Physics Prof Wins Premier Science Prize

March 18, 2008 - News Release

A University of Guelph physics professor has received a 2007 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, considered one of Canada's premier science and engineering prizes.

Carl Svensson is one of six Canadian scientists to receive the honour this year from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Awarded since 1964, the Steacie is the most prestigious award given by the federal agency to outstanding young scientists whose research has earned them an international reputation.

Svensson is the third professor to earn a Steacie fellowship while at U of G.

"It is a great honour for the entire University to have Carl recognized with this prize," said president Alastair Summerlee. "It is demonstrative both of the incredible quality of the faculty here at Guelph and of Carl's remarkable research achievements, which are literally helping unlock the mysteries of the universe."

The fellowships are named for physical chemist and former NSERC president Edgar William Richard Steacie, who believed that promising young scientists should be given every opportunity to develop their ideas. Nominations are received from universities across Canada and are judged by a panel of independent experts. Recipients of Steacie fellowships are relieved of their teaching and administrative duties for two years to concentrate on research.

"This is a tremendous honour," said Svensson, who is known internationally in the field of subatomic physics, both for his experimental work and his leadership in designing and building the tools needed to probe the inner workings of atoms. "The focus afforded by the Steacie fellowship will enable my group to move rapidly into new research directions."

Svensson is searching for new forces of nature that break the symmetry of the current laws of physics: their effects do not depend on the direction of time.

"When we look out into the universe, we see a lot of matter but almost no anti-matter," he said. "That imbalance could have resulted only if there is an additional force, or forces, in nature that has not yet been identified in experiments on Earth. We are searching for small effects of these forces in the laboratory, with big consequences for understanding the origin of matter in the universe."

Svensson's quest led to his playing a lead role in the design and construction of TIGRESS (TRIUMF-ISAC Gamma-Ray Escape Suppressed Spectrometer), the best facility of its kind in the world.

Housed at TRIUMF (the Tri-University Meson Facility, Canada’s national lab for nuclear and particle physics research in Vancouver), TIGRESS is the most advanced detector of its kind. It is effectively a giant microscope that allows scientists to study the nucleus of an atom.

Svensson said the instrument will help scientists learn how stars form the basic elements that make up all matter in the universe. About 70 scientists from 17 institutions in Canada, the United States and Europe are involved in the project.

Originally from Deep River, Svensson earned his B.Sc. and PhD degrees from McMaster University in 1995 and 1998. Following graduation, he worked for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California as an NSERC post-doctoral fellow. During his two years in Berkeley, he made important contributions to understanding collective motions and the occurrence of extreme deformations in light nuclei.

Svensson also received a prestigious John Charles Polanyi Prize in 2002. Named for the University of Toronto professor who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for chemistry, the award recognizes early but significant and innovative work in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economics.

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