It started with a bang… and it ended with us, having fun with the challenge of understanding it all.
Thus spoke 2015 Nobel Laureate Prof. Arthur B. McDonald, who presented a sweeping account of his career addressing the deep, dark questions of our universe during the Herzberg Memorial Public Lecture at the Isabel Bader Centre in Kingston, ON on May 29.
The lecture was featured on the opening night of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Annual Congress, this year hosted at Queen’s University as part of its 175th anniversary celebration. The CAP Congress is the most important physics conference in Canada where every year, hundreds of Canadian and international physicists descend on a host university to communicate, present, exchange ideas, promote new research, and discuss the role of physics in their country. The Herzberg Memorial Public Lecture is in honour of Nobel Laureate Dr. Gerhard Herzberg, longstanding member of the CAP, in recognition of Dr. Herzberg’s known desire to increase public science engagement and appreciation of science amongst the public, particularly among youth. The Herzberg lecturers are chosen for their career achievement and their ability to inspire the next generation of young scientists and innovators.
Prof. McDonald appealed to the younger members of the audience with jokes, a promise that “science is fun,” and by pointing out that they are sitting in a room full of “geeks looking for WIMPs” (weakly interacting massive particles, a hypothesized subatomic particle not yet observed). Peppering whimsy throughout his talk, Dr. McDonald gave an overview of SNOLAB’s new neutrino experiment, SNO+, as well as the current program underway there searching for the elusive dark matter.
He also discussed the history of the now-completed SNO experiment, making sure he gave credit to the 270+ people who made it, and his Nobel Prize, possible. He made a point to acknowledge that over 200 of the collaborators were students and post-docs; reinforcing that contributions from all levels are important. He went on to discuss SNOLAB, a new laboratory.
Built with funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which was designed to “welcome the world to Canada”. McDonald reiterated the importance of this initial investment and pushed home the message that “we need to be global in our outlook, in our diversity and our collaborations”.
To wrap things up, McDonald asked for SNO-jokes from the crowd and shared a quote that has stuck with him since his days at Princeton working under Nobel Laureate, Professor Willy Fowler:
“Ad astra per aspera et per ludum – to the stars with hard work and fun!”
All in all it was an illuminating presentation by a star in Canada’s scientific landscape, and without doubt everyone left with a greater appreciation for science and Canada’s contribution to the enterprise.