[ASC-media] Obama’s energy guru, lasers and cows, fusion power and how many dimensions do we need?

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Mon Dec 1 18:38:21 PST 2014

Dear ASC-ers,

This week the magician and sceptic James Randi begins touring the country. Back in the day he debunked Uri Geller’s psychic spoon-bending. More below.

And then next week I’ve got:

  *   Nobel winners on the future of energy and science
  *   lasers measuring burping cows
  *   spiders making optical fibres
  *   the truth about fusion power
  *   arguments about the number of dimensions in the Universe
  *   the maths of The Great War
  *   the physics of Star Trek
  *   physics jewellery and art.

It’s Australia’s biennial physics congress —this year, it’s in Canberra from 7 to 11 December. Here are some of the highlights. All stories are embargoed until presentation at the conference.

Steven Chu—Obama's former energy guru

Steven Chu, former Obama energy advisor and 1997 Nobel laureate, will discuss the global energy and climate challenge, the reinvention of the microscope, and when science matters—culminating in a National Press Club address on Wednesday, 10 December. His first talk is this Friday, then Monday and Tuesday. The first Nobel laureate to be appointed to the US cabinet, he’s an advocate of urgent transition from fossil fuels to nuclear and renewable energy to combat climate change. Chu’s time will be limited—contact Phil Dooley at ANU for interviews +61 (2) 6125-5575, +61 478 337 740, phil.dooley at anu.edu.au<mailto:phil.dooley at anu.edu.au>.

Is there a fusion future?

Scientists at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France expect to achieve proof-of-concept nuclear fusion power before 2030, moving on to a commercial prototype in the next decade. Meanwhile in October US firm Lockheed Martin said they’ll have a prototype in five years and a commercial plant in ten. Steve Cowley from the UK Atomic Energy Authority can explain where we are in the hunt for the holy grail of cheap, clean fusion energy, and the likelihood we’ll achieve it.

Laser tracking of carbon-coughing cattle

Livestock burp up around ten per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. There are ways to reduce this, but how do you measure their success? New technology to measure cows’ breath out in the field is being developed that could provide the answer. Brian Orr from Macquarie University, and his colleagues from CSIRO, are developing lasers that can be used in cattle yards and open ranges to detect the concentration of methane and ammonia molecules, as well as other gases that could be useful indicators of animal health.

Quickest times could win a Nobel

Strobe lights and camera flashes have let us capture the motion of galloping horses and speeding bullets, but Paul Corkum can make flashes of light so quick that he can watch electrons in orbit around an atom, or see how they move in chemical reactions. These attosecond pulses—a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second—have put the Canadian physicist on pundits’ hotlist for a Nobel Prize in Physics. It’s a long way from when, as a grad student, he had to convince interviewers he could handle the shift from theoretical to experimental physics: “It’s no problem. I can take the engine of a car apart, repair it and put it back together so it will work.” He got the job.

Could maths and science have shortened WW1?

The First World War saw the stuttering beginnings of modern military physics. In secret, the British were operating the largest military science project to date. The first combined military-civilian research project, a team of a thousand scientists including Nobel laureates Ernest Rutherford and William Bragg, was working on a sonar system to detect enemy submarines. Working sonar rigs were being attached to British ships by the end of the war, by which time 5000 ships and 15,000 lives had been lost to German U-boats. University of Queensland physicist Timo Nieminen has studied the physics of WWI, both successful and unsuccessful, and links from this to the much more resourced, more famous Manhattan Project of WWII.

Football physics tackles hamstring injuries

What can physics tell us about hamstrings—the most common injury in Australian rules football and soccer. Despite endless discussion on footy shows, the common Australian ‘hammy’ is not well understood. Recently, motion-capture of footy players in action and MRI scans of living tissue have been matched with a complex mathematical model to reveal exactly how the injury occurs, and could help develop techniques to reduce injury rates. Bronwyn Dolman, who was part of the study, is also involved in development of an automated Aussie rules football kicking machine that could be used for training, ball testing or boot analysis.

Other highlights include

  *   Frances Saunders, President of the Institute of Physics, who wants to open the door to more girls in physics at school, and thinks she knows how to do it
  *   Serge Haroche from the College De France, who won a Nobel for trapping photons between super-reflective mirrors
  *   Lisa Randall from Harvard University, who thinks the Universe requires 11 dimensions to work properly
  *   Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at the University of Arizona, who thinks Lisa’s ideas are far too complex, and also wrote The Physics of Star Trek
  *   Brian Schmidt from the ANU, whose Nobel-winning discovery that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating won his team the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics last month.
Conference media contacts below
Niall Byrne 0417 131 977, niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
Errol Hunt 0423 139 210
Margie Beilharz 0415 448 065

James Randi around Australia

Magician James Randi has spent the bulk of his career debunking the claims of self-­proclaimed psychics and paranormalists – and this December he is bringing his unique superheroic brand of skeptic justice to Australia.

He'll be available for media interviews. For more, contact:

  *   Laura Douglas on 0452 505 859 or laura at launchgroup.com.au<mailto:laura at launchgroup.com.au>
  *   Louise Proctor on 0452 574 244 or louise at launchgroup.com.au<mailto:louise at launchgroup.com.au>
You can also see the show on:

  *   Wednesday 3 December, Octagon Theatre, Perth
  *   Thursday 4 December, BCEC, Brisbane
  *   Friday 5 December, MCEC, Melbourne
  *   Sunday 7 December, The Metro Theatre, Sydney
We're not running the tour, but if you're a working journalist and would like to go along, let me know.

Science in Public

We're always happy to help put you in contact with scientists. Our work is funded by the science world—from the Prime Minister's Science Prizes to Nature. We're keen to suggest interesting people and stories—and not just those of our clients'.

If you're looking for ideas or people for features we know hundreds of science prize winners past, present, and future and are always happy to chew the fat about the developing themes in Australian science.

Feel free to pass these stories along to colleagues. And between bulletins, you can follow me on Twitter (@scienceinpublic<https://twitter.com/scienceinpublic>) for more science news and story tips.

Kind regards,

Niall Byrne

Creative Director

Science in Public

03 9398 1416, 0417 131 977

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




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