Research Queen's University Canada

Nobel Laureates share their thoughts on research success

Nobel Laureates share their thoughts on research success

A sold-out crowd packed Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts for the rare opportunity to hear two Nobel Laureates discuss their roads to research success, together with Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and award-winning journalist and author André Picard.

Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie, who was awarded the prize for chemistry in 2008, visited Queen’s as part of the first-ever Canadian tour of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII). Organized by Nobel Media, in partnership with biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, the NPII is an international outreach program striving to connect Nobel Laureates with scientific and student communities at universities and research centres worldwide.

“We are honoured to host the Nobel Inspiration Initiative and I’m excited to know that among our live audience and viewers online, we have potential future Nobel Prize Laureates who will be responsible for discoveries that make our world a better place,” says Patrick Deane, Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, during his opening remarks. “At Queen’s, we believe in the fundamental value of research and want to create an environment where researchers can push boundaries, test limits, fail safely and take risks to achieve the kind of success talked about here today.”

Queen's Principal Patrick Deane in conversation with Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie
Queen's Principal Patrick Deane in conversation with Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie

Picard moderated the engaging and often humorous 90-minute dialogue, which touched on the guests’ own research journeys, and topics ranging from basic research, gender imbalance in science fields, commercialization, and public trust in scientists. Richard Reznick, Dean of the Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences, first introduced Picard and Chalfie, who spoke one-on-one before Dr. Nemer and Queen’s own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald, joined in for expanded discussion and an audience Q&A session.

“The Nobel Prize doesn’t necessarily go to the smartest scientist or the most productive, or the one with the biggest group or most published papers; it goes, in my opinion, to scientists who do things that change the way we do science or we think about the world,” says Dr. Chalfie. “Furthermore, most people don’t sit up at night thinking, How am I going to win a prize? The reward for many of us is in the discovery.”

Dr. McDonald adds: “The Nobel Prize is the icing on the cake. The real victory is in the breakthrough.”

Queen's University's Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald meets with audience members following the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public discussion
Queen's University's Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald meets with audience members following the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public discussion

The panelists spoke at length about the formative years of their careers, discussing early obstacles. Dr. Chalfie brought up an early-career project that did not work out and drove him to abandon the field temporarily, which stood in contrast to part of the NPII public event’s title, Failure, persistence and joy: finding the right balance for research success.

“I was very fortunate to get back into it,” he says. “When I experienced this early disappointment… I didn’t feel I should ask people for help. I didn’t have people telling me that the first time you do things, you’re going to fail. Persistence has to be coupled with mentorship and support.”

As part of the day-long NPII event, Dr. Chalfie sat with some of Queen’s most promising graduate and post-doctoral students, and early-career researchers, prior to the public dialogue for an exclusive roundtable discussion about success and failure at the research frontier. He also toured two cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary research and learning spaces on campus – the Beaty Water Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs at newly-opened Mitchell Hall – meeting with graduate and post-doctoral students, staff, and faculty.

During the public conversation, Picard posed the issue of the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields to the panelists for their comments.

“I’m uplifted when I look at the audience today and see so many young people,” says Dr. Nemer. “I’m looking at the many women in the audience and I want you all to know there is a place for you in these fields. Don’t let anyone stop you.”

Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer speaks with audience members following the public discussion
Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer speaks with audience members following the public discussion

Dr. McDonald agreed, stating that his field – physics—“needs a revolution of women in the discipline”. He also urged current students to try a variety of things while in university to discover where their passions may lie.

“Science is fun. It’s an adventure,” he says. “Embrace it!”

The event coincides with the launch of a brand new website highlighting Queen’s University’s vast complement of research pursuits and achievements. The site tells the stories behind research happening right here at Queen’s and highlights how research affects our lives and helps to shape our collective knowledge about the world.

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative at Queen's University

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative at Queen's University

The path to research success includes many ups and downs and can take you to unexpected places. On September 25th, 2019, Queen’s University hosted the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative, featuring Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. In a public dialogue moderated by preeminent journalist, André Picard, Dr. Chalfie was joined by Queen’s researcher Dr. Arthur McDonald, 2015 Nobel Laureate in Physics, and Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Canada, to discuss the path to the Nobel Prize and research success. The event provided a unique and exclusive opportunity for students, researchers, and community members to interact with some of the most recognized members of the international research community.

Students demonstrated various robotics projects for Dr. Chalfie during his tour of the new Ingenuity Labs space in Mitchell Hall

Students demonstrated various robotics projects for Dr. Martin Chalfie during his tour of the new Ingenuity Labs space in Mitchell Hall

Students, faculty, and staff also toured Dr. Martin Chalfie through cutting-edge new laboratory spaces at the Beaty Water Research Centre

Students, faculty, and staff also toured Dr. Martin Chalfie through cutting-edge new laboratory spaces at the Beaty Water Research Centre

Following the tours, Dr. Martin Chalfie met with a group of Queen's graduate students for an exclusive roundtable discussion on "success and failure at the research frontier"

Following the tours, Dr. Martin Chalfie met with a group of Queen's graduate students for an exclusive roundtable discussion on "success and failure at the research frontier"

Acclaimed journalist and author André Picard (left) interviews Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie during the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative event at Queen's University

Acclaimed journalist and author André Picard interviews Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie during the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative event at Queen's University

Following the one-on-one chat, André Picard and  Martin Chalfie were joined on stage by Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and Queen's University's own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald

Following the one-on-one chat, André Picard and  Martin Chalfie were joined on stage by Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and Queen's University's own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald

Dr. Martin Chalfie met with groups of excited audience members following the public discussion

Dr. Martin Chalfie met with groups of excited audience members following the public discussion

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Science journalist Ivan Semeniuk retraces the history of Canada’s Nobel Prize-winning physics experiment led by Queen's researcher Arthur McDonald.

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An interest in mechanics led Queen's researcher Arthur McDonald, the 2015 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, to study the universe on a fundamental level, through physics.

Centres and Institutes

Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Institute

Core research: 

The Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is a national hub for astroparticle physics research, uniting researchers, theorists, and technical experts within one organization.

Queen’s University led 13 Canadian institutions in creating the centre’s predecessor organization in 2015. The McDonald Institute, officially launched in 2018, works to enhance Canada’s global leadership in the field, which includes dark matter and neutrino research.