When Dr. Ian Hill and Dr. Arthur McDonald first met a couple decades ago, Hill was an undergrad physics students at Queen’s University and McDonald was his professor.
Both hailed from Nova Scotia and bonded over their shared connection. Now, Hill is acting Dean of the Faculty of Science at Dalhousie University.
And McDonald? Well, he’s a Nobel Laureate.
“I’ve viewed Art as a role model, being also a fellow Nova Scotian in the department, so it means a great deal to me,” Hill said of the prize.
McDonald is originally from Sydney and received his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from Dalhousie in the 1960s. He made a stop at his alma mater on Monday to give a public lecture.
“I really decided that I liked to do physics when I was here at Dalhousie,” McDonald said.
“I came to university to try to figure out what I should do and I got a great education from here first.”
McDonald eventually went on to head the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a lab created two kilometers underground. His team’s research demonstrated that neutrinos – tiny sub-atomic particles – oscillate on their way to earth from the sun. That finding supported theories that particles could have a mass greater than zero.
“We essentially created the lowest radioactivity location that people had ever created,” McDonald said.
“And so we could make measurements that you just couldn’t make otherwise. If you’re not underground then your detector would glow like the northern lights, that’s what makes the northern lights glow is particles from outer space. We shielded them out and could do measurements of neutrinos from the sun and discovered very fundamental things.”
For his work, he was named co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics and received his award in Sweden last December.
WATCH: The Nobel Prize award began in 1901 and only four Canadian scientists, including Arthur McDonald, have been given the prestigious award
He is quick to credit his entire team for their work and calls the prize “fun.”
“I was a director of a very large international collaboration,” he said.
“So number one, it’s great fun and good recognition. Number two, it’s great to share it with a lot of people who did the work.”
Now, he’s hoping the prize will help inspire future physicists, beginning with a lecture at the university where his love of science was cultivated.
“It’s one of the things I’d like to do with the prominence that comes with this win by Canada and our collaboration of the Nobel Prize is to show students that this is, in fact, something that can happen here in Canada.”
His former student thinks McDonald’s down-to-earth and approachable attitude will speak volumes.
“When you think Nobel Prize winner, you often think of someone intimidating however when you meet Art … you actually realize that they’re just regular people, and that then brings this within your reach,” Hill said.
“You realize these are regular people who worked hard, who succeeded and reached this level of recognition and that’s possible for students here as well.”