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Faculty

Prof. Tony Noble

Scientific Director | McDonald Institute

Professor (Canada Research Chair) | Physics | Queen's University


noblet@queensu.ca |

Dr. Anthony Noble obtained a B.Sc. in Physics & Math from the University of New Brunswick, and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. (1990) in particle physics from the University of British Columbia. He then worked at CERN as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zürich before accepting research scientist positions at the Centre for Research in Particle Physics in Ottawa and TRIUMF. Now at Queen’s University since 2002, he has been working with the astroparticle physics group there to develop a world class research team focused on the activities at SNOLAB. With the completion of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment, his interests have been focused on dark matter experiments at SNOLAB where he is participating in the DEAP-3600 liquid argon experiment, and the PICO experiment using superheated fluids. These experiments aim to detect the mysterious dark matter that appears to dominate the matter budget of the Universe, but which has never been directly observed on Earth. He has also performed numerous accelerator based experiments at TRIUMF, Brookhaven and CERN and he spent a sabbatical year working on the ANTARES high energy neutrino telescope located on the Mediterranean seabed. Dr. Noble is currently the inaugural Scientific Director of the McDonald Institute.

Prof. Levente Balogh

Assistant Professor | Engineering | Queen's University


levente.balogh@queensu.ca

Following the completion of his PhD in physics in Hungary, Levente completed postdocs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Queen’s University. He was employed as a research scientist at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories before joining Queen’s faculty as a member of the McDonald Institute. His work focuses mainly on the effects of radiation on metals – it can lead to swelling and embrittlement of nuclear reactor components. Research advancing understanding of radiation damage is crucial for safe operating of current and next-generation reactors. Levente uses the accelerator at Queen’s’ Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL) to bombard materials with high energy protons and investigates their effect with x-ray diffraction and microscopy to better understand radiation-induced damage.

The accelerator at the RMTL is also used to generate neutrons, and Levente’s work with the McDonald Institute uses this neutron radiation to test and calibrate dark matter detector prototypes, as well as various other experiments. He also uses X-ray diffraction and microscopy methods for materials characterization in relation to McDonald Institute experiments.

What appealed to you about the McDonald Institute?

“The interdisciplinary nature of the McDonald Institute was very attractive, as it opens the door to new opportunities and new collaborations. Also, I was glad to have the opportunity to connect with the field of astroparticle physics. As a physics student, when I had to specialize, the two directions I was considering were materials science and astrophysics. I ended up choosing materials science, thus my past research is focused on that area, but my interest in astrophysics-related topics remained.”

Why did you choose physics?

“I am a curious person by nature. I was always interested in understanding the details of natural phenomena and the basic science behind technology. From all the natural sciences physics aspires to describe the world we see around us on the most fundamental level, which is why I chose to study it.”

Something that may surprise your students?

“I like sci-fi, I like British humour… What’s my favourite book? Easy to guess!.”

(Editor’s note: It’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)

Prof. Joseph Bramante

Assistant Professor | Physics | Queen's University
Visiting Fellow at Perimeter Institute


joseph.bramante@queensu.ca

After completing his PhD at the University of Hawaii, Joe held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and the Perimeter Institute, where he focused on the theory and phenomenology of dark matter and the early universe. His main research objective is to construct well-motivated theories that describe fundamental physics and to find new and hopefully elegant ways for humans to test those theories.

Currently most of Joe’s time is spent on identifying extensions of our standard understanding of nature, that experimental physicists and astronomers can then search for. Right now, he is in the process of demonstrating how detectors already operating at SNOLAB can be used to search for a new type of dark matter particle: multiply interacting massive particles (MIMPs).

He is particularly attracted to the creativity of the McDonald Institute team, citing doping scintillator with tellurium (SNO+) and using superheated liquids to hunt for dark matter (PICO) as some examples of the effective and innovative research that makes him excited to be part of this group of experimentalists, astrophysicists, and theorists.

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

“I explore the structure and history of our universe at the smallest and largest scales.”

What is something in your career you are especially proud of?

“I showed how dark matter may be causing the kind of supernova that results from thermonuclear burning inside white dwarf stars.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“When I started as an undergraduate, I mostly studied music and philosophy.”

Prof. Ken Clark

Assistant Professor | Physics | Queen's University


kjc5@queensu.ca |

After completing his PhD at Queen’s University, Ken completed several postdocs in the US and the UK, working on the CDMS and LUX dark matter experiments and the SNO+ and IceCube neutrino detectors. He then worked at the University of Toronto and SNOLAB before returning to Queen’s to join the McDonald Institute, where he is also a joint appointee at TRIUMF.

Currently Ken spends the bulk of his time working as part of the PICO collaboration – he is responsible for the construction and commissioning of PICO 40L, and is taking on much of the planning for the next generation PICO 500 detector. He’s also the part of the IceCube collaboration, currently the leading indirect detection experiment. Ken is working as the analysis coordinator for the IceCube upgrade, and will be in charge of physics parameters for the experiment’s next generation.

In joining the McDonald Institute, he’s excited to be working with people who are all leaders in astroparticle physics, particularly because it brings together faculty working in so many areas of this diverse field.

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

“I use detectors to search for the unknown in the universe. With some I am trying to find dark matter, which we know exists but nobody has detected yet. With some I am studying neutrinos, trying to determine more about these elusive particles.”

Why did you choose physics?

“There are many aspects of the universe that we just can’t explain with our current understanding of physics. That bothers me on a fundamental level. Physics is the quest to understand the universe as a whole, and studying it is the way to answer these fundamental questions.”

How does your joint appointment at TRIUMF impact your work?

“TRIUMF is a centre for not only accelerator physics in Canada, but also for developing new technologies.  As my research involves working at the leading edge of detector creation, the resources available are invaluable.  The connections between universities and the national labs are vital to staying up to date with the newest technologies.”

 

Something that might surprise your students?

“I once had a long ponytail and worked in a record store (which is where people used to buy CDs).”

Prof. Guillaume Giroux

Assistant Professor | Physics | Queen's University


ggiroux@owl.phy.queensu.ca |

After completing his PhD at the University of Bern in Switzerland, he started a postdoc there before beginning a second postdoc at Queen’s working on the PICO experiment as the data analysis coordinator. Guillaume’s PhD and first postdoc involved work on the EXO experiment, looking for neutrinoless double beta decay.

He is still part of the PICO collaboration as data analysis coordinator, and is also working on the temperature and pressure systems and detector research and development. Guillaume also recently joined the NEWS-G collaboration which is developing a new technology to look for low-mass dark matter particles, where he is interested in the low-background techniques they are using. In joining the McDonald Institute, he is excited about taking further leadership in current and future experiments housed at SNOLAB. He hopes these experiments will one day reveal the nature of dark matter and the mass of neutrinos.

What is something in your career you are especially proud of?

“I am especially proud of my discovery of a new acoustic background discrimination technique in superheated liquid detectors. This made possible the use of large bubble chambers to search for dark matter.”

Why did you choose physics?

“I chose physics because I strived to understand how nature works.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“My second passion, after physics, is pizza making.”

Prof. Matthew Leybourne

Associate Professor | Geology | Queen's University


ml164@queensu.ca

Following the completion of his PhD in Earth Sciences at the University of Ottawa, Matthew worked at institutions around the world before coming to Queen’s. His research areas included geochemical and isotopic investigations of ancient and modern rocks. The main focus of Matthew’s work is developing new analytical methods for ultra-low concentrations of trace elements, using solutions and lasers to understand geochemistry of fluids associated with ore deposits.

In joining the McDonald Institute, Matthew is excited at the opportunity to be involved with a world class team investigating fundamental questions about the formation of the universe, and to be part of a leading analytical geochemical facility at the Queen’s Facility for Isotope Research. His work with the McDonald Institute will be focused on developing new low-level determinations of trace materials in the presence of large quantities of detector media to aid in the purification process.

What is something in your career you are especially proud of?

“A highlight for me was working on understanding the processes occurring at hot-water vents and associated volcanic rocks on the modern sea floor and using this information to try to unravel how Earth worked in its early life (the first couple of billion years or so). Seeing the world from a research vessel in the middle of the Pacific with nothing on the horizon is humbling.”

Why did you choose geochemistry?

“This field allows me to collect fundamental data in the laboratory, experience Earth in a large variety of places and contexts during field work, and use that information to create narratives on how the Earth works. I am really excited to be applying geochemistry to a large physics project that will allow us to narrate the origins of the universe (the bigger picture!).

Something that might surprise your students?

“I started out as a science fiction junkie, but over the last decade or so I have become a politics junkie – more strange things happen in modern politics than most science fiction writers can conceive.”

Prof. Caio Licciardi

Assistant Professor | Physics | Laurentian University


clicciardi@laurentian.ca

Following the completion of his PhD at the University of Regina, Caio worked as a research associate at Carleton University, where his main focus was the EXO experiment. While working as part of this collaboration, he helped determine the sensitivity needed to detect neutrinoless double beta decay in the next-generation EXO experiment.

Currently, Caio is the analysis coordinator for the EXO-200 detector, which the predecessor to nEXO. The collaboration uses enriched liquid xenon as a target material for neutrinoless double beta decay interactions. For the next generation experiment, he is involved with studying the physics potentials of the detector. In joining the McDonald Institute, he is excited to have the opportunity to expand his contributions to astroparticle physics research.

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

“My work investigates some of the major outstanding questions about the inner workings of the universe. It also involved the development of cutting-edge technologies to do research in physics. At the moment, my research focuses on deepening human understanding pf the fundamental particles by studying neutrino properties and searching for dark matter.”

What is something in your career you are especially proud of?

“I am especially proud to work within, and be considered part of, the global scientific community.”

Prof. Marie-Cécile Piro

Assistant Professor | Physics | University of Alberta


mariecci@ualberta.ca |

After completing her PhD at the Université de Montréal, Marie-Cécile undertook a postdoctoral fellowship in France and worked as a Research Associate in the US and Italy before joining the University of Alberta as part of the McDonald Institute.

Part of both the PICO and DEAP-3600 collaborations, Marie-Cécile’s current work focuses on the hunt for dark matter. With PICO, she is working on gas purification and reducing the background radiation levels of materials used in the detector, which will allow PICO to achieve unprecedented levels of sensitivity. With DEAP-3600, she is doing measurements to better understand the detector’s behaviour, and, in turn, what the signals coming from the detector mean. Long term, she hopes to combine the two technologies and develop an argon bubble chamber detector.

One of the things Marie-Cécile most enjoys is solving the ‘mystery events’ that come up in data analysis for these types of experiments. Over her career, she has done this type of problem solving for many different types of detectors and is excited to continue doing this work as part of the McDonald Institute.

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

“I try to understand what our universe is made of. How do all the things around us work? Space, the big bang, and the stars are so fascinating. To answer these questions, we build ultra-sensitive detectors.”

Why did you choose physics?

“I chose physics because when I was young I wanted to be an astronaut. I remember wanting to be on the first mission to Mars, even if it was a one-way trip. It’s still a dream I have, and physics was a good way to learn more about our universe.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“I love archeology because it is so fascinating trying to understand the mystery and puzzles of the history of different cultures. I chose physics instead, but in a certain way for me a physicist is like an archeologist trying to understand the mysteries of our Universe.”

Wolfgang Rau

Senior Research Scientist | TRIUMF


Prof. Alan Robinson

Assistant Professor | Physics | Université de Montréal


alan.robinson@umontreal.ca |

Following his PhD at the University of Chicago, Alan started a postdoc at Fermilab working on the Super-CDMS dark matter experiment that will be installed at SNOLAB. His work looks at how particle interactions work; gaining a better understanding of this allows more sensitive detectors to be built.

He is currently part of both the PICO and Super-CDMS collaborations. With PICO, he is one of the leaders of the Montréal group planning and constructing future-generation detectors. With Super-CDMS, he is working to update the nuclear and particle physics techniques that are used to understand the detectors while considering the condensed matter physics that come into effect.

Alan is excited to be joining the McDonald Institute, as its work centres around recognizing the important things we still have to discover about the universe. He had already committed to studying novel detector technologies, and now has the opportunity to work as part of a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary organization.

What is something you are especially proud of?

“A couple of years ago, I discovered that the most common type of radiation, gamma radiation, could collide in a way that would mimic dark matter in new ultra-sensitive detectors. The existence of these types of collisions had been well studied, but no one had considered its effects on detectors because we hadn’t yet had a detector sensitive enough to see it! I am proud of discovering new phenomena, and especially phenomena that we already know but haven’t yet considered in a particular context.”

Why did you choose physics?

“Experimental physics is the work of building something nobody has ever built before and seeing what it does. This work expands our understanding of nature and technology and is never boring.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“I’m an effective 2-meter stick. The DEAP-3600 water tank measures approximately two Alans in radius!”

Prof. Simon Viel

Assistant Professor | Physics | Carleton University


simonviel@cunet.carleton.ca |

Following a PhD at the University of British Columbia and TRIUMF, Simon worked as a Chamberlain Fellow and NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. His work there focused on designing and testing components for a future upgrade of the ATLAS detector at CERN.

Simon is motivated by questions about what the smallest particles in the universe are, and how they interact with each other. His work currently has two main areas of focus. First, he is developing software for several components of DEAP-3600 that will also have applications for next-generation dark matter experiments using liquid argon. Second, he is looking into the possibility of using silicon photodetectors as sensors for future large-scale experiments using liquid noble gases as their detector media.

Joining the McDonald Institute gave him the perfect opportunity to continue doing research in experimental particle physics and he is now actively recruiting graduate students to join his research group at Carleton.

What is something in your career that stands out as a highlight?

“I really enjoyed working on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider during my PhD and postdoc years. Teamwork in large collaborations is extremely rewarding, as it allows the international physics community to undertake projects of a scale impossible to achieve otherwise. I look forward to participating in the development of international collaborations for future experiments at SNOLAB.”

Why did you choose physics?

“I fell in love with physics in CEGEP when I took an optional course on the topic of ‘contemporary physics’. It opened my mind to fascinating concepts in quantum mechanics and particle physics, and after learning about fundamental unsolved problems in physics, I knew that I wanted to participate in finding answers.”

What do you do when you aren’t in the lab?

“Hiking and cycling are my two favourite outdoor activities.”

Prof. Aaron Vincent

Assistant Professor | Physics | Queen's University


aaron.vincent@queensu.ca |

Following a PhD at McGill University, Aaron completed postdocs at the University of Valencia in Spain, and at the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology at Durham University. He then worked as a Junior Research Fellow at Imperial College London. As an astroparticle theorist, much of his work involves looking at observational data to understand the relationship between phenomena on the astronomical scale and those at the level of particle physics.

Some of the areas he is currently exploring include the impact of dark matter on stars, how neutrino telescopes can help us discover new laws of nature, and what the cosmos can say about our understanding of physics as a whole.

Can you describe your work at the McDonald Institute?

“As a theorist, they don’t let me push buttons (this is probably a good thing). Part of my work is as a bridge between the particle and astronomy groups at Queen’s: this involves trying think of ways to maximize the discovery potential of the various McDonald Institute experiments and make connections with what we know more broadly from astronomy and astrophysics. In this capacity I get to interact both with leaders of the SNOLAB experiments and with the world-class astronomers at Queen’s. I’m also interested in statistical and computational approaches that help us make sense of all of the things that nature is trying to tell us through data in our experiments.

What is a project that stands out as a highlight in your career?

“The next project is always the most interesting: I like expanding my knowledge and trying to wrap my head around new ideas and approaches. That said, my work on dark matter in the sun produced some very interesting and unexpected results, and even made its way into some popular science publications. I had a lot of fun talking to science journalists from around the world.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“I enjoy cooking. Some of my recent culinary adventures have involved spherification, sous-vide, smoking, and cheesemaking (not all at the same time, mind you). A few of these experiments produced very tasty results. Several did not.”

Prof. Peng Wang

Assistant Professor | Chemistry | Queen's University


After completing his PhD in chemistry at McMaster University, Peng undertook a postdoc at Northwestern University. His time there was focused on investigating semiconductors to see if they could detect and identify radioactive materials. Before joining the McDonald Institute, Peng also worked as a scientist at Redlen Technologies Inc., where he was improving the quality and yield of detectors used in medical and security applications.

His work at the McDonald Institute supports the development of neutrino and dark matter detectors. Some materials interact with high energy radiation and subatomic particles and convert that energy into photo or electric signals that can be picked up by sensors. However, for a detector to work, the material it uses has to meet strict physical and chemical requirements. Peng’s work involves discovering potential detector materials and developing them into viable detectors.

What interested you about the McDonald Institute?

“The McDonald Institute offers a unique opportunity to further my research in material chemistry under the framework of radiation and particle detection.”

Why did you choose to work in a physics-related field?

“I enjoy experimenting with materials to manipulate their physical properties. Almost everything in the modern world is made based on the property of certain materials. There are countless exciting opportunities to improve our lives through the advancement of material physics.”

Something that might surprise your students?

“I enjoy cooking – it’s where chemistry meets living.”

 

Juan Pablo Yañez Garza

Assistant Professor

Physics


j.p.yanez@ualberta.ca

Neutrinos physics. Member of IceCube and SNO+. Special interest in neutrino oscillations, neutrinoless double beta decay and atmospheric neutrinos.