[ASC-list] Physicists win Nobel Physics and Chemistry Prizes, Australian science funding under threat: physics in November

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Fri Oct 31 04:38:49 UTC 2014

Dear ASCers,

We put together a bulletin of physics news and events every month on behalf of Rob Robinson, the AIP President. Here’s a taste of what’s in this month’s bulletin.

You can view the full bulletin online<http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/bulletins/aip-presidents-blog/november-2014>.

Kind regards,

>From Rob Robinson, President of the Australian Institute of Physics

The 2014 Nobel Prizes have been announced, and both the physics and chemistry prizes fit neatly with the coming International Year of Light.

Blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have opened up a new era in energy-efficient lighting and computer and smartphone displays. They earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura. As my Japanese colleagues have proudly indicated, this is also a win for applied physics, with much of the initial work having been done in industry.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry also went to a team of physicists. Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner’s microscopy techniques give a resolution better than the diffraction limit of light. And since the announcement, news has emerged of another advance by Eric Betzig in the safe illumination and observation of living cells—more details below.

These Nobel Prize winning technologies are also used at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Molecular Imaging, which I was pleased to see launched recently. This new Centre brings physicists, chemists and biologists together to change the way we see the immune system and to help tackle cancer, infections and auto-immune diseases.

Congratulations too to all the winners at the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, especially Matthew Hill, winner of the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work on nanoporous crystals, and astronomy and physics teacher Geoff McNamara, who won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. You can read their stories below.

Our annual Women in Physics lecture series continues this month, as Sheila Rowan from the University of Glasgow brings her talks on gravitational wave detection to Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland. With clever use of props, such as a yo-yo, a whistle and ball bearings on a rubber sheet, her lectures engage school students and the public alike.

Another overseas visitor soon to arrive is the influential American theoretical particle physicist, cosmologist and author Lisa Randall. She’ll be one of the key speakers at the 2014 AIP Congress in Canberra in December—you can read more about her below.

Next Thursday is the annual AIP Physics in Industry day, with the theme this year being ‘Physics of the Mind. To get you thinking in advance of the event, we’re featuring an essay by our NSW Branch chair Scott Martin on the possibility and danger of artificial consciousness.

Australian science still faces funding uncertainty following threats to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) and the Future Fellows scholarship program. Science and Technology Australia (STA), of which the AIP is a member, is urging the government not to waste these programs’ valuable investments and opportunities. You can read the STA statement below.

And some of the items:

Congress speaker Lisa Randall
American theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is one of the prominent researchers who’ll be speaking at this year’s AIP Congress (7–11 December in Canberra). Lisa’s work connects fundamental particles and symmetries with cosmological phenomena like dark matter and inflation, as well as seeking experimental tests of these theories. Lisa regularly appears on radio and TV, and two of her books have made the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of the Year. And in keeping with the Congress theme of ‘The Art of Physics’, she has written a libretto for an opera and curated art exhibits. In 2007, Lisa was named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine<http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1595326_1595329_1615997,00.html>.

Surviving the singularity: Physics of the Mind
What is consciousness? Can a machine ever become conscious? Should we fear replacement by a digital superintelligence? In the lead-up to the annual Physics in Industry day, NSW Branch chair Scott Martin considers these questions in an essay on the day’s theme, ‘Physics of the Mind’. In particular, he looks at the different viewpoints of six guests who will speak on the day, and what they can tell us about the nature of intelligence. This involves thinking about complex systems and quantum mechanics, as well as where technology is heading now. Can we expect benevolence to emerge, or can we instil it from our own insights?

Doubt for future research funding
Earlier this month, the future of Australian research infrastructure and our best and brightest mid-career researchers was cast into doubt after comments by the Minister of Education, Christopher Pyne. He said that if the government’s higher education reforms are not passed, “the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme [NCRIS] and the Future Fellows [scholarship program] will end.”

Catriona Jackson, the CEO of peak group Science and Technology Australia (STA)—of which the AIP is a member—responded, “The science community and the general public have had enough of the nation’s knowledge future being tossed about like a political football.”

Physical science at the PM’s Prizes
Crystals that are the world’s most porous materials have earned Matthew Hill the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year. An ARC Future Fellow and leader of CSIRO’s Integrated Nanoporous Materials team, Matthew has demonstrated that metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) can used as an efficient and long-lasting filter. Considering that forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things—in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production, pollution control, etc.—their applications are endless.

Also honoured was Geoff McNamara from Canberra’s Melrose High School, who won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. ‘Mr Mac’, as he is known to his students, has a passion for physics and astronomy, having written three books on gravitational waves, dark matter and pulsars.

Public lecture: Ice sheet modelling and applications
Mon 3 Nov, 8 pm
Physics Lecture Theatre 1, Sandy Bay campus, University of Tasmania
Ralf Greve shows how numerical modelling helps us understand glaciers and ice caps.

Women in Physics lectures: The search for gravitational waves—Ripples from the dark side of the Universe
Mon 10 Nov, Perth
Wed 12 Nov, Sydney
Thu 13 Nov, Newcastle
Fri 14 Nov, Wollongong
Sat 15 Nov, Sydney
Wed 19 Nov, Adelaide
Fri 21 Nov, Brisbane
Sheila Rowan explains how experiments to detect elusive gravitational waves will show us a hidden side of the Universe.

Detecting gravitational waves on a tabletop
A coin-sized resonant-mass detector built at the University of Western Australia could detect high-frequency gravitational waves.

Many interacting worlds solve quantum puzzles
A new approach to quantum mechanics using parallel universes, developed by Griffith University physicists, may be testable.

Dark matter in Milky Way half what was thought
Australian astronomers use detailed measurement of stellar velocities to solve longstanding mysteries.

Long-distance tractor beam
A hollow laser beam built at ANU can attract and repel objects at up to 20 cm.

High school students publish jittery pulsar study
PULSE at Parkes observations of a flickering neutron star have been published in the Royal Astronomical Society’s journal.

Quantum computing record achieved
UNSW teams accurately store qubits for longer than 30 seconds.

Paradox in STEM shortage
Why do science graduates have trouble finding jobs when employers report a skills shortage?

More details at http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/bulletins/aip-presidents-blog/november-2014.


Niall Byrne
Creative Director, Science in Public

82 Hudsons Road, Spotswood  Vic  3015
(PO Box 2076 Spotswood VIC 3015)
03 9398-1416, 03 9078-5398, 0417 131 977

niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
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