Michel J.P. Gingras Condensed Matter Physics, crystals, magnets, superconductors, semiconductors

Elucidation of the physics of spin ices; theory of geometrically-frustrated magnetic materials and the spin ice ground state in pyrochlore magnets.

"I am honoured to have been awarded the 2001 Herzberg Medal. I have always enjoyed physics, but in most recent years it has become even more fun and exciting, thanks to my collaborators in Canada and abroad, postdocts and students whom I wish to acknowledge."

The Story

Gingras wants to know how the presence of weak random disorder affects the thermodynamic properties of real materials. What type of phases do they exhibit, and what are their low-temperature physical properties? Sometimes a small amount of disorder can have dramatic effects on the thermodynamic behaviour of a material. For example, strong experimental and theoretical evidence indicates that weak disorder leads to novel and exotic types of high temperature superconductors.

As A Young Scientist...

When Gingras was in grade 11 at school in Quebec City, he was not a very good student. "I was a bum. I was not working, I was just floundering." One day, his mathematics teacher, a nun named Sister Boucher, showed up with a special set of math problems just for him. She said, "This is only for you. Nobobdy else in the class has this assignment. I'm giving this to you because I know you can do better than being a pest and an anoying little troublemaker." Everything changed for the young Gingras from that day on. His marks went from the high 60% range to the high 90s. Not just mathematics, but in chemistry and physics as well. "I guess she believed in me," says Gingras. "She knew I could do better than what I was doing."

In grade 12, he and a group of friends tried to build a CO2 laser during lunch hours. They transferred the CO2 and nitrogen with garbage bags! "I now wonder how we didn't get electrocuted by the high voltage source," says Gingras, but he remembers it was fun. The farthest they ever got was to build a bizarre-looking, water-cooled fluorescent tube that never reached threshold for lasing. In another one of his teenage experiments he mixed together sugar and bleach and the whole thing boiled over in an exothermic reaction. Gingras says, "I pride myself on having discovered this chemical reaction in my parents' basement!"

Career ideas:

  • research scientist, physics
  • research scientist, electronics
  • research scientist, communications
  • research scientist, aerospace
  • research scientist, remote sensing
  • nuclear physicist
  • optics physicist
  • plasma physicist
  • solid state physicist
  • astrophysicist
  • cosmologist
  • experimental physicist

The Person

October 4, 1961
Québec City, Québec
Puslinch, ON
Family Members
  • Spouse: Marina, teacher
  • Children: 2
Eccentric, exuberant, ernest, passionate about physics
Favorite Music
Vivaldi, or Musorski's pictures at an exhibition
Other Interests
Working on his farm, kayaking, biking, hiking, skiing, canoeing
University of Waterloo
  • BSc (Hons), Laval U, 1983
  • MSc (Physics), Laval U, 1985
  • PhD (Physics), University of British Columbia, 1990
  • Killam Research Fellowship (The Canada Council for the Art), 2012
  • Brockhouse Medal (Canadian Association of Physicists), 2009
  • E.W.R. Steacie Herzberg, 2003
  • Herzberg Medal (Canadian Association of Physicists), 2001
  • Award for Excellence in Research (University of Waterloo), 2000
  • Premier Research Excellence Award (Province of Ontario), 1999
  • Cottrell Scholar Award (Research Corporation, Tucson, Ariz), 1999
  • Research Innovation Award (Research Corporation), 1997
  • Governor General's Gold medal for most outstanding UBC doctoral student, 1991
Sister Boucher, grade 11 math teacher: inspired him with a special set of problems. Gr 12 Biology teacher who inspired him to pursue studies in science. Zoltan Racz, visiting professor at UBC teaching statistical mechanics, who encouraged Gingras to be precise in what he was explaining, and to have zero tolerance for nonsense.
Last Updated
October 14, 2013

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