Eric Hessels, Canada Research Chair (CRC) in atomic physics, delves into research areas that many of us hardly know exist.
Recently, Hessels received the Francis Pipkin Award from the American Physical Society, an honour given for exceptional research accomplishments by a young scientist in the interdisciplinary area of precision measurement and fundamental constants, and to encourage the wide dissemination of the results of that research.
The citation read: “For a wide range of precision measurements to test fundamental interactions in atomic physics, especially fine structure splittings in helium as a measure of the fine structure constant, and for an innovative experimental technique to create atoms of antihydrogen.”
Last month Hessels and other physicists working in Europe were lauded for having succeeded in capturing the first glimpse of the structure of antimatter, in the start of experiments that could unlock more of the mysteries of the birth of the universe. Most of our understanding of antimatter is largely theoretical, making it necessary to seek ways of creating it in order to learn if it could have any practical applications.
In general, Hessels’ research involves setting new standards of measurement in atomic physics. Take the air quality on a commercial airline flight…. As one facet of his research, Hessels is setting new standards in determining the mixture of various gases in an aircraft cabin.
Hessels is also seeking to enhance the accuracy of the “fine structure constant”. This is a number which determines the strength of electromagnetic interactions at the subatomic level. Knowing the number in more detail eliminates some of the remaining uncertainty in measuring quantum phenomena that occur within atoms.