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Physicists and materials scientist win Brockhouse award as a team


Ottawa, ON – NSERC’s second annual Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering was recently awarded to a team of three University of British Columbia professors: Dr Walter Hardy, Dr Doug Bonn and Dr Ruixing Liang. The prize is worth $250,000 in research funding.

Drs Hardy and Bonn are physicists, while Dr Liang is a materials scientist. The team studies the behaviour of superconductors, materials that conduct electricity without energy loss due to resistance. The researchers’ UBC lab is the world’s leading source for ultra-pure superconducting crystals made of yttrium barium copper oxide, or YBCO. Recently, they have also succeeded in producing a second high-purity superconducting material, thallium barium copper oxide, which has crystals that can be split perfectly and thus analysed using a variety of advanced techniques, including scanning tunnelling microscopy.

Currently, they are listening in on the microwave sounds made by the electrons that make up the electric current flowing through the crystals, in order to identify the changes that occur in the atomic structure and behaviour of the crystals to make them superconductors.

Superconductors have applications in a number of areas, including health care (eg, for magnetic resonance imaging), the generation and transmission of electricity, and the development of a next generation of super-fast computers and high speed data routers, which would be used for Internet communications.

In addition to highlighting Canadian success stories in interdisciplinary research, the Brockhouse Canada Prize honours Bertram Brockhouse. Dr Brockhouse was a researcher at the Chalk River Laboratory of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. and a professor at McMaster University who won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics “for pioneering contributions to the development of neutron-scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter.”