Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre


Queen’s University has received a major award from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to create the Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre (CPARC, pronounced "spark").

As described below, this award will enable Queen’s University and the partner institution to significantly build on their capacity to deliver a world-leading scientific research program in Particle Astrophysics, while engaging industrial partners, students, and the public. Fourteen new faculty appointments and several Research Scientist positions will be filled during 2017/2018. These will be ably supported by a team of research associates, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, engineers and technical support personnel, all to be hired over the next few years and supported through CPARC.

Particle astrophysics is the study of the fundamental properties of the most basic building blocks of nature, and their influence on the evolution of structure in the Universe. The questions being addressed in this field are considered world-wide to be amongst the most important in physics today.

Led by many of the scientists who developed the renowned Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada has become a world leader in this field.

The results from SNO solved a long standing (over 30 years) problem concerning the flux of neutrinos emanating from the sun, and demonstrated that the neutrinos were oscillating between different flavours of neutrinos as they traveled from the sun to the earth. This also demonstrated that neutrinos had mass, which is not explained in the standard model of physics, and which led to a new interpretation of the role of neutrinos in the formation of structure in the Universe. These results led to worldwide acclaim and a number of prestigious awards for both the team and the Director (Dr. Arthur McDonald) including the recent co-shares of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize and the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015.

Since the completion of SNO in 2006, a new international facility for underground particle astrophysics, SNOLAB, has been developed around the original SNO site, and has a very active science program.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in research intensity in the field of particle astrophysics. The proposed CPARC research program promises to use funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund to ensure that Canada remains a world leader in particle astrophysics, while delivering a world-class science program at SNOLAB, forging new collaborations, effectively engaging industry with academia, and creating an enviable program of HQP training and outreach. To accomplish this, the size and scope of the current community will be broadened strategically.

The present generation of experiments include several that are leading, or will lead the world in sensitivity during the seven-year CFREF funding period. These experiments have the capability for the first direct observation of dark matter particles or neutrinoless double beta decay. The direct detection of dark matter particles could tell us the nature of this form of matter that comprises 84% of the mass in our Universe but is completely unknown. The observation of neutrinoless double beta decay can determine the neutrino mass and the nature of this fundamental particle, and contribute to an understanding of the creation of matter in the early Universe. This area of physics is a top priority worldwide, and discoveries of this magnitude would make Canada a global leader in this area of scientific research.

The immediate response to such discoveries will be to construct new experiments to study the observed phenomena with precision and elucidate these new aspects of our Universe in detail. During the next seven years, the present suite of experiments will obtain new results and the field will focus on the development of the next generation of experiments that will reach to the absolute limits of sensitivity in underground laboratories. SNOLAB is well placed to host the next generation of major experiments if the critical mass of expertise and leadership capability exists in Canada.

Queen’s University aspires for CPARC to maximize the scientific, innovative and long-term economic output of SNOLAB by providing resources focused on the highest priority areas within the particle astrophysics community. CPARC will enable unprecedented opportunities to shape the development of particle astrophysics in Canada, promote scientific excellence, provide unparalleled training opportunities and engage youth and the general public through targeted outreach programs.