Lab Canada

Search for extraterrestrial life gets boost with $1M funding

Montreal, QC – Université de Montréal researchers are determined to be the first to discover life elsewhere in the universe, a goal backed by $1 million in research grants donated by the Trottier Foundation. At the new Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iRex), which was launched last week, researchers will pool their diverse expertise to take on this enormous challenge that now seems to be within our grasp.


“There is nothing fanciful or exaggerated about wanting to be the first,” explained René Doyon, professor of astrophysics at the university and director of the new institute. “In 2008, our research team was the first in the world to photograph a planetary system outside our solar system.  We are living at a pivotal time in human history, as technology is advancing to the point that we will be able to answer one of the most fundamental questions: are we alone in the Universe? This question alone is worth the investment. We hope that the Trottier Foundation will inspire others, as we would like to raise $15 million to successfully carry out our mission.”


Lorne Trottier, founder of the company Matrox, has long been passionate about exploring outer space.  He turned to Université de Montréal astrophysics researchers as they are exceptionally skilled in the field of exoplanetary research. The Trottier Foundation donation will create iREX research grants for levels of study ranging from undergraduate to post-doctorate, to recruit the best researchers, both local and foreign, and to solidify the university’s position in the field of exoplanetary research.


Established through Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, iRex currently has more than 20 researchers, and in time, it hopes to recruit up to 50. Its researchers are working closely with their McGill University counterparts towards the goal of making Montreal a hub for exoplanetary research.


René Doyon, founder and director of iRex, is leading research to develop cutting-edge astronomical instrumentation for various observatories on Earth and in space. He is also actively involved in various observation programs to research and characterize brown dwarfs, exoplanets and young, low-mass stars. In terms of instruments, he is leading several infrared instrumentation projects (camera and spectrograph) for the Mont-Mégantic Observatory. He is also involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager, which has been in operation since 2013.


Doyon is also the lead co-researcher for SPIRou, a high-resolution infrared spectrograph for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope that will become operational in 2017. SPIRou was designed to detect telluric planets (resembling Earth) in the “habitable” area around low-mass stars in the solar neighbourhood. It is also the lead researcher of NIRSS, one of four scientific instruments for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will probe exoplanetary atmospheres.