Quantum lasers and better ways to engage students win gold medals for physicists

Australian Institute of Physics, Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media releases

Physicists recognised this week at the national physics congress in Canberra have won recognition for:

  • Using lasers to safeguard future communications
  • Replacing Schrödinger’s famous ‘cat in a box’ with photons and mirrors
  • Engaging students by changing the way we usually teach science
  • Bending light for nanoscale photonics and light-driven computing

Laser beams guarantee data privacy for companies and governments

Computers of the future will be fast enough to crack current encryption methods—we need something better. Researchers from ANU, UQ and their spin-out company QuintessenceLabs have cracked the problem, sending quantum particles of light down optical fibres to guarantee that no one has eavesdropped on the shared encryption key. The creators will receive the Alan Walsh Medal for service to industry on Wednesday night. The recipients are ANU researcher and co-founder of QuintessenceLabs, Ping Koy Lam, Timothy Ralph (UQ) and Thomas Symul (ANU).

Letting the quantum cat out of the box

French Nobel laureate Serge Haroche is exploring the peculiar quantum world, in which Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. But instead of a cat in a box, he’s trapping photons between superconducting mirrors—and finding things are just as weird as expected. Prof Haroche has received the Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics and yesterday gave the 2014 Dirac Public Lecture at UNSW (Sydney) on ‘The beauty and serendipity of blue sky research’. The Medal has been awarded by the UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics since 1979 and commemorates Prof Dirac’s visit to the university in 1975.

Letting first-year students loose in the lab

Are we teaching science the right way? Many of us learn best by doing, and that’s Les Kirkup’s approach to teaching: challenging his students with practical problems, but not giving them the instructions for solving the problems—they have to work it out themselves. With this inquiry-oriented learning approach, and using real-world problems, Les engages the students’ imagination and creativity right from the start—even students who are apprehensive about tackling physics, or for whom physics will not be a career focus. Les Kirkup will be awarded the 2014 AIP Education Medal this year for his contribution to physics education.

Bending light for nanoscale photonics and light-driven computing

Electromagnetic materials made up of tiny, engineered structures smaller than the wavelength of light can demonstrate many exotic properties—these metamaterials have promised invisibility cloaks that curve light around the subject being hidden, causing it, effectively, to vanish from sight. Yuri Kivshar from the ANU is taking these materials further, using them to control the magnetic response of light. For pioneering work in nonlinear optics and light-bending metamaterials, Prof Kivshar will receive the 2014 AIP Harrie Massey medal tonight at the Congress dinner. The Harrie Massey Medal and Prize commemorates Melbourne-born Sir Harrie Massey, who co-published the first experimental evidence for electron diffraction in gases, and went on to lead the UK space research programme.

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Errol Hunt 0423 139 210

Lou Hudson 0412 938 440


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