HDR Student Stories 2018

HDR Student Stories 2018

HDR Student Stories 2018

Students undertaking Higher Degree Research with the Department of Physics and Astronomy are often presented with opportunities to travel to institutions and organisations all over the globe as part of their research activities. Upon their return, we ask them to describe the purpose of their trip, the research that was done, and how it has helped their project.

Here are some of their adventures.

For travels in 2017, click here.

Yameng Zheng: Washington September 2018

I have attended two conferences (OSA Student Leadership Conference and Frontier of Optics) from 14th-21st of September, 2018, Washington DC, USA . The conferences were pretty good; I learned a lot from the conferences.


In the Student Leadership Conference, the OSA invited several researchers from industry and academia to give some suggestions for careers selections after graduations. The impression talk was given by Dr Yasaman Soudagar, Founder & CEO of Neurescence Inc., Canada, and her talk is about how to use OSA to gain the communication skills and build your network. Another talk impressed me was given by Alex Gaeta. In his talk, he presented the publication process for authors and reviewers. I will benefit from this when I publish journal papers. Apart from that, I had a chat with two OSA ambassadors to review my CV, and they suggested how to highlight the skills of my resume and can be easier to gain job opportunity.


For the FiO conference, I listened to several talks and found that the hot topics are Lidar for self-driving car and Nano-optics. I was lucky to hear the talk given by the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics winner, Prof. Gerard Mourou. He presented a PW power level laser, and the laser could become the fulcrum of new scientific and societal applications. I presented my research work of power improvements in a CW THz polariton laser. It attracted many researchers to come in front of my poster and ask many questions. During the discussion, I had a deeper understanding of my research work and learned from other peers. Especially, an OE editor, Prof. Ravi Jain was interested in my work and suggested me to submit my results to the journal OE selected topics. In the Science and Industry showcase, I met our collaborator and other company representatives to consult some new laser components which can be used for my experiments.


Attending the two conferences, my presentation skills have been improved, and I have learned many knowledge vis discussion. I also built my networking, and it will benefit my future development. I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for OSA and ARC Linkage giving me this opportunity to attend the two conferences.

Adriano Poci: Garching and Padova September 2018

I spent two weeks in Europe. The first week was in Garching, Germany for a collaborative visit to the European Southern Observatory headquarters. There, I worked on further developing the combined dynamical/ chemical models of galaxy formation that are the foundation of my PhD.

The second week was for a workshop for the survey collaboration that I am working with, in Padova, Italy. I gave a talk there, updating on the progress of my models. I also heard a lot about some of the ground-breaking work that is being undertaken by the team with the exquisite new data being acquired.

The weather in Italy was comparable to a Sydney summer's day, with extraordinary humidity and temperatures of 35 degrees (in September). Padova is where Galileo did most of his pioneering observations, and so there is a lot of history around the city.

Pictured is an original drawing of the solar system inside Galileo's observatory, complete with calculated orbits for all the known planets.

Blaise Tiong: California July 2018

To cap off a busy winter, I spend it in California, where it was warm. I departed early in the morning on July 21st, bound for Los Angeles and ultimately Pasadena, about 30 miles north. I went to attend the Sagan Exoplanet Summer Workshop, held at Caltech which hosts the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute. The topic changes every year but this year was based on detection methods and titled "Did I really just find an exoplanet?" I also presented a poster at this event, which was updated with a few bits of work on my spectrograph build from when I came back from SPIE. There were also a few other spectrograph projects and I had the chance to discuss projects with a few of the other attendees. The attendees are all mostly other students, since the focus is on learning and career development. Many of the speakers were former or current NASA Sagan Fellows. About three days of the workshops were devoted to hands on sessions, which were based around two tools ExoFastv2 and Vespa. ExoFastv2 is a fitting tool used for transit and RV data and Vespa is mainly for statistical analysis for the transit detection method. The hands on session are pretty useful, I would like to attend next year as a volunteer for hosting the sessions.

Immediately after the Exoplanet workshop, the Adaptive Optics Summer School was held at UC Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, a few hundred miles north of Los Angeles. Santa Cruz is the base for the Center for Adaptive Optics, and they hold the summer school every year. The format is similar to Sagan, experts in the field hold lectures and then a series of hands on workshops are held. Attendees were a mix of graduate students, postdocs and also some practitioners in the field. Since there are not a lot of housing options in Santa Cruz, the CfAO arranged for attendees to stay and dine in the Santa Cruz dorms, so for the week we were doing our best impressions as American undergrad students. I was roomed with another Australian from ANU, a postdoc working on debris reorbiting with laser guide stars. There were a interesting activities, we all measured our eyes with a Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor to judge the aberrations in our visual systems. It is now integrated in lasik eye surgery and also exactly how adaptive optics measurements are done to correct for the effects of the atmosphere for astronomy. For the workshops we got hands on with a wavefront sensor, deformable mirror setup and worked on aligning the system. As for applicability to my PhD thesis, firstly it was useful gaining more experience working on an optical bench and secondly, learning more about adaptive optics, since it's a technology that is needed to make a single mode spectrograph useful, when one considers the problem of coupling light. At the end of workshop we presented out group projects. We did ours on designing an AO system that would be required to detect a habitable planet around an M-dwarf star. Such an AO system would require the integration of a coronograph, and luckily, Olivier Guyon, who came and did a talk on just that subject was available for us to throw ideas at.

After the workshops I drove back down to Los Angeles and caught a flight back to Sydney, capping an endless summer!

Sebastian Murk: Brisbane July 2018

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) winter school is a two-week course targeted at PhD students and early career researchers. The core theme of this year’s school - curvature - was approached from different angles in four courses, each consisting of lectures and tutorials.

CourseLecturer, Affiliation
Curvature in conformal geometryProf. Rod Gover, University of Auckland
Curvature flow of networksA/Prof. Mariel Saez, Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile
Comparison geometryDr Paul Bryan, Macquarie University
Heat flow and geometryA/Prof. Julie Rowlett, Chalmers University of Technology

Table: List of postgraduate courses offered at the 2018 AMSI Winter School.


Over the course of the school, I have learned about new techniques in the field of differential geometry, especially Riemannian geometry. On top of that, I had the opportunity to give a talk about a topic in my area of research (I chose ‘coarse-graining in loop quantum gravity’). Lastly, of course, I also had the chance to network with both my peers and the lecturers. Two connections that stand out are Mark Bugden, a string theorist from the Mathematical Sciences Institute at the Australian National University in Canberra, and Macquarie University’s very own Paul Bryan, whose weekly class on differential geometry (MATH704) I am now regularly attending.

Thomas Reichardt: Melbourne June 2018

The Harley Wood School and the Annual Science Meeting (ASM) of the Astronomical Society of Australia have always been on consecutive days, and are both organised by a different university each year. I’ve not been able to attend any of the Harley Wood Schools in the previous years of my PhD, so I decided this year I should. Set in Ballarat, the topic was Mining for Gold in Big Data. I wonder whether they decided on the topic or location first? The school was very enjoyable, with a set of lectures on techniques to deal with big data during the day, and during the evenings we participated in trivia and a scavenger hunt and also watched the World Cup. During all this time, I made friends with people from other universities around Australia, which is always a valuable pursuit. Before I knew it, the school was over and we all went back to Melbourne to attend the ASM at Swinburne University. The meeting went all week, with two streams of 15 minute talks for most of each day. However, even with so many slots, only half of the applicants were granted a timeslot to talk. I was lucky to be one of the accepted speakers, with my slot being in the afternoon of the first day. My talk went okay, but more practice is required to polish up future talks. The rest of the week went by quickly, listening to talks by fellow students and academics alike. I am glad to be a part of this community, and hopefully I will be able to attend more meetings next year (though I will be finishing my degree, so this is not certain).

Van Hiep Nguyen: Melbourne June 2018

I attended the 2018 Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) Meeting at at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne from 25 to 29 June 2018. This meeting is held in winter each year to bring together astronomers from around Australia.

The meeting was an opportunity for me to meet other astronomers in Australia as well as from different countries and to broaden my network which is helpful for my career. This year I presented the results of my PhD projects as a poster and it attracted the attention from many astronomers. Apart from main program, I also worked with my collaborators on the data analysis of our projects, this was important since we could discuss and meet in person.

This was the first time I had been to Melbourne in Victoria. I visited many places with my friends and enjoyed a wide variety of food in the city. I loved very much the conference dinner in Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. The view was beautiful and the food was amazing.

Blaise Tiong: Austin June 2018

On June 9th, our entire exoplanet instrumentation group flew to Austin, Texas, USA for the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation Conference. This is a once every two year event where observatories large and small and all the groups world wide that are working on astronomical instruments gather to exchange ideas and present findings. In short, it's a can't miss event if you ply your trade in astronomical instrumentation. Previous events were held in Edinburgh, Scotland and Toronto, Canada. With SPIE coming back to the USA, the 2018 event drew a huge crowd, given the large community of American instrumentation and optical engineers. The group took a United flight to California on one of their 787, and after a majority of the day flying we arrived in Austin, Texas, not soon after we left Sydney, due to time zone differences. In Texas, we rented a large SUV, everything is bigger in Texas, which was good since it fit the entire group. Since the conference was at the convention center downtown, we did have to pay for parking daily though. The five of us, three PhD students, a post doc and a dean, checked into an AirBnB in a gentrifying part of Austin. It was a nice place, there was a musical theme to the decor and the cat lovers and vegetarians among us were rewarded with the properties backyard cats and organic snacks.

Unusually, the conference started on Sunday, so we registered as soon as we got to Austin on Saturday afternoon and started attending sessions. On Monday, myself and another student attended the spectrograph workshop, which was a full day of workshop instructed by Andrew Sheinis, formerly of the AAO. Andy had some first hand experience to impart since they are in the middle of comissioning the SPIRou spectrograph at the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. The next day was also a full day of the Finite Element Analysis workshop, held by Keith Doyle and Victor Genberg from Sigmadyne. On Wednesday and Thursday, the majority of us had poster sessions to attend to as each of us had brought a poster to present. Wednesday also had a lunch held for students, where we dined with scientists and engineers who have made their careers in the field. For our table we had Alision Peck from Gemini North and Todd Boroson from Las Cumbres Observatory. During the week I also met Theodoros Anagnos, who came to Sydney as a Cotutelle student from in September from Heidelberg University. On Saturday we all departed Austin. The majority of us took another week in the US before returning to Sydney. I spent the week in Los Angeles to visit family.

The conference convered a board range of topics. There were projects of all sizes from master's thesis to giant space telescopes. Among some of the flashiest ones were curved diffraction gratings and one project that attempts to tackle coronographs using giant star shades that unfurl in space.

Attached is a picture of David Coutts with other winners for various categories of best poster presentations out of thousands of entries.

Dylan Bollen: Ballarat and Melbourne June 2018

I attended the Harley Wood school for astronomy and the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia in June this year. The Harley Wood school took place from Thursday 21 - Sunday 24 June at the Ballarat Municipal Observatory and Museum. This school was focused on the growing field of Big Data. During the morning we had lectures on various topics related to Big Data in astronomy, such as: statistics for astronomers, High Performance Computing, and Machine Learning with Astronomical data. Following the lectures, we had hands-on sessions in the afternoon, related to the topics we learned about in the morning. This school was very informative, since Big Data is becoming more important these days. Also, the combination of lectures in the morning and workshops in the afternoon were very useful in order to get familiar with the different concepts.

After the school, I attended the ASA conference, which was hosted by Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. I presented a talk during this conference on Monday 25th of June, which was titled: Unravelling the accretion and jet creation processes at play in post-AGB binaries. I presented this talk during the General session on Solar and stellar astrophysics and received positive reactions. During the course of the conference, I attended some very interesting talks about the impact on binaries on stellar evolution. The highlight of the conference was, of course, the conference dinner at the SEA LIFE Aquarium.

Blaise Tiong: Melbourne June 2018

On Monday Jun 4th, I attended the Internet of Things (IoT) festival in Melbourne at the Melbourne Park Function Centre. It was an industry event on Internet of Things technologies and my interest in attending was for the work I had been doing with the Entrepreneurship Enrichment PhD Program which ended in July 2018. Some major topics were IoT as it related to agricultural technologies and energy management. The event was immediately applicable. It was a full day of multiple tracks of speakers discussing their companies implementations and showcasing case studies. Upon returning, I worked on a producing a prototype IoT project for counting fruit flies in collaboration with a colleague from Biological Sciences. After the program ended I also got involved with a group on working on an applications of IoT energy metering and data analytics for another start up project. Further down the road, I'd like to use the platform I'm building for the energy metering project to collect sensor data and execute control commands for the Macquarie Observatory.

Adriano Poci: Melbourne June 2018

I attended the Astronomical Society of Australia's annual scientific meeting at Swinbourne University in Melbourne. I was able to give a talk about my work. I also heard the latest in Australian astronomy, and met students from around the country. The conference dinner was at the Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium, which was interesting. There was a rather large crocodile watching us eat all night - poor guy. Pictured are (a large portion of) the conference attendees.

Chikaedu Ogbodo: Miyazaki May 2018

Not being my first visit to Japan, I was much less uncertain and fidgety as the first but no less excited about it. It was going to be my first international conference, first conference as a PhD student, it was going to feature my first poster presentation and my first colloquium presentation. Plus, I was going to meet old friends! Right from the port of arrival, I already met with participants some of whom I ended up spending my spare time with. Group breakfasts, dinners, a barbeque and a karaoke session were the highlights of postconference sessions which were usually intensive, running throughout the entire day. The conference titled: “The Power of Faraday Tomography”, has ever since initiated a series of moments of challenge that I have embraced and helped me re-invent my self as a better researcher and person. After the conference, I headed for the city of Kagoshima. Between 2015 and 2016 I had lived and studied there as an exchange student for five months. Primarily, with great pleasure, I returned to the city to honour the invitation by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Kagoshima University, to present in their department colloquium. This part of my Japan visit afforded me the opportunity to meet with old friends culminating the excitement and fun of my second Japanese visit.

Adriano Poci: Heidelberg May 2018

My month in Germany was spent at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. I was collaborating with a researcher there, building sophisticated dynamical models of spatially-resolved galaxy data. We developed methods for taking into account the stellar populations within galaxies to ensure self-consistent models.

I visited the Heidelberg Zoo while I was there, which has kangaroos, and some surprisingly-depressed elephants. I also highly recommend the home-made red ale at O'Reilly's Irish Pub, just across the river. Pictured are some new born chicks wandering around the local park.

Thomas Reichardt: Melbourne February 2018

My MRes and PhD work has all been centred around the use of a program, Phantom, which is able to simulate the dynamics of gas in stars and other astrophysical phenomena. This code was released to the public at the beginning of last year, so for the first anniversary of its release a workshop was held by the code author, Dr Daniel Price of Monash University. The week long conference comprised a couple of days of lectures on the fundamentals of the smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) method, as well as segments on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). Wednesday to Friday were filled with people, including me, from around Australia (and the world) giving talks about how they had used Phantom for their work. While the subjects of their work were varied, the talks at this workshop were consistently engaging and interesting. On a couple of afternoons, we were taken to look at the CAVE2 visualisation facility, with results of our simulations being rendered in extremely high resolutions and wrapped around the 270 degree screen. Aside from the talks, this week was a crucial opportunity to build a relatively close community, and also to raise and solve issues we had encountered during our use of Phantom. An amazing amount of work was completed in a short timeframe, and hopefully there is more to come.

Andrea De Lima Ribeiro: USA and Canada February 2018

I’m on the last 6 months of my PhD and had already participated in several physics/optics conferences in Australia and New Zealand. After presenting my work to members of photonics community, it was time to go back to my origins and talk to peers from oceanography and marine sciences – and that’s why I chose to apply for a PGRF funding to attend to Ocean Sciences Meeting 2018 (OSM), in Portland (OR). The OSM is one of the main conferences on the field, attracting people from all over the world every 2 years to participate on sessions of marine physics, biology, geology, chemistry, coastal management and remote sensing of the oceans. My project fit somewhere between physics and remote sensing and I had two abstracts selected for different poster sessions. I received great feedback from researchers of national agencies (NASA, NOOA, USGS), industries and educational institutions. I also found people interested on being reviewers for my PhD and future publications – a big achievement when working on this mixed field. Another great surprise was meeting friends from my undergrad: we did the Bachelors in oceanography in Brazil and now are spread all over the world (UK, France, USA, Germany and Australia).

After the conference I headed to Seattle (WA) to visit and give a seminar at the Applied Physics Laboratory. (University of Washington). The air-sea interaction group works in partnership with the American Navy and have a myriad of projects in rapid remote sensing of the oceans. I had meeting with several researchers after the seminar and they were all really impressed with the results I achieved and currently analysing the possibilities of future partnerships.

The next stop of my trip was the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, in San Diego (CA). This is the most traditional institution of marine research in the world and I presented a seminar to the Ocean Optics Group. During these 3 days in San Diego I met another friend from undergrad: Letícia, who is doing her PhD at Scripps and kindly provided me accommodation and chaperoned me across the city. Thanks, Lê!

From San Diego I flew to the last stop of my trip: Vancouver, Canada, to present a seminar at the University of British Columbia. This seminar was a bit different, as it was a mandatory activity for all undergrads studying ocean dynamics – a lot of students without background knowledge of remote sensing. It was a great challenge to explain my research using plain and accessible words!

Again, I was lucky enough to have friends to provide me accommodation during my days in Vancouver and this was a really special friend: Vinícius was the person who most helped me during my first years in Uni. He has moved to Vancouver with his husband after being offered a PhD scholarship and I hadn’t seen him in 4 years! On the day of my arrival (Sunday) they took me to the mountains to play with the snow (a dream coming true to someone from a country were barely snows every 50 years). On Monday, after my seminar, I went to the airport to get the flight back to Sydney – and refocus on my thesis.

I would like to thank Macquarie Uni for providing the PGRF grant and everyone from the Physics department who contributed to my research thus far.

Fergus Longbottom: Siding Spring Observatory February 2018

On the first Monday of February two AAO student interns (Sarah Caddy and Jermaine Guglielmi) and I made the 6 hour journey from the AAO in Sydney to Siding Spring Observatory. The goal of our trip was continue the work from the December commissioning run of the Huntsman Telephoto Array. This primarily involved testing and debugging the control software used to remotely run the instrument. This required many late nights coordinating with other Huntsman team members via teleconferencing over the course of a week. During the day we were able to take a mental break from the commissioning in order to take tours of the various other facilities on the site. This included tours of the 2.3m Advanced Technology Telescope (ANU), SkyMapper (ANU), the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAO) and the UK Schmidt Telescope (ANU). The Highlight of the trip would have to be tracking down Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster after it had been launched into space using the Falcon Heavy rocket. We were able to create a time lapse of roughly 40 minutes, tracking the Roadster as it made its way overhead in the early hours of Friday morning (February 9th).

Mojtaba Moshkani: Wollongong January 2018

International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN) was held in University of Wollongong from 29 Jan to 2 Feb 2018. The aim of this conference was to bring together Australian and international researchers in the field of nanotechnology. On the first day, I joined a workshop presented by ANFF (Australian National Fabrication Facility) staff on nanofabrication and characterization techniques (mostly about lithography semiconductor fabrication). On the second day, I enjoyed the talks presented by chemistry noble laureates. I presented my poster entitled “2D optical fabrication of electronic structures on diamond” on the third day. I received good comments and suggestions about my work.

This conference and specifically the workshop were very helpful for me to familiarize myself with the potential and capabilities of ANFF where I am currently doing my experiments.

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