“Valuing science,” says a Quebec physicist linked to Nobel-winning research

A Quebec-born scientist who has contributed to the research that earned his collaborator this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics says he hopes to inspire Canadians to value science.

Patrick Charbonneau has worked closely with Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi, who was a co-winner of this year’s award for his work on complex physical systems. Over the past decade, Charbonneau has worked with Parisi on the publication of several articles on complex glass, two of which were cited by the Nobel committee as scientific background.

The Montreal-born Duke University professor said in an interview from North Carolina Thursday that the Parisi award is the culmination of decades of research.

“We had expected this for many years, but at the same time, we had a hard time believing that it would ever happen because this was not the result of recent developments,” he said.

But above all, he said, the Nobel Prize is a collective opportunity to celebrate science, which has become more meaningful than ever in the past year and a half as the world has battled the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Communities that believe and that have agreed to get on board are doing better today, from a public health standpoint in particular, than those that refuse,” Charbonneau said.

“So my message to the people of Quebec is to keep valuing, to believe in science, because it is important.”

Parisi won the Nobel Prize for his work explaining disorder in physical systems ranging from atomic to planetary.

Their discoveries “make it possible to understand and describe many different and seemingly completely random materials and phenomena, not only in physics but also in other very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning”, the Royal Swedish Academy de Sciences said in a press release Tuesday announcing the award.

Charbonneau’s work with Parisi has focused on a messy type of material, specifically glasses, which, according to him, are not well understood despite being used by humans for thousands of years and found in everything from window glass. even mobile phones.

“Those materials are really ubiquitous, but we don’t have a good understanding of what makes them solid, what is the microscopic origin of the stiffness,” he said.

A Quebec physicist linked to Nobel Prize-winning research urges Canada to “value science.” #Nobel Prize

While his work is theoretical and focuses on molecular simulations, he said it could contribute to a better understanding of the material in common use.

Charbonneau is originally from Montreal, where he grew up in the Ahuntsic district and sang in a well-known choir as a child. He earned his undergraduate degree from McGill University before moving to Harvard and eventually headed to Duke University in 2008, where he is a professor of chemistry and physics.

Mélanie Joly, the MP from her native neighborhood, congratulated Charbonneau on Twitter, saying there is “a bit of Ahuntsic in the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics.”

“Congratulations dear Patrick, we are so proud of you!” she wrote.

Charbonneau said being cited by the Nobel committee is a great honor, adding that he hopes it will bring more attention to his area of ​​work.

He said he scored the victory with a bottle of champagne with his wife and is looking forward to meeting for a celebratory dinner with his collaborators from France and Italy when he travels to Europe later this year.

This Canadian Press report was first published on October 7, 2021.


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