ANU Alumna wins national award for Honours Thesis in physics

29 Nov 2022

Congratulations to ANU Alumna Katherine Curtis who has been awarded the Thomas H Laby Medal for Excellence in Physics from the Australian Institute of Physics for the most outstanding Honours thesis in physics by a student from an Australian university. For her thesis, Nuclear Pairing and Superfluidity from a Quark Model, Katherine built a quark-meson coupling model of superfluidity 

"My thesis explores superfluidity - a quantum effect where fluids flow without friction - in atomic nuclei using a model based on the quarks that make up the protons and neutrons inside these nuclei," Katherine explained. 

"The true behaviour of nuclei is so complex that we rely on simplified models to calculate how they excite, rotate and collide, which usually assume these quarks are irrelevant.  

"However, I showed for the first time that a quark-based model could reproduce the unique rotation dynamics of superfluid nuclei where the prevailing quarkless nuclear models in use today could not.  

"This suggests that quark models could improve calculations and experiments wherever superfluid characteristics are important, from modelling neutron stars to searching for new elements of the periodic table.  

"Excitingly, it also offers insight into how observed nuclear behaviours such as superfluidity arise from interactions at the quark level, which could help bridge the gap between our current simplified models and the true fundamental physics that governs nuclear behaviour." 

Katherine hopes her win inspires other women. 

"It's a surprise to be awarded the medal.  

"I always try to focus on doing my personal best rather than aiming for external recognition.  

"Having faced a tumultuous Honours year, for me, I view this award as a recognition of tenacity more than of any innate talent.  

"I hope it reminds the community that thinking differently from others can be a strength, and that regardless of what others say, you are always in control of the standards you demand of yourself. 

"I also hope it inspires other women to proudly share their ideas and skills with their world, just as I've been inspired by the persistence and talent of the amazing women around me, both at ANU and beyond."