Physics in the limelight, let’s keep it there; AIP AGM; LIGO lecture and more

AIP President’s blog, Australian Institute of Physics
Professor Andrew Peele Interim Director, Australian Synchrotron

Professor Andrew Peele
Interim Director, Australian Synchrotron

I am very excited about starting 2018 with Michelle Simmons awarded Australian of the Year – what better way is there to bring physics into the limelight than having people discussing the benefits of quantum physics.

Michelle is a great advocate for our discipline, women in science and physics education – her 2017 Australia Day Address was a great example.  We offer our sincere congratulations to Michelle on this honour, and you can share your messages with her too via our Facebook post.

I’d also like to offer congratulations to those physicists awarded in the Australia Day honours roll – see list below.

These accolades are a timely reminder that the only reason physicists win these awards is because someone nominates them.

Nominations are now open for Australian of the Year 2019 and the honours roll. You can also nominate for FameLab, the Eureka Prizes, Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and many other awards will open in the coming months.

So let’s make sure we keep the momentum going, think about who you can nominate to keep physics in the spotlight.

Last but not least, this month we also recognise Professor David McClelland – who has been awarded the Walter Boas Medal for key contributions to LIGO, and “one of the greatest achievements in the history of physics”, the discovery of gravitational waves. You can read more about David’s achievements below.

You can hear more from David at a Public Lecture at Melbourne’s RMIT on 15 February, immediately after the AIP’s AGM.

I hope to see you there.


Andrew Peele
President, Australian Institute of Physics

AIP news

The Sound of Silence: AIP honours Australian LIGO whisperer

Professor David McClelland honoured with Walter Boas Medal for key contributions to LIGO and “one of the greatest achievements in the history of physics”

It’s no exaggeration to say that LIGO’s 2015 discovery of gravitational waves changed the face of physics. For his role in DEMphotobringing about the epochal breakthrough, and securing Australia’s place in the international collaboration that made it possible, Professor David McClelland of the Australian National University has been awarded the 2017 Walter Boas Medal by the Australian Institute of Physics.
Professor David McClelland and his group at ANU were invited to join the LIGO project in 2009. In the following years, Professor McClelland and his team at ANU devised the key lock acquisition system and high-precision mirrors to shepherd the science beam safely through the detector. His refinements brought LIGO’s instruments up to the astonishing level of sensitivity required to listen to fluctuations in the fabric of space less than one thousandth the width of a proton over four kilometres. An achievement which culminated in the successful September 2015 detection of a black hole merger one billion light years away; a watershed moment in the history of physics.

David McClelland’s contributions to physics go beyond the lab; his leadership and vision awarded Australia the privilege of becoming the fourth member of the international coalition responsible for the discovery. Today, Professor McClelland continues to lead the Australian effort as Advanced Detector Chair of the LIGO Collaboration, where he is currently overseeing the implementation of new quantum optics that could double the detector’s reach.

David McClelland’s outstanding efforts on behalf of physics have earned him the AIP’s Walter Boas Medal, which promotes excellence in physics research over the past five years. The award is given annually to an AIP member resident in Australia and was established in 1984 to perpetuate the memory of legendary metallurgist Walter Boas.

Professor McClelland will give his Boas Medal Lecture following this year’s AIP Annual General Meeting (see below).

AIP Annual General Meeting in Melbourne

Have your say on the future of our community

Every year, the Australian Institute of Physics gathers its members from across the country to reflect, celebrate, and plan for the year ahead.

The AIP AGM will be held at RMIT, Melbourne on Thursday 15th February at 4.30pm.  All members are welcome to attend.  Please contact Kirrily Rule at to RSVP and for room details.

The AGM will be followed by a public lecture at 5.30pm given by Professor David McClelland, the 2017 recipient of the AIP Boas Medal.


  • AIP AGM: 4:30pm February 15, RMIT, Melbourne (contact Kirrily Rule at to RSVP and for room details)
  • AIP Boas Medal Lecture: 5:30pm February 15, RMIT, Building 12, Level 7, Room 2

Teaching physics with LEGO keeps students engaged

Initiative pioneered by AIP Physics Education Group leader makes headlines
Dr-Parappilly-with-Lego-race-carThe jump between high school and university level physics can be a daunting one for students. That’s about to change, thanks to an innovative approach implemented and successfully tested by AIP Education Medallist Dr Maria Parappilly. Big kids who aren’t quite ready to set aside childish things can put them to good use in the lab – by carefully analysing the physics of LEGO race cars.

It’s an out-of-the-box approach in more ways than one; cheap, adaptable and quite simply fun, LEGO race cars on ramps can teach first year university students about Newtonian physics, measurement and error, and the scientific method, all using apparatus available at any good toy store.

“Many undergraduate students come to our introductory physics course without basic science skills or any prior exposure to physics or mathematics at high school level,” explained Dr Parappilly.
“This can make lab work exceptionally challenging and is a major factor in the high early drop-out rate we witness for this topic.”

Practicing exactly what they preach, Dr Parappilly and her colleagues put their ideas to the test with control groups and rigorous analysis over four years. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Physics, conclusively show that this kind of approach to the traditional first-year lab class reduces dropout rates significantly, which means more qualified physics grads for Australia.

The LEGO physics approach, first trialled at Flinders University, is now being rolled out at universities nationwide. Read the full story:

Got a big idea for improving physics education? Get involved with the AIP Physics Education Group:

Other physics news & opportunities

UNSW quantum computing pioneer Michelle Simmons is Australian of the Year

World leader in quantum physics and “evangelist for Australian scientific research” honoured with nation’s top gong – the 2018 Australian of the Year.

MSQuantum computing has been described as the space race of our time – and thanks to this year’s Australian of the Year, the land down under leads by a length.

Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons heads CQC2T and sits on the board of Australia’s first quantum computing company. Under her leadership, Australian scientists have already developed the world’s smallest transistors, narrowest wires, and most tightly-packed circuits. Now her team stand on the brink of an epochal breakthrough: the world’s first practical, functional quantum computer – ten tiny qubits that could change the world.

Michelle Simmons was born and educated in the United Kingdom, but came to Australia on a QEII Fellowship in 1999.

“To this day, I am delighted with my choice and firmly believe that there is no better place to undertake research,” she explained in a 2017 address. “Australia offers a culture of academic freedom, openness to ideas, and an amazing willingness to pursue goals that are ambitious.”

Professor Simmons went on to become a citizen of Australia, a founding member of the ARC CoE for Quantum Computer Technology, an elected fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, a recipient of the vaunted Pawsey Medal, and a L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Laureate, among many other distinctions. She continues to push the frontiers of her field from her laboratory at UNSW.

More than merely a personal triumph, Professor Simmons’ receipt of the mantle of Australian of the Year raises the profile of Australian quantum technology across the board. In the days after the announcement, headlines nationwide have expounded Australia’s leadership in the field, bringing public attention to the “race for quantum” like never before.

“We want to build not just a quantum computer, but a quantum computing industry,” she said after accepting the award. Her citation emphasises her scientific leadership in the field of quantum computing, as well as her advocacy of a strong STEM education for girls and boys and her vision of an Australia that always challenges itself.

Read Professor Michelle Simmons’ 2017 Australia Day address here:

Physicists appointed to the Australian honour roll

Physics teachers, administrators, promoters and researchers were also recognised on Australia Day with admission to the Order of Australia:

Companion of the Order of Australia

Dr Gregory John CLARK, Kangaloon NSW
For eminent service to science as a physicist, researcher and academic in the area of technological development and communications, to business as an innovator and enabler of emerging technologies, and to the promotion of philanthropy.

Professor Trevor John McDOUGALL, McMahons Point NSW
For eminent service to science, and to education, particularly in the area of ocean thermodynamics, as an academic, and researcher, to furthering the understanding of climate science, and as a mentor of young scientists.

Officer of the Order of Australia

Emeritus Professor Michael Newton BARBER, Port Macquarie NSW
For distinguished service to higher education administration, and in the field of mathematical physics, particularly statistical mechanics, as an academic and researcher, and through contributions to science policy reform.

Laureate Professor Scott William SLOAN, Merewether NSW
For distinguished service to education, particularly in the field of geotechnical engineering, as an academic and researcher, to professional associations, and as a mentor of young engineers.

Member of the Order of Australia

Dr David Francis BRANAGAN, Willoughby NSW
For significant service to the geological sciences as an academic, researcher and author, to professional groups, and to the community.

Mr Daniel Joseph O’KEEFFE, Southbank Vic
For service to physics education.

If you’d like to nominate someone for an Order of Australia you can find the details on how to do so here:

EQuS “Quantum Hack” could give Australian the edge

“Enormous” efficiency gains unleashed for quantum computing

Scientists at the University of Sydney have announced an ingenious error correction method that could cut quantum bugs by 400 per cent. The research, published this month in Physical Review Letters, represents a critical advance in quantum computer theory, as the race to build a full-scale, working device intensifies.

David Tuckett, Professor Stephen Bartlett, and Associate Professor Steven Flammia comprise the EQuS-affiliated team responsible for the breakthrough. “By tailoring our quantum decoder to match the properties of the noise experienced by the qubits,” explained Flammia, “…we are ‘hacking’ the generally accepted coding for error correction.”

The state-of-the-art in qubit architecture these days struggles to achieve even 1 per cent fidelity. Tuckett and the team’s new method could allow for a four-fold improvement. That’s means four times fewer qubits will be needed for each logic gate – a massive step toward making a real quantum computer not merely possible, but feasible.

Better yet, the approach can be generalised to any quantum system, no matter what platform they operate on. Now it’s up to experimental scientists to find ways to apply the new theory.

GIZMODO covered the story in detail – read about it here:

Help shape the International Conference on Women in Physics

In 2020 the International Conference on Women in Physics will be held in Australia.

Preparations are already underway, and the organisers are seeking volunteers to join the local organising and programming committee. Female and male applicants are both welcome.

To register your interest, please send a small biography for the committee’s consideration:

Launceston Planetarium turns 50

Safe solar observations, talks from astronomy superstars, and even a total lunar eclipse were all on hand to help the Launceston Planetarium celebrate their 50th Birthday.

Launceston Planetarium was established in 1968; the year before humans first laid foot on the moon. For the past 50 years they’ve been inspiring the public and drawing the eyes of Tasmanians up toward the stars.

To commemorate their 50 years of operation, QVMAG (where the planetarium is hosted) held a jam-packed series of events culminating in a very special conjunction that Nature herself can only take credit for; a very special and rare species of lunar eclipse.

  • Astrophysics celebrity Alan Duffy spoke on his research into why galaxies are the shape they are – and what that might tell us about mysterious ‘dark matter’.
  • Mars One astronaut candidate Josh Richards shared his story and why he’s planning a one-way trip to the red planet.
  • Melbourne Planetarium boss Tanya King spoke about Australia’s enduring love of space and the future of planetaria.
  • UTAS honorary researcher Marc Duldig speaks about the miraculous nature of particles

And of course, the planetarium was open. You can catch shows on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

UniMelb Physics needs a Laboratory Manager

Lead the undergrad teaching laboratory and earn ~$90,000 p. a.

The University of Melbourne School of Physics is seeking suitably qualified individuals with physics majors and significant technical expertise in the operation, maintenance and upgrading of laboratory facilities.

As laboratory manager, you would have overall responsibility for ensuring the efficient and effective operation of the Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories and Lecture Demonstration program within the School of Physics. You will be expected to lead a small but dedicated technical team and drive a culture of enhanced performance.

Applications close 25 February 2018, more at:

Aussie physics in the news

There are robots in the International Space Station coded by Australian high school students (GIZMODO)

Warwick student takes off for national forum (Warwick Daily News)

Young minds gather at the 35th National Youth Science Forum (Brisbane Times)

Expert says maths and science knowledge is a prerequisite for entry into increasing number of jobs (GIZMODO)

Australian of the Year: Michelle Simmons’ hard-headed science and eye on equality (The Australian)

Australian of the Year is pioneer physicist Michelle Simmons (BBC)

A chess game got Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons on the path to quantum physics (ABC News)

Australian of the Year win will help close science gender gap: education advocate (SBS)

Michael Barber appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia (Port Macquarie News)

Physics teacher became a pioneer ecologist (SMH)

Young citizen of the year award (Sunshine Coast Daily)

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

  • Lectures on General Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Black Holes by Badis Ydri
  • The Quantum Labryrinth – How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Relativity by Paul Halpern
  • The Last Man Who Knew Everything – The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of The Nuclear Age by David N. Schwartz


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. Alternatively, feel free to submit your event to the AIP calendar for members to access.


Why Does the Cosmos Exist?
15 February @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Australian National University


There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


There are no upcoming events.


The Fast Radio Burst Mystery
9 February @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Swinburne University

Public lecture – AIP Walter Boas Medalist, David McClelland
15 February @ 5:30pm
Building 12, Level 7 Room 2, RMIT

Excursion Taster: Australian Synchrotron
17 February @ 9:00 am
Australian Synchrotron

Medical Physics In-Service
17 February @ 11:00 am
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Excursion Taster: Victorian Space Science Education Centre
17 February @ 2:30 pm
Victorian Space Science Education Centre

Physics Lectures for VCE Students: Physics of Motion- Why things move and how!
22 February @ 6:00 pm
University of Melbourne

Physics Days at Luna Park
6 March @ 1:00 pm
Luna Park
St Kilda


There are no upcoming events.

denotes AIP events


[VIC] 5th Asian and Oceanic Congress on Radiation Protection – AOCRP5
20-23 May 2018
Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre

[Int’l] XXXIX International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP2018)
4-12 July 2018
Seoul, South Korea

[NSW] 9th Vacuum and Surface Science Conference of Asia and Australia
13-16 August 2018
SMC Function and Conference Centre
Sydney, Australia

[WA] 2018 AIP Congress
9-14 December 2018
University of Western Australia
Perth, Australia


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