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Everyday science

Physicists bag Australian and Senior Australian of the Year, Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight

26 Jan 2018 Hamish Johnston
Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons
Award winning: Australian of the Year Michelle Simmons (Courtesy: UNSW)

By Hamish Johnston

Today is Australia Day, when the prestigious Australian of the Year award is conferred. This year’s winner is the quantum physicist Michelle Simmons of the University of New South Wales who famously built a transistor from just one atom and also created what could be the world’s thinnest wire. Also honoured today is biophysicist Graham Farquhar of the Australian National University. He is Senior Australian of the Year for 2018 and an expert in photosynthesis. It looks like this will be a bonzer year for physics in Oz.

On an entirely unrelated note, the imminent destruction of the world became a bit more likely this week according to the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who have moved their Doomsday Clock ahead 30 s to two minutes to midnight. This is the closest the clock – which gauges the possibility of a nuclear Armageddon or other technologically-driven catastrophes – has been to midnight since the height of the Cold War in 1953. Explaining the move, the board cites ongoing nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula along with growing animosity between the US and Russia, conflict in the Middle East and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. An insufficient response to climate change is also identified as a major threat to global stability.

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