Black Hole, Grade Points & Dark Skies. Vicphys News 1/T2/19

Welcome back to Term 2, this newsletter has some recently released resources.

  • A constructed image of a Black Hole was released during the holidays.  The Perimeter Institute has already produced some curriculum support material.
  • The Grade Points for last year’s Physics exam are now available on VCAA’s website.
  • Dark Sky site with Astronomical Society of Victoria
  • The Girls in Physics Breakfasts are coming up in May.  Bookings close early in Term 2.  The date and speaker for the Clayton Breakfast in August are announced below.

Please note: The Vicphysics Website is temporarily down, but it is expected to be up and running later today, Tuesday, 23rd April
The next meeting of the Vicphysics Teachers’ Network will be on Thursday, 9th May at Melbourne Girls’ College starting at 5:00pm. Teachers are welcome to these meetings. If you wish to come, please email Vicphysics

Frances Sidari (Pres), Jane Coyle (Vice-Pres), Dan O’Keeffe (Sec) and Terry Tan (Treas)

Table of Contents

  1. Image of Black Hole: Classroom Resources
  2. Grade Distribution for 2018 VCE Physics Exam
  3. Dark Sky Site: Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV)
  4. Events for Students and the General Public

5. Physics News from the Web
a)  Physicists spot the signatures of nuclear fusion in a table top device
b)  Language learning in children is like a phase transition
c) Seeing the unseeable: The impact and legacy of the first black hole images.

1.  Image of Black Hole: Classroom Resources
The Perimeter Institute has produced a new resource explaining the results from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).  It is a nine page document including a lesson plan.

There are also two posters available for download.  The PI website has a comprehensive news story, summary videos, and a panel discussion explaining the results.

PI also has an interactive simulation which challenges students to align the EHT telescopes.

Finally there are two short activities: Seeing Black Holes and Biggest Radio Telescope just got Bigger

2.  Grade Distribution for 2018 VCE Physics Exam
The distribution of grades is now available on the VCAA website.  It gives the raw score cut off for each letter grade (out of 260 because of double marking) as well as the percentage of male and female candidates who received that letter grade.
The Vicphysics website has a spreadsheet of this data for exams going back to 1999.  The file ‘Grade Points’  is in the webpage on ‘Revision and Exam Solutions’ and is at the bottom of the webpage.
Last year’s students did not score as well on the 2018 paper as the 2017 students did on the 2017 paper.

The total number of students was about 7500, which is where it has been for the last few years. The percentage of female students was 22.5%, having been as low as 20% in 2013.  It was about 25% at the turn of the century and as high as 27% in the 1990’s.  The percentage of the age cohort doing Year 12 physics has been just over 11% for the last few years, with just over 17% for boys and just over 5% for girls.

3. Dark Sky Site: Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV)
The ASV has a Dark Sky site about 90 minutes drive from Melbourne at Heathcote. It is available for members at any time.  They are also holding a Dark Sky Night for members on the evening of Saturday, 28th April.  Click here for membership details.

4.    Events for Students and the General Public

a) Girls in Physics Breakfasts

This is our fourth year of running Girls in Physics Breakfasts. The aims of the program are:

  • to encourage girls in Years 10 to 12 to appreciate the diversity of careers that studying physics enables,
  • to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from a challenging career in science, and
  • to be aware of the success that women can achieve in the physical sciences.

There are six remaining Breakfasts to be held in May this year at Geelong, Warrnambool, Bendigo, Wodonga,  central Melbourne and now one at Clayton.

At each breakfast, students share a table with two or three women who are either have a career in physics or engineering, or are at university as undergraduates or postgraduates.  At the table, discussion ensures about what the women do, what they like about it as well as their training, future prospects, etc.  As a student at one of  early breakfasts told her teacher, ‘I was talking to a guest at my table and her career sounded so amazing.  Then I realised that in 8 years that could be me.  I got so excited.

There is also a guest speaker at each breakfast who presents a talk on her area of expertise.  After the talk there are activities on Careers in STEM and Q & A panel with three of the guests.

The dates, venues, speakers, topics and Trybooking links are:

  • 3rd May, Geelong Speaker: Dr Ellen Moon, Deakin University, Topic: Science in the Antarctic: Where can STEM take you? Closing date: 10:00am Friday, 26th April Trybookings
  • 10th May, Warrnambool Speaker: Dr Gail Iles, RMIT, Topic: Human spaceflight and science in space. Closing date: 3:00pm, Weds, 1st May Trybookings
  • 17th May, Bendigo Speaker: Dr Judy Hart, University of  New South Wales, Topic: Developing new materials for renewable energy. Closing date: 10:00am, Fri, 10th May. Trybookings
  • 24th May, Wodonga Speaker Adelle Wright, ANU, Topic: Nuclear Fusion: An Australian Perspective. Closing date: 10:00am, Thurs, 16th May.  Trybookings
  • 30th May, Melbourne Speaker: Dr Susie Sheehy, University of Melbourne and Oxford University, Topic: Colliding worlds: Using particle physics to cure cancer. Closing date:10:00am, Tues, 21st May. Trybookings
  • 28th August, Clayton Speaker: Dr Helen Maynard-Casely, ANSTO, Topic: Yet to be finalised.  Bookings are yet to open.

Cost: $15 per student with teachers free, a discounted fee is available to schools with a low ICSEA rank.
See the specific Trybookings link for details.

b) 8th May, Amusement Park Physics Day, 10am – 2pm, Gumbuya World
Ciderhouse is organising a physics day at Gumbuya World at Tynong North in Gippsland.
Cost: Students: $39 includes admission, rides and lunch
Teachers: $12 includes admission, tea and coffee and lunch
There are also professional development sessions on i) electronic data analysis by Doug Bail (90 min) and ii) e-learning by Pearson Publishing.
For more details and to book click here and then click “Gumbuya World bookings’
c) 30th May, First Nations, First Astronomers. 5:30pm – 7:30pm, Swinburne University
Join Gunnai and Yorta Yorta custodian Uncle Wayne Thorpe, Kamilaroi woman and astrophysics student Krystal De Napoli, and cultural astronomer Dr Duane Hamacher for an open panel discussion about the many layers of Indigenous astronomical knowledge and exciting happenings in the world of astronomy and space.
Venue: ATC 101 . See map.
To register, click here.
d) 21st June, Vivid Lives of Stars. 6:30pm, Swinburne University
PhD Student, Poojan Agrawal, will present a talk at AMDC301.  The abstract is not yet available.  Check here for details.

5.   Physics from the Web
Items selected from the bulletins of the Institute of Physics (UK).
Each item below includes the introductory paragraphs and a web link to the rest of the article.
a) Physicists spot the signatures of nuclear fusion in a table-top device
Neutrons characteristic of nuclear fusion have been produced sustainably inside a device that is small enough to fit on a tabletop. Yue Zhang at the University of Washington and colleagues observed the neutrons following efforts to stabilize the accelerated plasma contained within a Z-pinch, a device that for decades has been used by astronomers to recreate the hot plasmas typical of a stellar interior. The new work offers a potential route towards compact fusion-energy generators, as an alternative to large-scale, tokamak-based devices.

b) Language learning in children is like a phase transition
New research suggests that the sudden ability of young children to understand and form complex sentences is comparable to a physical phase transition. Using principles from statistical mechanics, Eric DeGiuli at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris has explained the abrupt transition by comparing a child’s learning of language with the freezing of water

c) Seeing the unseeable: the impact and legacy of the first black-hole images
For the last two decades, we’ve been living through a “golden age” in astronomy. We’ve mappedfluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, spotted thousands of extrasolar planets and measured the accelerating expansion of the universe. And then, in 2016, gravitational waves were detected for the first time, opening an entire new window on the cosmos, including the sight of colliding black holes and neutron stars.

But those breakthroughs have been matched – and possibly even eclipsed – by the first-ever image of a black hole, which were released earlier this week.


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