Benjamin Tam

Queen's University

PhD Candidate - Particle Astrophysics
Head Public Education Specialist - McDonald Institute

Benjamin Tam is a PhD Candidate at Queen’s University working on the SNO+ Experiment under the supervision of Prof. Mark Chen. Ben also leads the McDonald Institute Public Education Specialist team and is a regular contributor to Astroparticle Bites.

Contact Information
Room 141, Stirling Hall
Queen’s University
Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6
Phone: 613-533-6000 ext. 77839
Email: benjamin.tam@queensu.ca


After completing my B.Sc in Physics at McGill University in 2016, I started an M.Sc in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University under Professor Mark Chen. In 2018, I was promoted directly to the PhD program without the completion of a Master’s degree.

My current work is focused on the ongoing commissioning, operation, calibration, and data analysis of the SNO+ Experiment, a multi-purpose neutrino experiment and successor to the Nobel Prize-winning SNO Experiment. Alongside the ~100 scientists and engineers from around the world that form the SNO+ Collaboration, the SNO+ experiment is primarily interested in searching for neutrinoless double beta decay: a hypothesized nuclear process that could explain the origin of the universe. The SNO+ Experiment located at the SNOLAB underground science facility in Sudbury, Ontario.

I have a leadership role within several aspects of the SNO+ Experiment. These include the development of development of tellurium-loaded liquid scintillator, deployment of optical and radioactive calibration sources, process plant commissioning, chemical purification & quality testing, electronics development, and detector operations. My physics analysis is focused on the search for anti-neutrinos and neutrinoless double beta decay using SNO+ data.

I also have a passion for public outreach and physics instruction, and am the Head Public Education Specialist for the McDonald Institute. As the President of the Graduate Physics Society, I founded the GIRLS (Girls for Innovation, Research, Leadership & Science) Initiative to increase enrolment of women in physics. I have also received the Malcolm Stott Teaching Award for my instruction of introductory physics at Queen’s University.

Q&A with Ben

What are your research interests?

The current goal of my research is to probe the most basic human questions by experimentally investigating fundamental particles of astrophysical origin. I am currently focused on the commissioning, operation, calibration, and data analysis of the SNO+ Experiment, a world-leading multi-purpose neutrino detector located at SNOLAB.

My other research interests include cosmology and astrophysical instrumentation, having previously worked on the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, The South Pole Telescope, the Faint Intergalactic Redshifted Emission Balloon II, and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer Space Telescope.

How would you describe your work at the most basic level?

My team combines physics, chemistry, and engineering to build instruments used to search for fundamental particles. With these devices, we hope to probe some of the most basic human questions, such as the origin of the universe.

Why did you choose physics?

Physics as a way to explore the universe and develop innovative technologies free from social or political biases. The knowledge and technology developed from this pursuit of fundamental truths leads to a brighter future for all. I find this goal to be both honourable and romantic, and hope to further humanity’s understanding of physics however I can.

How does your collaboration with your key research facility partners work

The SNO+ Experiment is located at the SNOLAB underground science facility in Sudbury, where it will continue to operate for over 10 more years. As one of the underground leads for the SNO+ experiment, I spend roughly half my time at SNOLAB. There, I work together with SNOLAB scientists, engineers, and operations staff in order to construct, commission, and operate various aspects of the SNO+ experiment.

Share a personal piece of information that might surprise others.

I used to compete for Canada in Speed Skating. Upon retirement, I became a professional wilderness guide before starting a career in physics.