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Faculty of Science

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Congratulations to Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference (CUPC) winners Adree Khondker and Yasmeen El-Rayyes and all McMaster attendees!

McMaster Physics wins big at #CUPC2018 in Edmonton! 

There were 142 attendees this year. McMaster P&A was very well represented: About 1/6 (16%) of the talks were given by our undergraduates. From the 90 oral presentations, McMaster students gave 14 talks. There were no divisional awards this year: three awards were given for best presentations, one for best poster, and one student’s choice award. 

BUT McMaster wins 2 of the top 5 awards:

Adree Khondker (Rheinstadter Lab) wins 1st Place Oral Presentation Award.

Yasmeen El-Rayyes (Dalnoki Lab) wins Student's Choice Award.

Congratulations to everyone: You all did a fantastic job showcasing the exciting research at Mac, you gave great presentations and made the department very proud! Keep up the good work!

Math, physics, French… and Buddhism? Mac student expands her horizons, thanks to a Renaissance Award

Cissy Suen missed her convocation this June, but she had a pretty good reason. She was travelling through Asia studying Buddhism, thanks to a unique award available to McMaster students. Read more here

Carmen Lee receives Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Congratulations to Carmen Lee who just received a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. The title of her research proposal is “Fluids on the nanoscale in thin film geometries”. Carmen works with Kari Dalnoki-Veress.

Science on Tap

Join scientists from McMaster University’s Physics and Astronomy Department for an entertaining night filled with scientific discussion, trivia, and beer. At Science on Tap, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with researchers in various scientific fields as they present some of science’s most intriguing phenomena. There will be plenty of time to ask questions while the scientists are on stage, or afterwards over cold pints. Come try this educational twist on a night out at the pub. Learn More

Dr. Bill Harris's Speech in Reception of his Honorary Degree



Madame Chancellor, Mister President, honored guests and colleagues, graduands, and your parents, relatives, and friends: I’m very honored to be here, with all of the rest of you who are getting your degrees today.

We’re all here because of science. And I’m constantly struck by how science always moves forward – one of the few human institutions that can say that. So in the next very few minutes I’d like to talk about how.

Let me start with a very recent example from my own field. Three weeks ago, I was at the annual meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society, held this year in Victoria. Hundreds of astrophysicists gathered to talk over new results, form collaborations, and exchange ideas. And in one of the featured talks, we heard about the details of a discovery that happened just a few months ago. In a rather normal galaxy 130 million lightyears away, a pair of neutron stars – the dead remnants of formerly active stars – spiraled in towards each other and collided. How do we know this? Because of the new technique of gravitational wave astronomy. The collision radiated a pattern of gravitational waves outward in all directions, a tiny part of which was detected and measured here on Earth, and these ripples in space had a particular shape and structure that could only be produced by a pair of colliding neutron stars.

Does all of this have any practical implications? Well, it’s like this. When two neutron stars collide, they touch off a firestorm of nuclear reactions, which rapidly build up lots of nuclei of heavy atoms – elements like cadmium, mercury, tungsten, platinum – and gold. Moreover, it seems now that this type of event may be the answer to a long-standing problem of where the heaviest elements came from. So, if you happen to be wearing a gold ring for example, or perhaps a bit of gold jewelry – you are wearing a little bit of cosmic wreckage. In fact, I’d say it’s worth getting a bit of gold jewelry just so that you can talk about where that gold came from.

As another example, consider what we’re all made of. The most common type of atom in our bodies is simple hydrogen. Those hydrogen atoms were formed almost 14 billion years ago in the early stages of the Big Bang and have been around since. The second most common atom inside us is oxygen – and those oxygen atoms were built up by nuclear fusion deep within the cores of massive stars long before our Solar System existed. The same is true for carbon and nitrogen and most of the other atoms inside us. We really are made of stardust – or if you prefer, we’re made of nuclear waste.

Another prominent recent example, of course, is the detection of thousands of planets around other nearby stars, and serious progress is now being made toward the goal of finding clones of the Earth, where we might in turn find evidence for life. All of this might happen sooner than anyone expects.

We live in an age of miracles and wonder. And I’m sure all of you can think of things from your own fields of study, of amazing frontier phenomena. New ideas, new tools and techniques.
But it’s not just ideas and tools; just as importantly, it’s the way science actually gets done. It’s often said that science is neither good nor bad – it’s just the use to which we put it that can be one or the other. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but let’s shift the focus instead to the process of doing science. That’s, I think, an example of humanity at something approaching its best:

- What we do with information is crucial. We work best when there’s a free flow of information and a lot of sharing of ideas. Secrecy is discouraged, disinformation is not allowed, and national borders don’t mean anything.
- Science is very good at taking the long view. It can take all the brainpower and all the hard work that we can throw at it, and more besides, but persistence pays off. Individual work is important, and collaborative work is important. Narrow perspectives, shortsightedness, impatience don’t get you very far.
- Science is wide open for debate, any time. Any idea, interpretation, concept, or model, is open for challenge, as long as those challenges are based on evidence – not just opinion, or authority. The only authority in the game is Nature itself. Arguments about the evidence happen all the time and can get very strong, but they must not become personal; that’s out of bounds.
- Science is open-ended, just like nature is. Research questions always turn out to be richer and more diverse than we first expected. Those of you who are getting graduate degrees – Master’s or PhD’s – may appreciate that especially. You may have found that your thesis project had a lot of loose ends and questions that still needed following up and that your conclusions were just not as neatly tied up as you might have liked. Nature is not required to make sense, but unfortunately a thesis is.
- In science, we can live with uncertainty. If there’s not enough evidence to come up with a convincing explanation, then don’t make one up. Instead, get more evidence and see where that leads.

Is this a perfect system? Of course not; it’s human, and we’re all just human. But the ideal as a way of finding out how Nature works is a good one – an ideal that’s been painstakingly worked out over the past 400 years. Doing science is fun and exciting and demanding, because Nature is complex and challenging and rich and strange and fascinating, and we are a long way from running out of questions.

So with that, my time is up. I wish you all the very best of luck along that path. Do good science, support good science, and ask good questions wherever you find yourselves. And by doing that, you will be helping to save civilization.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Dr. Bill Harris to be awarded honourary degree

Dr. William (Bill) Harris, one of the founding figures of astronomy at McMaster University, will be awarded an honourary degree at McMaster's spring convocation ceremony for his outstanding contributions to science at McMaster. The ceremony will take place during the June 14th Science Convocation at 2:30pm. Congratulations to Bill, along with the 9 other honourary degree recipients! More information can be found here:

Dr. Alannah Hallas, recent PhD grad, wins 2018 NSSA Prize for Outstanding Research

Congratulations to Dr. Alannah Hallas who has been awarded the Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA) 2018 Prize for Outstanding Student Research. Dr. Hallas won the prize "for her exploration of new families of quantum pyrochlore magnets and elucidating their phase behaviour and excitations using forefront neutron scattering techniques". Dr. Hallas was jointly supervised by Dr. Graeme Luke, Dr. Bruce Gaulin and Dr. Chris Wiebe during her PhD at McMaster University. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University. The full press release can be found here:

Excellent work Dr. Hallas!

Science on Tap Event - Wednesday, February 28th @ 7pm

Join scientists from McMaster University’s Department of Physics & Astronomy for an entertaining night filled with scientific discussion, trivia, and beer. At Science on Tap, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with researchers in various scientific fields as they present some of science’s most intriguing phenomena. There will be plenty of time to ask questions while the scientists are on stage, or afterwards over cold pints. Come try this educational twist on a night out at the pub.

When: Wed. February 28th, 7pm

Where: Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street, Hamilton, ON

More info:

Dr. Fiona McNeill interviews Dr. Laura Parker on her CFMU radio show, Steministas

Dr. Fiona McNeill hosts a CFMU radio show called Steministas where she interviews women scientists about their research. This week Dr. Laura Parker was her guest. You can check out Laura's fantastic interview here. Steministas airs Mondays at 3:30pm on CFMU 93.3 FM in Hamilton - check it out!

Graduate Students Highly Successful at Canada's Largest Physics Conference

Congratulations to our graduate students who were recognized for their excellent presentations at this year's Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress. The meeting began with a specialized Soft Matter Day - Carmen Lee, a PhD student working with Dr. Kari Dalnoki-Veress, tied for 1st place for her poster in this section of the meeting. The main portion of the conference spanned five days and multiple divisions of physics. At the end of the week, Wyatt Kirby (a PhD student working with Dr. Duncan O'Dell) was awarded 3rd place for his talk in the Division of Theoretical Physics, and Carmen Lee and John Niven (also working with Dr. Dalnoki-Veress) were awarded 1st and 2nd place respectively for their talks in the Division of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics. Carmen then went on to compete as one of the eight finalists in the overall student talk competition, where she did extremely well, finishing in 2nd place overall.

Congratulations to Carmen, John, Wyatt, and all of the other McMaster attendees who all gave excellent presentations.

The CAP Congress is an annual Canadian physics conference covering all fields of physics - the largest conference in Canada. The 2018 CAP Congress was held from June 11 - 15 at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS. 

McMaster team receives Canadian Space Agency funding for NEUDOSE mission

Congratulations to the team of students and researchers from McMaster University who were awarded funding from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to launch their radiation-detecting satellite up to the International Space Station in 2021! The satellite was designed as part of the NEUDOSE mission: The CSA funding was announced on Friday, May 4th, providing $200,000 to 15 teams across Canada to build satellites to be launched, including the team from McMaster. Pictures from the announcement event can be seen below:


Multiple media outlets covered the announcement as well, including Daily Planet:, CHCH:, and the McMaster Daily News:

These are very exciting times for this talented team of students and researchers. We look forward to the satellite launch in 2021! 

Girls in Science Day!

The 5th annual Girls in Science (GIS) Day will be taking place on Friday, April 27th, 2018. GIS Day is an outreach event aimed at tenth grade girls from area high-schools. The event is organized by the Graduate Women in Physics and Astronomy (GWIPA) society at McMaster University. The goal of GIS Day is to encourage young girls to be confident in themselves and foster a love of science by providing a non-intimidating, inclusive event filled with science-related activities. Participants will take part in science workshops, science demonstrations, tour research labs on campus, and hear a keynote presentation from a female faculty member in the Faculty of Science. By encouraging young girls to have a love for science, we are helping to recruit the bright students of the future and we are working towards addressing the gender bias that exists in STEM fields. Grade 10 is a pivotal year for students in Ontario, as students are required to take grade 10 science, but are not required to take any grade 11 science. We hope to inspire more girls to take high school science classes, and to encourage those who are already doing so to remain in the STEM fields.

We look forward to a fun-filled day of science with these young future scientists!  

PNAS Cozzarelli Prize Awarded to Ben K. D. Pearce and Dr. Ralph Pudritz

Congratulations to PhD student Ben K. D. Pearce and his supervisor Dr. Ralph Pudritz who were awarded the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) Cozzarelli Prize for their paper entitled "Origin of the RNA World: the Fate of Nucleobases in Warm Little Ponds". This incredibly prestigious award is given to 6 papers in PNAS each year that are deemed to be of outstanding scientific excellence and originality. Ben will be attending the prize ceremony in Washington, DC at the end of April. A full press release which includes a link to the original paper can be found here:

Congratulations again to Ben and Dr. Pudritz!

Cliff Burgess and Peter Hayman awarded 3rd place in Buchalter Cosmology Prize

Congratulations to Dr. Cliff Burgess and his PhD student Peter Hayman who were awarded 3rd place in the 2017 Buchalter Cosmology Prize competition for their paper entitled “Magnon Inflation: Slow Roll with Steep Potentials”. The full press release can be found here. Their paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics and can be found on the arXiv here.

Congratulations Cliff and Peter!

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Department of Physics & Astronomy,
McMaster University

1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4M1

Contact Information

Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.24559
(905) 546-1252
Email Inquiries:

McMaster University - Faculty of Science

Mailing Address

Department of Physics & Astronomy,
McMaster University

1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4M1

Contact Information

Telephone Inquiries:
+1 (905) 525-9140 ext.24558
(905) 546-1252
Email Inquiries: