Prof. Drew Marquardt lecturing to classDrew Marquardt hopes his term as president of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering will secure a future for related research in this country.

Professor working to secure source for neutrons

Drew Marquardt is helping put UWindsor at the centre of Canada’s resurgence in neutron scattering research. The assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, cross-appointed in the Department of Physics, took over the role of president of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering (CINS) in November 2020.

“This is a thrill for me, but it is also very good positioning for UWindsor, specifically the Faculty of Science,” says Dr. Marquardt.

CINS is a not-for-profit, voluntary organization that helps stimulate and facilitate Canadian scientific research using neutron beams, or neutron scattering. Neutron beams are a versatile and irreplaceable research tool for materials research, which includes advanced manufacturing and clean technologies, and promoting health through biomedical and life sciences.

“Neutron beams are essential for measuring stress non-destructively, which is often needed to verify reliability in critical structural components, including those in nuclear power plants or car engines,” says Marquardt.

“Beyond their importance to materials research, neutron beams are essential for innovative cancer therapies that use neutrons to trigger drugs to release cell-killing alpha particles inside tumours.”

Canadian scientists lost their last primary neutron source when the National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River closed in 2018. The community of about 800 researchers who rely on neutron beams were left with only 15 large, expensive centralized facilities in Europe, the United States, and East Asia.

“Researchers are left scrambling as access to neutron beams is becoming increasingly limited due to the shrinking global supply and the high cost of building and maintaining traditional sources. We are talking billions of dollars,” he says.

“As neutron beams become harder to access, they will become a tool that can be used by only a limited number of experts in those countries that continue to invest heavily in neutron facilities.”

Marquardt says the Canadian scientific community of neutron beam users is extremely motivated to bring a facility back to Canada and has formed the Canadian Neutron Initiative (CNI) for the next step — developing and implementing a national neutron strategy following the loss of Canada’s primary neutron source.

The executive working group of CNI includes vice-presidents of research from Windsor, McMaster, Sasktachewan, Dalhousie, and Alberta universities. Members are responsible for liaising with universities, government, and other organizations in order to form the legal entity: Neutrons Canada.

As CINS president, Marquardt is also an active member of CNI and will have a key role in representing the Canadian neutron users on governance committees and the development of a Neutrons Canada constitution.

“In addition to recruiting and training the next generation of researchers right here at UWindsor, I’ll be doing my best to help push for Windsor as a possible location for the next neutron source — this is an exciting time for neutron scattering,” says Marquardt.

Dean of Science Chris Houser says Canada’s long‐term competitiveness relies on a complete 21st century scientific toolkit to develop materials for innovation in priority areas.

“Canada needs to revive these facilities, and with Dr. Marquardt as president of CINS, we are placing ourselves at the forefront these initiatives, which is exactly where we want to be to continue to recruit and train the best and brightest of the next generation of scientists,” says Houser.

Marquardt says Canada has a rich history in neutron scattering, citing Canadian physicist Bertram Brockhouse sharing the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of neutron scattering.

“It is very important to me to secure a future for Canada in this field and to leave a positive legacy for the next generation of neutron scatterers.”

—Sara Elliott