News from the Canadian Association of Physicists,  August 2009 to December 2010

Robert Mann

The Canadian Association of Physicists, or CAP, is dedicated to the promotion of excellence in research and teaching of physics in Canada.  Our office, which is located within the Physics Department at the University of Ottawa, is operating efficiently under the excellent leadership of our Executive Director, Francine Ford, along with the outstanding assistance of Office Manager, Lisa Ladouceur, and our part-time website coordinator and programmer, Shane Smith. The Executive and Membership of the CAP are most grateful for their continued efforts.

The past 18 months have very exciting for the CAP, with new milestones being reached in both physics research and teaching. The CAP submitted its first brief to the House of Commons Finance Committee (HCFC) under the leadership of its Science Policy Director, Paul Vincett, in August 2009. Our then-President, Robert Mann, appeared before the HCFC two months later to present the brief and answer questions. The 2010 Federal budget that was issued in March indicated that these lobbying efforts were successful. Research for basic science went up by $22M, the first time in four budgets that money was allocated for untargetted research. TRIUMF’s funding was renewed at $44M, and several large-scale projects received infrastructure funding.

Important challenges still remain, perhaps the foremost of which is  Canada's nuclear program. With Canada’s existing multipurpose research reactor – the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in Chalk River -- set to permanently close in 2016, Canada is at a crossroads as to the future of nuclear physics research and related disciplines. The NRU reactor is the source of neutron beams for materials research experiments conducted at the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre by about 200 researchers; it also produces the most commonly used medical isotope, Mo-99, for approximately 14 million medical diagnostic procedures annually worldwide. It is also a platform for the irradiation of materials in “in-core” conditions to support Canada’s fleet of nuclear power reactors. Our Division of Nuclear Physics, along with the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering, has been actively involved in working with the government to set both new policy and new funding for Canada’s nuclear program. These efforts appear to be paying off: on November 24, 2010, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources published a report in Parliament recommending “That the Government of Canada study the feasibility of a new multi-purpose research reactor in order to accurately estimate construction and operating costs as well as potential sources of income and report the results to Parliament”.

In terms of Physics Education, we successfully implemented a new Award for Excellence in High School Physics teaching (CEGEPs in Québec). Sponsored by six different companies and institutes, this award annually recognizes five excellent teachers (one in each of five regions in Canada) for their work in encouraging and developing tomorrow’s physicists. Our first five awards for 2010 had a strong impact on both teachers and pupils alike. In the words of Robyn McKenzie, the winner from Atlantic Canada “I just wanted to thank you and CAP for the wonderful celebration we had today at Yarmouth is something I will remember with pride for the rest of my life.”

The CAP became the first scientific society to become a founding member of Canada's new Science Media Centre, whose goal is to increase public engagement with science issues through media coverage of science that is more informed, more accurate and more incisive. Its users are expected to be non-specialized journalists, general assignment reporters, feature writers, editors, producers, and journalists specializing in science. We look forward to new and better opportunities to communicate the importance and the results of physics to the public at large.

We are also in the process of working with the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) and 6 other Natural Science Societies to clarify the relationship between the practice of Natural Science and of Engineering, the intent being to exempt those natural scientists that are clearly not practicing professional engineering from the revised Professional Engineering Act in Ontario. A joint 15-member Task Force will report recommendations to PEO Council at its February 2011 meeting.

Our annual Congress, held in Toronto in June of 2010, was the largest in our history. Under the capable leadership of our Vice-President and Program Chair, Henry van Driel, participants were treated to plenary talks by outstanding scientists (including Nobel Laureate Charles Townes), dozens of parallel sessions, science policy sessions, student award competitions, and more. Planning is already well underway for our next Congress to be held at Memorial University in St. John's Newfoundland, in June 2011, under the direction of our current Vice-President and Program Chair, Mike Roney.

All indications are that the 2011 calendar year will bring its own exciting challenges and opportunities as we continue to advance the interests of Canadian physicists at all levels of their careers and in all fields. We look forward to this year with optimism and enthusiasm.

Robert Mann, Professional Physicist (P. Phys.) is a Professor at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario and is Past-President of the Canadian Association of Physicists

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on International Physics Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.