For High Schools
The Physics and Astronomy staff at Curtin University are available to present on the below topics at your school.
To arrange a time for a staff member to visit your school, please click on the staff members name to visit their respective profile for further contact information.
Words like momentum and pressure are Physics terms that are a part of our everyday language, but there is so much more that Physics has to offer in helping to understand and solve problems of societies. Complexities of gun control, management of refugees, tension between individual versus group needs, and many more areas are able to be addressed utilizing standard concepts of Physics. In the talk, as a way of introduction, we will give a brief overview of the research done in Theoretical Physics at Curtin, and then begin the presentation by stating various concepts in Physics that are useful to understand societal problems. After discussing some specific examples, the audience will be invited to raise topics of interest to them to see if Physics can assist in their understanding and solution.
The transition from High School to University can be particularly challenging. Typically, in Australia students choose to stay in the same city where they grew up, but now the competition for top students is so intense that substantial financial incentives are available to attract students interstate, and even overseas. This competition is a good thing, but with ever increasing globalisation of education choosing the right University is more difficult than ever. Fortunately, there are now some tools available to help decide, but only if used judiciously. In the talk we will discuss some of these tools and the many issues surrounding making a well-informed choice, with plenty of time for questions.
I am often asked “what job will I get if I get a Physics degree?” I reply quite honestly “anything and everything”. While this is true it is not very satisfying because it does not seem to provide any useful information. Accordingly, in the talk I begin with giving some statistical information on salaries of Physics graduates and show the various government and industry sectors who employ them. This is followed by some specific anecdotes of what happened to my friends, colleagues and recent Curtin graduates. Collectively, the diversity of their careers show why Physics graduates have some of the most exciting career prospects of any university graduate.
A journey with physics – one woman’s adventures in trying to not fall off boats, dress-up in quarantine outfits as quickly as possible, play with lasers without losing an eye, talking (I’m good at that one), organising things, stuff and people, and travelling, all in the name of science! Bonus overview of the weird and wonderful places some of her friends (other young scientists and engineers) have found themselves since earning their degrees.
Collisions on the atomic scale go on all around us and inside us. All chemical reactions are examples of such collisions. Accordingly there is no shortage of applications that benefit from their quantitative understanding. However, such collisions are particularly difficult to calculate. The target atoms and molecules have a countably infinite number of discrete states and an uncountably infinite continuum. The interactions extend out to infinite distances making the mathematical formulation and computation particularly complicated. With the advance of supercomputers these problems have been solved. Using animations the talk will explain the range of collision processes and their applications involving matter and antimatter. Examples will include generating abundant clean energy for mankind through fusion energy with sea-water as fuel through to cancer imaging and therapy.
While we think of black holes as cosmic vacuum cleaners, it turns out that they are in fact powerful cosmic engines, being extremely efficient at converting energy from infalling matter into both radiation and powerful outflows. The feedback effect of these outflows can have a major role in shaping the surroundings of the most massive black holes, either triggering or suppressing the formation of new stars, and even affecting the way that their host galaxies evolve. In this talk I will explore the topic of black holes, discussing what they are, how we study them, and what effect they have on the Universe at large. I will discuss a few high-profile research projects in black hole physics, including the detection of gravitational waves from two merging black holes by the LIGO consortium, and the Event Horizon Telescope project to image the shadow of a black hole. I will conclude by discussing how the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will enhance our understanding of these exotic objects.
The Universe is an extremely dynamic place, ever changing through the life and death of stars. As an observational astronomer, I use Australian radio telescopes to study the radio radiation from the most extreme astronomical explosions in our Universe. Such explosions include the death of massive stars known as a “supernovae”, which can form black holes, the densest objects known. A black hole’s gravity is so powerful that it can pull material off a nearby star, resulting in bright radio outbursts. Observing this radio emission allows me to study the extreme gravity environments around black holes, observe exploded material that can be travelling at near the speed of light, and learn about the lifecycle of stars.
When we look up at the sky on a clear night, it is easy to imagine that the Universe is peaceful and static. However, if we look on timescales less than a second, the Universe instead reveals itself as an exceptionally violent and dynamic environment. In this talk we will tour the most violent and energetic phenomena known, from the gamma-ray flashes associated with the explosions of massive stars and the mergers of neutron stars, to ripples in the fabric of spacetime generated by the coalescences of binary black holes. We will examine how studying such extraordinary events expands our knowledge of physics, acting as a proving ground for understanding of extremes gravity, matter and energy. The tour ends with a modern-day astrophysical mystery. Radio telescopes have recently discovered a new type of transient event called Fast Radio Bursts; these last mere milliseconds and occur at distances comparable to the size of the observable Universe. Yet their discovery was entirely unanticipated and their origin is completely unknown. We will examine how modern-day astrophysics is attempting to unravel their origin using telescopes located right here in Western Australia tied to the development of the Square Kilometre Array.
For over a generation the Star Wars movies have captured the imagination of young and old alike, inviting us to envisage a Universe in which superluminal travel permits access to exotic destinations across the vastness of interstellar space. In this talk we will examine what astronomers now know about the sorts of planets and objects that we would encounter on a journey outside the solar system.
How common are the sorts of binary star systems around which the planet Tatooine orbits? How many planets likely exist in our Galaxy? We will use our knowledge of physics to examine some technical aspects of the Star Wars universe: how could we hear ships travelling through space when sound does not propagate in a vacuum? Just how big is a Super Star Destroyer? And what happens when a space station explodes directly above a small forest moon?
Before 1992, nobody knew for sure if any other stars (apart from our Sun) had planets orbiting around them. After that first discovery, better technology and new ways of searching for planets paid off, and now there are almost 4000 known planets outside our Solar System. I’ll describe the various ways of searching for planets, including gravitational microlensing – using the gravity of a distant star to act as a giant natural telescope. At Perth Observatory, I was part of a big international collaboration from 1996-2013 that used gravitational microlensing to discover around a dozen planets, including one of the most Earth-like planets ever found.
The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a radio telescope 800 km North-East of Perth that has no moving parts, just thousands of antennae that look like an army of knee-high metal spiders. It can electronically ‘point’ at any place in the sky to capture radio signals from that direction, without any actual moving parts. I’ll talk about how the MWA electronics and software works – how we can point a telescope without physically moving it, how and why we process the data, and what we do with it. I’ll also describe what it’s like to work on the MWA, and how the MWA’s success has led to a much bigger radio telescope coming to WA: The Square Kilometre Array.
The World Solar Challenge (WSC) is an international competition to build and race electric cars powered entirely by sunlight over a 3000 km course between Darwin and Adelaide. The first race was in 1987, and it is now run every second year. In the late 1990’s, I was part of a group of friends who came together to build ‘Sungroper’, the first entrant from Western Australia. We raced Sungroper in the 2001 and 2003 WSC races, then passed the car on to Leeming High School and helped them work on it and race it in 2005. I’ll talk about what it was like to help build and race Sungroper over 3000 km of Australian roads.
Carbon is a “magical” element. Not only is it the basis of life and much of chemistry, carbon is also the building block for exciting new materials. Humans have long known that graphite and diamond are made from carbon atoms, but in the last 25 years a plethora of new nanoscale carbon materials have been discovered, and two Nobel Prizes have been awarded (Chemistry,1996 and Physics, 2010). In this talk we will investigate the world of carbon materials, spanning materials you can hold in your hand to molecules that can only be seen with electron microscopes. Everyone has used graphite for writing and seen diamond in jewellery, but there is a whole other industry of carbon materials used in electronics, filters, hard-disks and bio-technology. We will show how these materials were discovered and explain why they have revolutionised materials science. We will also attempt to reproduce the 2010 Nobel Prize using sticky tape!
The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 is one of the transformational discoveries in Physics. Prior to then, atoms were classed as fixed entities that simply rearranged themselves via chemical processes. Today, radiation and radioactivity have innumerable scientific, medical and engineering applications, and are also associated with complex social and political problems relating to nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. In this talk we will delve into the hidden world of nuclear physics, including the natural radiation that surrounds us, a 2-billion year-old natural fission reactor in Africa, and the elusive neutrino that can pass through a light year of lead. In a reminder that the future is not yet written, we will ponder five diverse questions about radioactivity that remain unanswered.
A thermal battery is a physical structure that can store and release heat when needed. You will be surprised with how common they are and include everyday items such as a hot water bottle and rocks placed in fires. In thermochemical energy storage, the basic principle involved occurs at the atomic level of matter. Chemical reactants, AB, dissociate into products A and B, while storing heat and release it when they recombine to the initial reactants AB. In this talk we will explore the science behind the new generation of thermochemical energy storage materials used as thermal batteries in concentrated solar power plants for generating electricity day and night. These power plants generate electricity during day time using the concentrated light from the sun converting into heat. This heat drives a heat engine connected to an electrical power generation. During night time electricity is generated from the heat stored in the thermal batteries. Are thermal batteries the key for renewable power to completely replace fossil fuels? Are thermal batteries the solution to saving the planet? We will discover these possibilities together and answer these big questions.