Physical sciences

In ERA 2015, research in physical sciences received the top rating of 5 – ‘outstanding performance well above world standard’ – for the discipline overall and was rated 5 for each of the three sub-discipline research areas in which it was assessed: quantum physics, astronomical and space sciences, and optical physics.

As a result, Macquarie is one of only five universities to have been rated 5 for physical sciences research in all three ERA evaluations, and places in the top three universities to be rated 5 for quantum physics research in all three ERA evaluations (2010, 2012 and 2015).

University strengths

Conducted largely within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, physical sciences research at Macquarie has expanded from a historical base in optical, plasma and condensed matter experimental physics to exhibiting strengths in astronomy, biophotonics, nano-optics, and quantum optics.

Macquarie hosts a major node of the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS), as well as Macquarie’s Research Centre in Quantum Science and Technology. These centres encompass theoretical and experimental research in quantum information, quantum optics and quantum solid state physics.

Astronomical and space sciences research at Macquarie has expanded since 2007, through a strategic alliance with the Australian Astronomical Observatory (formerly the Anglo-Australian Observatory), to form Macquarie’s Research Centre in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrophotonics – one of Australia’s largest groups in astronomical sciences. This centre has recently discovered the most distant cluster of galaxies recorded, and a supermassive black hole in a dwarf galaxy – both of which inform theories of the formation and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time.

Major contributions

Macquarie has a 30-year record of excellence in optics and laser physics, which has provided the foundation for many successful commercialisation activities including forging strong partnerships with industry. It is the lead node in the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s (ANFF) OptoFab initiative in micro-optics and microelectronics fabrication, and a major node in the Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS). Additionally, Macquarie’s Photonics Research Centre has expanded since 2005 to include:

  • nano-optics
  • plasmonics
  • biophotonics
  • integrated photonics 
  • and astrophotonics.

Macquarie’s BioFocus Research Centre, founded in 2010, leverages strengths in physical sciences to support cross-disciplinary research in sensing and analysis in the life sciences. The centre facilitated Macquarie’s major role in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP). This group’s development of micro-beads with multidimensional fluorescence encoding for flow cytometry is having substantial impact worldwide.


Award winners in the field include:

  • Professor Ewa Goldys (Eureka Award)
  • Professor Brian Orr (Optical Society of America William F Meggers Award)
  • Emeritus Professor Jim Piper (W.H. Steel Medal and the Carnegie Centenary Professorship). 

Professor Orr, Emeritus Professor Piper, Professor Goldys and Professor Michael Withford are all elected fellows of the Optical Society of America.

At the national level, 15 per cent of research units evaluated at the discipline level, and 31 per cent of research units evaluated at sub-discipline level, were rated 5. Overall, 88 per cent of research units evaluated at sub-discipline level were rated at world standard or above.

National research centres

ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS)

  • Dr Thomas Volz (Node Manager) 

ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics (CNBP)

  • Professor Ewa Goldys (Deputy Director) 

ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS)

  • Professor Michael Withford (Node Director) 

Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF)

  • Professor Michael Withford (OptoFab Node Director) 

Macquarie University Research Centres

Photonics Research Centre

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