Nuclear astrophysicist receives Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award

By Lynn Easson-Irvine, July 31, 2008

    Alan Chen, associate professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, received the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award.
Alan Chen, associate professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, is the 2008 recipient of the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award.

The Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award Program was created to recognize the efforts of outstanding young faculty researchers at universities, colleges and research institutes across the country. The prize is awarded based on the development of an undergraduate teaching project and the recipient's research abilities.

Each institute administers the award which then offers financial support to help their most promising researchers. For the second year in a row, the Faculty of Science at McMaster University has had the work of one of its best researchers acknowledged in this way.

"The award of $25,000 will aid Alan, in collaboration with Dr. Graeme Luke, also of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, to change a traditional senior teaching laboratory course to one that specifically bridges students' coursework material to their senior year research thesis and summer research projects," said David Venus, chair, Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Physics 3H03 is currently a full-year undergraduate laboratory course that focuses on experiments in 20th century physics, including quantum physics, relativity, astrophysics and chaos theory. The course is required for all physics and astrophysics majors, as well as students in other departments, such as medical physics. The goal of the project is not so much to change the material that is covered, but how it is taught, with an emphasis on concepts and skills that students can apply to their own research in Level 4.

"The Petro-Canada Award will help me to introduce new discovery-oriented experimnents, specifically involving subatomic particles and data analysis techniques that are used by real scientists in 21st-century cutting-edge research," said Chen.

He continued, "My own interest in this project stems from my extensive experience with undergraduate physics laboratories, first as a student, later as a teaching assistant, and more recently as an instructor."

"McMaster is a world class university and to keep course and lab work new, exciting and viable for students, we rely on the expertise of young and enthusiastic professors like Alan Chen," said John Capone, dean, Faculty of Science. "It is essential to maintain the interest of quality undergraduate students if we want to attract them to graduate degrees in science. We can do this through the modification of this undergraduate laboratory course in physics. It will serve as an excellent transition point between their coursework and self-directed research."