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."
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!"