Month: October 2015

An open letter to Dr. Arthur B. McDonald

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Dr. Arthur McDonald was recently crowned co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for his work with neutrinos at the SNO Lab in Sudbury, Ontario, helping to discover that neutrinos do indeed have mass. Dr. McDonald was born and raised in Sydney, NS and received his BSc and MSc degrees at Dalhousie University in Halifax. As a fellow Cape Bretoner, this story has affected me on a personal level (in a positive manner, of course), and so I thought I would share my thoughts about it here: 

Dr. McDonald,

I first and foremost want to cordially congratulate you on receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics for your work with neutrinos. The award is an outstanding achievement for anyone, and for it to be awarded to a fellow Cape Bretoner is something that I am elated to proclaim.

Secondly, I wanted to reach out and let you know what the announcement meant for at least one fellow, Cape Breton-bred scientist. I’m currently pursuing my PhD in marine science, and although it is unrelated to particle physics and cosmology, I take an overarching pride in your accomplishments (as does the rest of the island and country). Being from Sydney, I’m sure you know how close-knit our communities are, and how we, as Cape Bretoners, tend to take pride in our island. That sentiment has and always will remain a part of my demeanor, and it is with that that I pen this letter.

Dr. Arthur B. McDonald
Dr. Arthur B. McDonald

Being an academically-minded person from an industrial-minded demography isn’t always an easy thing. While predominantly supportive, family, peers, and notable acquaintances often question the reasons for not settling down with a steady job and a family and are often quite critical of choices and sacrifices made. At times, the pressure from such beloved people that accompanies being a student and/or unemployed at 28 years of age can be overwhelming and stressful – indeed this is the case for many graduate students and early career scientists, and I have found myself at times questioning the very same things as a result. However, your leadership and hard work reiterate not only my reasons for doing what I do, but also reinforce my sheer love and passion for science, the unknown, and gaining a better understanding of the world. Your accomplishments highlight the fact – for me (and many others I’m sure) – that a small-town Cape Bretoner from a coal-mining family can succeed and thrive in the world of science and academia. Moreover, your success and contributions highlight the fact that Cape Bretoners are not preemptively destined for small-town life and a menial existence, but are capable of sheer greatness – something that I think many folks at “home” too often forget.

So from all Cape Bretoners, whether they know it or not, I want to extend our congratulations and gratitude for what you’ve accomplished for yourself personally, for small town Cape Breton, for the country of Canada, and for the world. Without your contributions, we would not be able understand the world in the way that we do, and that is a gift to humans and akin the world over. But as a Cape Bretoner, I want to thank you for making us proud, showing the world what we really have to offer, and instilling a drive for success and knowledge in a small-town kid with an appetite for the unknown.

With best regards,

Jeff C. Clements