination of the launch industry – with 50% of the market to themselves – as evidence that billionaire Musk can get the job done.

 Cassini’s heroic mission comes to a fiery conclusion

Space robot’s sacrifice to save extra-terrestrial fish
Exciting news for the future of space exploration was tinged with sadness last month: after 13 years on the final frontier, space probe Cassini’s mission finally came to an end. Diving between the planet Saturn and its rings – the first probe in history to do so – Cassini plunged into the gas giant’s crushing atmosphere on the 15 September, prompting cheers and tears from the mission staff at NASA and rapt witnesses all over the world. The CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex tracked the plucky probe to its final resting place.

More than a decade on, it’s easy to forget how radically Cassini challenged modern planetary science. Baffling hexagonal storms over Saturn’s poles; unexpected patterns in the giant’s famous rings; evidence of a colossal liquid ocean beneath frigid Enceladus; and most bizarre of all, the existence of winds, dunes, rivers, rain, and vast hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Like so many inspiring little robots in NASA’s storied history, Cassini exceeded its mission parameters – in this case by more than six years. Ultimately, however, Cassini became the victim of its own success: having gathered compelling evidence of the potential for life on Enceladus, the risk of contaminating its pristine oceans with microbes from Earth became too great.

To commemorate the historic date, our colleagues in the UK have made available a free ebook documenting in meticulous detail the design, execution, and outcomes of the Cassini mission. It will be available for download for the next two weeks and is well worth a read:

Finally, to all those involved in the Cassini-Huygens mission in Australia and all over the world: congratulations.

AIP News

Don’t forget to nominate for 2018 Women in Physics Lecturer

katieKatie Mack’s 2017 lecture tour will be fondly remembered by thousands of scientists, students, and members of the public all across Australia. But who will be the next Women in Physics Lecturer?

We are seeking a woman working overseas who:

  • has made a significant contribution in a field of physics research
  • has demonstrated public speaking ability
  • is available in 2018 to visit Canberra and each of the six Australian State capital cities and surrounding regions.

Nominations are open until 1 December 2017. Find all the details at:

Physics news & opportunities

Quantum breakthrough

Flip-flop qubits and quantum internet: CQC2T hit the papers in September

Scientists at UNSW have claimed a big breakthrough in the race for quantum. Their new ‘flip-flop’ qubits can interact with each other on the micrometre, rather than nanometre, scale, paving the way for intricate multi-qubit arrays which will finally unlock true quantum computing.

Andrea Morello, program manager of CQC2T, builds on a novel but underappreciated concept first mooted almost 20 years ago. The approach involves storing information in the spin-state of single electrons. This allows the qubits to interact via electrical signals, which are robust over much larger distances than standard methods allow.

The research was published in Nature Communications. Although still of a theoretical nature, Andrea said the UNSW team had already achieved ‘impressive results’ with practical devices based on the new research.

The big news comes on the back of a bumper few months for quantum science in Australia. CQC2T also made headlines last month with a new erbium-doped crystal which could underpin a future ‘quantum internet’. And back in July, Sydney University’s Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory inked a major international partnership with Microsoft, which was also covered in this bulletin.

Business and entrepreneurship in STEM: the Galaxy Convention

Having a great STEM product idea is one thing, but taking that idea and turning it into a viable business is a difficult path that not many successfully navigate.

CAASTRO – the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics – warmly invite you to attend their upcoming Galaxy Convention. Over two December days in Sydney, you will meet STEM graduates from all over Australia who have taken their ideas out of the lab and into the market. The event will place an emphasis on women in STEM, with female secondary school students particularly encouraged to attend and see just what they could achieve with a career in the sciences.

Registrations are now open but places are limited. Don’t miss out.

Upcoming conferences: sign up now

Submissions and registrations are open for several Australian physics conferences to take place in coming months:

  • The Ninth Australasian Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation
    Open to anyone with an interest in general relativity, this latest instalment in the long-running biennial conference series will be the first to take place in light of LIGO’s historic observation of gravitational waves, with a special workshop discussing the rise of next-generation detectors right here in the Asia region. Hosted by UWA, 27-30 November; submissions close 27 October.
  • The 10th Conference on Optics, Atoms, and Laser Applications (KOALA)
    IONS KOALA is Australia and New Zealand’s only student-run conference in the field of quantum optics. This year, the conference returns home to Brisbane for its tenth anniversary. 26 November – 1 December.
  • 3rd Conference and Workshop on Spin-Based Quantum Information Processing (Spin Qubit 3)
    Hosted in Sydney, this conference brings together world-leading researchers in the field of solid-state, spin-based quantum computing to participate in a 5-day workshop. 6-10 November.

As always, consult the AIP’s Physics Events calendar for all the latest in events and conferences throughout Australia:

Aussie Synchrotron throws open its doors this Sunday

Free event for professionals and the public alike, 8 October

Once every two years, the Australian public gets a chance to peek inside the national Synchrotron. Professionals, students, families, interested members of the general public are all invited to study the intimate workings of one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most important scientific facilities.

Five different tours are on offer, catering for everyone from families with young children, to multidisciplinary artists seeking to uncover the secrets of famous artworks, to industry experts eager to find out what the Australia’s synchrotron has to offer.

Book your free tour now:

Bright ideas: nuclear fusion and the future of energy – film screening and panel discussion

Let There Be Light_PosterThe Environmental Film Festival Australia in partnership with with the Australian High Commission of Canada (HCC) is bringing the film documentary, “Let There Be Light”, about the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) to Australia.

The film follows the progress of ITER, the governance arrangements, and some researchers working in parallel on nuclear fusion technologies.

After the screening there will be a panel discussion titled “Bright ideas: nuclear fusion and the future of energy”. Canadian filmmaker Mila Aung-Thwin will be a guest at this event, and there will be a panel discussion with Mila and other experts on nuclear fusion (Matthew Hole), renewable energies and the like.

There are two events being held in Australia.

Event details:
Date – Wednesday 18 October
Time – 6:00pm – 8:15pm
Location: ACMI Federation Square, Flinders Street Melbourne Australia

Film trailer and further information –

Event details:
Date – Wednesday 18 October
Time – from 5.30pm (begins with welcome reception hosted by the HCC). Ends by 8.30pm
Location – Australian National Library, Canberra

Film trailer and further information –

Science & Technology Australia Executive positions open

Nominations have opened for the Science & Technology Australia (STA) Executive Committee.

The following positions are open for nomination:

  • Vice President (two year appointment)
  • Treasurer (two year appointment)
  • Early Career Representative (two year appointment)
  • General Representative (one year appointment)

The successful candidates will join current STA Executive Committee members, Emma Johnston (President), Darren Saunders (Secretary), Cathy Foley (Policy Chair), Alan Duffy (Early Career Representative), and Kylie Walker (CEO).

Candidates must be financial members of a STA member society (such as the Australian Institute of Physics) and receive written support from two other individuals who are themselves financial members of a member society. Position descriptions, including selection criteria, are available by clicking on the linked position titles above.

Nominations are due by 5.00pm, 6 November 2017. The positions will determined by vote at the STA Annual General Meeting in Sydney on 23 November 2017.

For more information, or to apply visit: 

Join the board of Astronomy Australia

One vacancy is available on the board of Astronomy Australia, a not-for-profit company that connects researchers to Australia’s world-class national astronomy infrastructure. The board is particularly interested in candidates with experience in:

  • Business administration and finance;
  • Corporate governance and legal matters; and,
  • Industry engagement and/or technology transfer.

Applications close on 9 October. Candidates will be considered by the board at the company’s AGM in late November.

Find the details here:

Aussie physics in the news

Gravitational waves detected for fourth time by observatories on either side of the world (ABC Science)

Not taking the piss: why it’s important to examine how we teach and test physics to reduce gender bias (The Conversation)

The fluid dynamics of paint (COSMOS)

Quantum computers, build it and they will come, possibly (AFR)

Quantum Supremacy: how Australia can lead the world in the new computing (AFR)

Science has transferred digital data from light waves to sound for the first time (Business Insider)

The politics and science of nuclear weapons (ABC)

Astronaut Andy Thomas reveals his role in the movie Gravity, one of the best space movies ever made (Advertiser)

‘Nobody saw it’: Breakthrough claimed by UNSW’s quantum computing team (SMH)

68th annual International Astronautical Congress kicks off in Adelaide, as NASA congratulates Australia for space industry announcement (Advertiser)

Former NASA chief hails creation of Australian space agency (ABC)

Watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX’s most detailed plans yet to start colonizing Mars in just 7 years (Business Insider)

Lockheed Martin trumps SpaceX Mars plans (SMH)

Books for review

If you are interested in reviewing one of these books for publication in Australian Physics, please contact the editor Brian James at

  • Quantum Optomechanics by W P Bowen & G J Milburn
  • Materials Aspect of Thermoelectricity edited by Ctirad Uher
  • Blackbody Radiation: A History of Thermal Radiation Computational Aids and Numerical Methods by Sean M. Stewart, R. Barry Johnson
  • Complex Light by Jeff Secor, Robert Alfano and Solyman Ashrafi
  • The Physics of Thermoelectric Energy Conversion by H Julian Goldsmid


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.


[ACT] Journeying to the centres of the planets (Dawn of the new space age talk series)
Tue, 17 Oct 2017, 5:30pm

[ACT] “Let there be light” film screening
Wed, 18 Oct 2017, 5:30pm
National Library of Australia, Parkes Place West Parkes, ACT, 2600 Australia

[ACT] Australia’s role in looking for life on Mars (Dawn of the new space age talk series)
Tue, 5 Dec 2017, 11am


[NSW] AIP Annual Scientific Meeting
Sun, 3 Dec 2017
UNSW, Sydney, Australia

[NSW] NSW secondary science teacher professional development day (December)
Fri, 8 Dec 2017, 9:25am
ANSTO Discovery Centre, New Illawarra Rd, Lucas Heights, NSW


There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


[VIC] Synchrotron Open Day 2017
Sun, 8 Oct 2017, 9:30am
Australian Synchrotron

[VIC] “Let there be light” film screening
Fri, 13 Oct 2017, 6pm
ACMI, Federation Square, Flinders Street Melbourne Australia

[VIC] ANSTO PD for teachers (November)
Thu, 16 Nov 2017, 9am
Australian Synchrotron, 800 Blackburn Rd, Clayton, Victoria

[VIC] When freezing cold is not cold enough: Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle
Thu, 30 Nov 2017, 7pm
Swinburne University

[VIC] Lunch with a Laureate: Wolfgang Ketterle
Fri, 1 Dec 2017, 12pm
Monash University Clayton Campus


There are no upcoming events.


[ACT] 2nd International Conference on Neuroimaging and Interventional Radiology
Mon, 30 Oct 2017, 9am
Hilton San Antonio Airport 611 NW Loop 410 San Antonio TX 78216 USA

[NSW] Gordon Godfrey Workshop on spins and strong electron correlations
Mon, 30 Oct 2017, 6pm
School of Physics

[NSW] 3rd Conference and Workshop on Spin-Based Quantum Information Processing (Spin Qubit 3)
Mon, 6 Nov 2017
Art Gallery NSW

[VIC] ANSTO User Meeting 2017
Wed, 22 Nov 2017
Australian Synchrotron

[QLD] Conference on Optics, Atoms and Laser Applications (KOALA)
Sun, 26 Nov 2017
St Lucia Campus

[Qld] IONS KOALA 2017
Sun, 26 Nov 2017
Women’s College, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, 4072, QLD

[WA] The Ninth Australasian Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation
Mon, 27 Nov 2017
University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

[NSW] AIP Annual Scientific Meeting
Sun, 3 Dec 2017
UNSW, Sydney, Australia

[NSW] CAASTRO Galaxy Convention
Mon, 4 Dec 2017
Sydney Nanoscience Hub, The University of Sydney

[NSW] International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Mon, 29 Jan 2018
University of Wollongong

[NSW] The 42nd Annual Condensed Matter and Materials Meeting
Tue, 30 Jan 2018, 2pm
Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

[VIC] 5th Asian and Oceanic Congress on Radiation Protection – AOCRP5
Sun, 20 May 2018
Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre