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#UofTGrad17: Three things you should know about honorary grad and physicist Arthur McDonald

Arthur McDonald, a Queen's professor emeritus and former Princeton University professor, is receiving an honorary Doctor of Science. He shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics

McDonald clarified the properties of subatomic particles known as neutrinos

Nobel Prize winner Arthur B. McDonald has played an instrumental role in the field of particle astrophysics. The Queen's University professor emeritus' work with subatomic particles could have significant implications for our understanding of the universe.  

Today, McDonald receives a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, “for his excellence in the academy, for his exceptional advancements in particle astrophysics.” 

U of T News asked each of the honorary graduates to share an iconic Canadian moment – a feeling or experience they wish each of their fellow graduates could share.

Below, are three things you should know about McDonald, including his Canadian moment.


Nobel claim to fame

McDonald shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics with Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo for contributing to the discovery that neutrinos have mass. They are the second most abundant subatomic particle in the universe after protons. 

A former director of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in northern Ontario, he demonstrated that neutrinos oscillate, changing identities or “flavours.” By the rules of quantum physics, that also means they have mass.

“The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our universe,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said of McDonald's Nobel Prize-winning research.

Born in Sydney, N.S. he has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Dalhousie University and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology. In addition to Queen’s, he has taught at Princeton University.

The first thing he did after winning the award

McDonald learned he had won the prize in a 5 a.m. call one morning, according to The Canadian Press. He reacted by hugging his wife of almost 50 years and thanking her.

“Art McDonald is an extraordinary scientist and scientific leader,” U of T Physics Professor Pekka Sinervo told The Toronto Star after McDonald won the Nobel.  “He kept the (SNO) collaboration moving forward, even in dark days when nothing seemed to be going right.”

McDonald has called his time at the observatory a highlight of his career. 

“I am very pleased with the very large number of young people who had the opportunity to have a ‘eureka’ moment with us, and who have gone on to productive careers,” he told the Nobel organization.

His most Canadian moment

Each summer for many years, McDonald has rented a cottage on the shore of the Ottawa River near Deep River, Ont.

“Remarkably, there is a beach with sand the quality of the Nova Scotia beaches I experienced as a boy,” he said.  “Every year, regularly each morning a mother Merganser comes along the peaceful river with 20 to 30 ducklings behind her, teaching them to fish the shoreline. Everyone should experience such a peaceful Canadian moment with unspoiled, natural beauty and close contact with the land that makes our country so wonderful.”