Dr Wouter Deconinck of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manitoba, explores the initiatives which are pushing for inclusion of indigenous communities in its scientific research
Subatomic physics research is an international enterprise. The size and cost of the accelerators and detectors for nuclear and particle physics leads countries to join forces: large collaborations with hundreds of scientists are the norm. Their leadership teams take on the roles of securing funding, setting scientific goals, making detector design choices, and managing the teams that implement the project.
In the Canadian prairie, physicists at the University of Manitoba are leading several world-class research initiatives at international accelerator facilities. This includes targeted experimental efforts, such as the MOLLER experiment at the Jefferson Lab particle accelerator led by Drs Michael Gericke and Juliette Mammei, but also broad initiatives such as the Electron-Ion Collider to be built in this decade and for which Dr Wouter Deconinck leads the Canadian delegation.
One in seven Aboriginal people in Canada live in Manitoba. They are three times less likely than non-Aboriginal people to obtain a university degree. The subatomic physics group at the University of Manitoba is leveraging its leadership position to push for inclusion of indigenous communities in its scientific research, for example by hosting indigenous students as part of the Verna J. Kirkness program.
The MOLLER Experiment: Precision Tests of the Standard Model of Particle Physics
The Canadian team led by subatomic physicists at the University of Manitoba is the largest group in the MOLLER experiment, an international study of the interaction between electrons at the Jefferson Lab in Virginia, U.S.
By directing an intense accelerated electron beam onto liquefied hydrogen, the MOLLER experiment will measure the properties of the interaction between two electrons to distances less than a millionth the size of an atomic nucleus. This precision will help us identify what dark matter is, which makes up most of the mass in the universe.
Within the MOLLER project, with a cost of $50 million, Drs Michael Gericke and Juliette Mammei lead the construction of the large array of sensitive electron detectors funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI). This Canadian involvement spans the country with universities from Memorial University of Newfoundland to the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Winnipeg as a partner.
The involvement of Canadian universities in large international collaborative efforts presents excellent career opportunities for Canadian students and researchers. With skills in fast electronics development and analysis of large data sets, and with experience working in diverse working groups, subatomic physics students possess desirable skills for many career paths.
Canadian Participation in the Electron-Ion Collider
The University of Manitoba leads the Canadian involvement in the Electron-Ion Collider, North America’s next major particle collider facility. This new facility will be built in the U.S. and will start operations by the end of this decade. At the Electron-Ion Collider, or EIC, polarized electrons will collide with polarized protons, polarized light ions, or heavy nuclei at intensities far beyond what is currently available anywhere in the world. This new facility will answer several fundamental questions central to completing our understanding of atoms, including the basic but unresolved question: where does the mass of the proton come from?
The EIC project achieved two major milestones in the 2020: the project received the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Energy and the site of the accelerator at Brookhaven National Lab in New York was selected. Construction of the EIC accelerator will start in 2023 and will be complete by 2030. Simultaneously, subatomic physicists around the world will be building the two large particle detectors to study the collisions.
Canadian subatomic physicists have participated in the planning of the EIC over the past decade, supported in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The EIC Canada Collaboration coordinates the Canadian activities at the EIC, from requests for research funding to providing prospective graduate students with a single point of contact. The EIC Canada Collaboration, led by its spokesperson Dr Wouter Deconinck, has taken part in the development of the Long Range Plan of the Canadian subatomic physics community. As the elected representative of international researchers on the EIC steering committee, Dr Deconinck works to ensure that national borders do not limit scientific possibilities at the EIC.
Including the Indigenous Community in Subatomic Physics
The highest share of the Canadian Aboriginal population lives in Manitoba. Located on the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation, the University of Manitoba is working to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and is home to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The reconciliation efforts extend to subatomic physics with the participation in the Verna J. Kirkness program. The Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation was founded in 2008 by Ron Woznow and Susan O’Brien with the goal of “increasing the number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students graduating from science and engineering programs in Canada.” A member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba, Dr Verna J. Kirkness is an award-winning author and advocate for Indigenous education. The program took Dr Kirkness’ name in 2010, after Ron was introduced to her by past president Dr Emoke Szathmary.
For a week in May or June, Indigenous high school students from around Manitoba and Canada come to campus to participate in research. The program was first offered at the University of Manitoba in 2012, and has since expanded to include 8 universities across Canada.
Dr Juliette Mammei has hosted students in her subatomic physics research lab as part of the Kirkness Program every year since 2012, including when on maternity leave. She developed a curriculum which introduces students to radiation safety and particle detection. During the week the students measure both the charge and mass of the electron. The finale is the construction of a cloud chamber to detect cosmic rays.
Graduate and undergraduate students volunteer as assistants each year, and have benefited from meeting the Indigenous students and learning about their backgrounds.
- Statistics Canada, 2011 National Household Survey and 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey.
*Please note: this is a commercial profile