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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Go Team Canada

–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communications

I spent most of Monday in Waterloo. No, not the Waterloo in Belgium or Waterloo Station in the U.K., but Waterloo, Ontario, the great central province of Canada that includes Paris, London, Windsor, and so on. (I’m not kidding!)

What’s special about Waterloo? Well, to the great followers of particle physics, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is based in Waterloo, Ontario. This amazing institute, which celebrated its tenth birthday just last year, was bankrolled with a cool $50 million from the owner of the Canadian company which invented the Blackberry. Now that’s pretty sweet.

I’m not a theoretical physicist and TRIUMF is primarily a laboratory dedicated to experimental physics—we have a theory group, but they are out numbered about 10:1 here—so what was going on?

Well, TRIUMF got together with the Perimeter Institute (known affectionately as PI) and SNOLAB (Canada’s deep underground science laboratory and successor to SNO where the solar neutrino problem was solved) to discuss Team Canada. No, not the hockey team that beat the pants off the USA in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics—barely, says my hurt American ego—but a Team Canada that joins our three labs together.

The topic of conversation for the visit was “What could Canada achieve if these three labs were to work together; a world-class accelerator laboratory, a world-class theory institute, and a world-class deep underground science lab?

The idea of Team Canada is a quiet revolution for Canada’s national identity. Traditionally, Canada has thought of itself as a peacemaker, an intermediary, and a good kid brother. For Canada to seek first place, to show up its bigger sibling to the South, to compete for dominance in an area…that’s new. That’s 21st century. The “Own the Podium” program that helped select and train the best winter athletes for the 2010 Olympics was not only amazing in its success for the Games but also in its audacity in challenging traditional Canadian views.

In science, the same thing is happening. Where can “Team Canada” play to its strengths and win big-time in science? The first step is finding the team and choosing the game. And that’s what we were doing in Waterloo.

The three laboratory directors (Nigel L, Nigel S, and Neal T) first talked about what “players” they had (i.e., areas of strength) and then started to brainstorm some of the burning questions in science that might yield to their combined efforts.

Although not feasible the short term, an example would be something like primordial neutrinos. These are the neutrinos that originated moments after the Big Bang and, like the cosmic microwave background radiation, would offer a detailed fingerprint of the early moments of creation. These neutrinos are so incredibly low in energy that there really is no current technology that can systematically detect them and develop a map of the sky like we do with survey telescopes.

But, let’s say TRIUMF did find a technical solution. PI would be able to generate the detailed theoretical predictions about what to look for and how to interpret the data. And SNOLAB would be the obvious and preferred location to place the detector because it is so deep underground that the noisy background of “other stuff” that rains down out of the atmosphere is heavily reduced. So, by combining forces, Canada would have a truly global advantage in addressing this science topic.

It was a fantastic discussion and clearly the first of many joint efforts. We look forward to a win with Team Canada!


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