Physics decadal plan 2012–2021

In 2012, the National Committee for Physics of the Australian Academy of published the Physics decadal plan 2012–2021: building on excellence in physics, underpinning Australia’s future. This plan presented an overview of the Australian physics community’s strategic vision for the ten years 2012–2021. Focusing on the importance of future growth opportunities of physics education, its role in society, international engagement, and the significance of science and technology for our future.

In the second half of the decadal period, the committee undertook an internal review of the plan and its progress against the recommendations. It determined that the original objectives of the decadal plan have been partially achieved and continue to be relevant to the community.

A summary of this progress is given below.

Download the physics decadal plan 2012-2021

The Physics decadal plan 2012-2021: building on excellence in physics, underpinning Australia’s future was launched at the Shine Dome on 6 December 2012. It presents the Australian physics community’s strategic vision for the 10 years, from 2012–2021.

Download Physics frontiers: A decade of Australian achievement

The case studies contained in this document provide an overview of the diverse, challenging, and exciting careers that a physics background can lead to. They are presented to inspire and encourage young people to consider how physics can pave the way for fulfilling and rewarding careers, contributing to the growth and prosperity of Australia.

Summary review - Physics decadal plan 2012-2021

The below summary has been prepared by the National Committee for Physics.

The decadal plan identified four critical issues for the future of physics in Australia:

  1. Achieving a physics-literate workforce and community
  2. Realising human capital in physics

  3. Building on physics research and investment

  4. Engaging in the international enterprise of physics

Addressing these four critical issues is imperative. Strong support for physics delivers great value for the nation.

The physics decadal plan highlighted the opportunities that physics offers to Australia. The review reiterated the environment necessary to realise these opportunities.

Achieving a physics-literate workforce and community

Other fields outside of science greatly benefit from the skills set of physics graduates, although these benefits may not be as visible to society. Now more than ever, community engagement and a robust physics education sector are critical for developing a physics literate workforce that can respond to growing demands in Australian-made technology and evidence-based decision-making.

Realising human capital in physics

Physics discoveries lead to novel technologies that can revolutionise existing industries. Physics is therefore a creative profession critical to the future workforce. A significant way to fully realise the human capital in physics is through considering equity, diversity and inclusion in all its forms in physics as whole. That implies changes into the culture at workplaces of all sorts, education of the community and changes in the way we today evaluate what a successful career in physics means and how it contributes to the society at large. Future human capital in physics will be realised when we can demonstrate and convince society that the studies of physics lead to fulfilling and prosperous careers and demystify the beliefs surrounding today’s physics careers.

Building on physics research and investment

Australia shares in global leadership in numerous research fields in physics. This has led to high international regard for the quality of our education and training, our research and our universities. The impact of our physics research internationally should be maintained and enhanced while increased investment is implemented to accelerate translation of research breakthroughs into improvements in society – through increased economic wealth, new jobs and other measures of impact.

This is something that needs to happen because of the key role that physics and physicists have played in innumerable technological advances in the world, and can play in Australia into the future with an appropriate innovation ecosystem.

There is clear evidence of engagement by the physics community in growing the high technology-based economy in Australia. It is important that the culture, investment and rewards are diversified to recognise this critical need for Australia. This document calls for policies and processes that will see our society achieve greater benefit from the investments it has made in physics.

Engaging in the international enterprise of physics

Science is global, and physics is no exception. The past decade has seen Australian physicists play prominent roles in large international collaborations working at the forefront of modern science. A key example is the discovery of gravitational waves, and confirmation of their origin, by the LIGO collaboration. Further examples of international engagement include Australian involvement in the ITER nuclear fusion project, the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider and the development of an Australian-based dark matter detection program. Connections have been fostered with organisations in our region, such as the Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics, and other key international links have been strengthened, such as that with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Australia's establishment of dedicated quantum research centres has propelled advancements in quantum technologies through collaborations between academia, industry and government. This progress has positioned the country as a significant global player in quantum research, fostering practical applications in sectors like telecommunications and computing while prioritising workforce education and policy frameworks for future developments.

Opportunities for the next decade

An important aspect of a valuable physics environment is a quality education system. Support for quality teaching, from school teachers building foundations, through to university educators training future physicists, and including activities that promote appreciation of physics amongst the general public, can elevate the Australian community’s knowledge base. The value of having a science-literate population, and of evidence-based decision making, have been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 crisis; these boost our capability to also deal with other serious global issues. A broader understanding in the community of the multitude of physics-related career paths would encourage more students to engage with physics.

An environment that fully realises the human capital in physics addresses issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Removing disadvantage that has existed for minority groups, and ensuring equitable career pathways for all, will make the most of governments, organisations and individuals investing in physics education.

We must build on investment in physics by organisations. The ubiquitous impact of physics research on other disciplines and technology means that it must be well supported in all technologically advanced societies. To build on research, we can harness the power of cross-disciplinary research and enhance partnerships between industry and academia. It would be advantageous for industry and investment sectors to be more aware of, and receptive to, the opportunities that physics can bring. We need efficient, agile, fair and sustainable research funding, and measures of success (metrics and coding of research) that are appropriate for the 21st century.

Infrastructure investment is required for Australian physics to remain at the cutting edge. Our country must invest in world-scale collaborative endeavours. Australian physics research is recognised internationally for its high quality. The global interconnectedness of physics research means that international collaborations are an integral part of Australian physics. To ensure that this continues in the future, we need to nurture and produce internationally competitive undergraduate and postgraduate students in physics. By engaging in the international enterprise of physics, we build the work force of the future, build our engineering and manufacturing capability, keep Australia at the forefront of technology, and provide role-models for our children in their STEM education.

Contact: For more information about the decadal plan and the National Committee for Physics contact

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