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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

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Heuer, Canadian Physics, a Pisspot, and …

— by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

The Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) met last week in St. John’s, Newfoundland (a huge island it turns out), off the most eastern part of Canada. Newfoundland-Labrador (NL) (one of 10 Canadian provinces…joined the federation in March 31, 1949) is remote with a ruggedly beautiful coastline and—at this time of year—cool, rainy, and foggy. NL is famous for icebergs floating by the coast, pods of whales, schools of capelins, and millions of sea birds. Check out the maps, weather, and iceberg tracking.

Capelin fish.

A capelin is the fish the whales eat. They come to shore to spawn in June and July, followed by the whales, and everyone in town benefits, except of course the capelins. Looks like a “lycoptera” to me.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer, DG of CERN, attended the first day of the meeting and gave a public lecture in the evening to the conference delegates, university students, and local citizens. Standing-room only in an auditirium for at least 1,000!  It was a superb and captivating lecture for physicists outside of particle physics and for the public alike. Rolf is a tremendous spokesperson for CERN and particle physics.   During his daytime itinerary, Rolf participated in several sessions and panel discussions where he spoke passionately about the opportunity for Canada to work with CERN more closely as one of the first “associate members” from overseas.

One of the CAP meeting highlights was the T2K result, which reported a 2.5 sigma effect on theta-13, an angle that measures the degree to which flavours “1” and “3” of neutrinos change back and forth into one another. This result, if it holds, has major implications for the next-generation long-baseline neutrino experiments being discussed around the world. It is possible decisions will take place about proceeding to search for CP violation in the neutrino sector in the next 5 years…a billion dollar program wherever it is built.

Another conference highlight was the inaugural award of the CAP-TRIUMF Medal for Subatomic Physics named after Erich W. Vogt, one of the founders of TRIUMF and an early director of the laboratory.  Professor Vogt travelled to Newfoundland for the conference specifically for the purpose of handing the medal to David Sinclair (a professor at Carleton and a senior research scientist at TRIUMF) for his contributions to the SNO experiment.  It was a special moment as David acknowledged that he’d always seen Erich as a mentor.

Although most of the conference was work, we did get a few minutes to go outside and look around.  Touring the local historical sites was fun. Almost everyone visited Signal Hill (site of the first radio transmission across the Atlantic) and Cape Spear, the most eastern point in Canada. Cape Spear has the second oldest lighthouse in Canada. The tour, given by a young woman from Labrador (the first person I have met from Labrador), was fascinating. The lighthouse had been run for seven generations by the same family….yes seven. They hired a technician to keep the lighthouse maintenance up to snuff and to rewind the clockwork mechanism every three hours. This individual lived in a small room in the lighthouse, next to his minimal work shop.  The room was so cold in winter that our Labrador tour guide said the “contents of the pisspot froze” (FYI — “piss” is an acceptable word in haute-Canada).  I also learned about the big technological advance in lamps: when the wick on oil lamps was upgraded to be cylindrical rather than flat and a fluted glass chimney was attached. The round wick improved oxygen flow and most importantly increased light output versus a candle by a factor of seven and eliminated the smoke and hence the need to clean the glass chimneys and Fresnel lense so often. The Swiss physicist Argand is credited with this innovation in 1781.

Barrerl of sperm-whale oil.

The whales they caught provided the oil for the lamps. Barrels of sperm whale oil were stored next to the maintenance man’s bedroom and his piss-pot.

The final topic to share is the controversy over the Canadian sealing industry, strongly supported in NL. If you are inclined, check out http://www.ifaw.org/ifaw_canada_english/ or for the other side of the argument see http://speeches.empireclub.org/61890/data?n=20

I’ll remember this trip because I watched the Vancouver Canucks lose the seventh game of the Stanley Cup to Boston in a local St. John’s bar, a piss…, made worse by all the local Boston fans!  (just kidding)  It was a privilege to have our team in the finals.



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