Out-of-this-world discoveries fuelled by family philanthropy
Bursts of brilliance can happen anywhere, if the conditions are right.
In deep space, mysterious explosions called fast radio bursts (or FRBs) happen regularly, some emitting as much energy in the blink of an eye as our Sun produces over several days.
Here on Earth, scientists like Perimeter’s Kendrick Smith are devising brilliant new methods for observing and ultimately explaining these energetic cosmic phenomena.
And behind the scenes, fuelling Smith’s research, is the philanthropic support of a Canadian family passionate about creating the right conditions for made-in-Canada scientific breakthroughs.
Smith holds the Daniel Family James Peebles Chair at Perimeter Institute, a role made possible by The Daniel Family Foundation and its president Patrick Daniel, a Calgary business leader and philanthropist with a passion for fundamental science.
The Daniel Family Foundation recently invested $5 million toward the Chair, matched by Perimeter, building upon their initial 2015 investment of $1 million. The Chair, named in honour of Canadian cosmologist and Nobel Laureate P. James E. Peebles, is now among the most prestigious in Canadian science.
“Supporting world-class science here in Canada is something that our family is proud to be involved with,” said Daniel.
The family’s support has empowered Smith to make ground-breaking progress in the search for FRBs using a unique observatory nestled in a valley near Penticton, BC, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME).
Smith and his colleagues recently published a paper in Nature describing the latest discovery made with the CHIME telescope: an FRB that emits bursts of energy in a periodic succession – the first of its kind to be seen.
The CHIME telescope has made numerous such “firsts” since Smith developed the novel software and hardware solutions that have transformed the telescope into one of the world’s most efficient FRB-hunters.
Smith adapted tools from mathematics and theoretical physics to detect the fleeting needle-in-a-haystack signals of an FRB explosion amid a torrent of data collected during the telescope’s observing runs.
Only a handful of FRBs had been discovered prior to Smith’s collaboration with the CHIME team; now, hundreds have been catalogued, including some with unique characteristics that may help researchers understand the root causes of these distant bursts. They also discovered the first FRB inside our own Milky Way galaxy, which appears to have originated in a type of neutron star called a magnetar.
Smith and the CHIME team have earned international recognition for their advances in FRB research, including the New Horizons in Physics Prize from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, and the Canadian Governor General’s Innovation Award. Smith was also part of the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) team that shared the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2018.
In addition to his work with FRBs, Smith is involved in a CHIME project to monitor pulsars, which are rapidly rotating, highly magnetized neutron stars that can emit radio energy from their magnetic poles. He and other Perimeter researchers are also part of the team studying the cosmic microwave background – the leftover radiation of the big bang – at the Simons Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
Smith is empowered to explore these uncharted territories thanks, in large part, to the support he receives from the Daniel family, says Greg Dick, Perimeter’s executive director of advancement.
“We are deeply grateful for the visionary support of the Daniel Family Foundation,” said Dick. “The Daniel Family James Peebles Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute, held by Kendrick Smith, exemplifies global philanthropic leadership at its best, allowing Kendrick to continue transforming cosmology and astrophysics in ways that will undoubtedly help us answer some of nature’s most puzzling questions. We are honoured to have the Daniel Family Foundation by our side as we seek to open new windows on the universe.”
For Patrick Daniel, a chemical engineer by training and a science enthusiast at heart, it is invigorating and rewarding to help enable research in Canada that is pushing the boundaries of knowledge worldwide.
“Our family is so pleased and proud to be a supporter of Perimeter Institute and the work of Kendrick Smith,” said Daniel. “He is truly expanding human knowledge of the universe and the laws of physics that govern it.”