1965 - 1985


An age of expansion

As living standards improved and the first baby boomers came of age, a massive youth movement formed that challenged the social status quo. Canada raised a new national flag and shone in the spotlight during Expo 67. In this era, NRC laid the foundations for national scientific infrastructure by creating programs and offshoot organizations. NRC also played a prominent role in launching the digital media revolution and establishing Canada as a hotbed of innovation in the arts and entertainment.

Story number 40

Coming through with flying colours

World's first national flag applying international colour standards

NRC identified the exact shade of red from 500 000 choices, marking the first time that international colour standards were applied to a national emblem.

After unveiling the national flag of Canada in 1965, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson grew dissatisfied when flags fluttered with colours from red to orange to rust. Apart from sun, rain and wind exposure, the blame fell to diverse fabrics and reds. Unfortunately, King George V never specified the shade of red when he proclaimed red and white as Canada's national colours 44 years earlier.

A federal interdepartmental team tackled how to ensure the flag looked consistent and featured precise proportions, grommets, stitching, fabric and colours. In identifying the exact red from 500 000 choices, NRC marked the first time that international colour standards were applied to a national emblem. Through wind tests, NRC also evaluated the durability of fabric samples and dyes to ensure consistent manufacturing.

These findings informed the first standard for the national flag of Canada, published in June 1966, guaranteeing manufacturers could produce flags that displayed Canada's true red and better withstood the elements. Today, NRC helps ensure technical advances continue to protect the global symbol of Canadian identity and bolster Canadian manufacturing and industrial design.

Story number 41

Wheels up, quiet down

Reducing aircraft noise

NRC investigated the effects of airport noise on nearby residents, which led to the development of innovative software for insulation design, used by architects and builders to reduce aircraft noise.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, concerns about noisy air traffic conflicted with residential developments near airports. Growing demand for air travel meant serious housing and real estate problems.

NRC scientists investigated the effects of airport noise on nearby residents. That work led to innovative software for insulation design, used by architects and builders to reduce aircraft noise. The software incorporates the acoustic properties of construction materials with indoor sound measurements for buildings exposed to aircraft noise. This assesses the effects of changing a building location and construction details for the comfort of residents. By modifying one of NRC's wind tunnels to measure sound created by air rushing over airplane parts, such as landing gear, researchers also examined noise emitted by specific parts.

Today, aircraft engine manufacturers come to NRC to ensure that their engines will operate within noise and vibration limits. NRC also uses computer modelling to predict sound levels inside aircraft. Additionally, NRC has contributed to reducing problems caused by noise levels at airports, and permitted better planning for airport extensions, new aircraft and changing air-traffic patterns.

Story number 42

Science leading the blind

Aids that deliver independence

Jim Swail and his team not only built a better collapsible white cane for the visually impaired, but were prolific at inventing highly specialized devices to accommodate people with disabilities working in a myriad of different occupations.

A 1982 addition to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought the world's first model of national inclusiveness for people with disabilities. Until then, Canadians with vision loss or complete blindness were often institutionalized, devalued or overlooked. They had fewer opportunities to participate in daily life, and faced obstacles to personal safety, employability and independence.

Decades before legislation guaranteed rights for anyone with disabilities, NRC blind engineer Jim Swail, his colleagues and fellow Canadian researchers demonstrated leadership and ingenuity by helping people with vision loss. They created hundreds of useful inventions, including: sensors to detect light sources; sound beacons to locate objects; an improved, collapsible white cane; voice synthesizers for phones; a specialized gauge for photo-development vats; and electronic thermometers equipped with readouts that could be heard and felt.

Some inventions were so advanced that 21st century consumer devices now still use similar locator technology. What's more, the early innovations delivered new levels of independence—a vital role that technology continues to play for the half-million Canadians who live with significant vision loss.

Story number 43

One giant leap for humankind

First very long baseline interferometry

NRC was first to successfully make radio astronomical observations using Very Long Baseline Interferometry or VLBI; today VLBI networks are routinely used for both radio astronomy and geographical surveying with millimetre accuracy.

Although a small dot in the context of the universe, planet Earth seems vast from the perspective of human beings—and of individual telescopes too. If scientists were to precisely capture and make sense of data on a universal scale, telescopes of the day would have to pool their capabilities to form a virtual, in-sync instrument that could recognize the faintest signals. Astrophysicists wanted to bridge many remote telescopes, but conventional techniques connected telescopes with physical cables or spanned short distances with radio links.

Enter very long baseline interferometry or VLBI. In 1967, using recording equipment from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NRC scientists were the world's first to successfully merge observations using VLBI with radio telescopes across vast distances. The Canadian scientists created high-precision images by combining simultaneous signals from radio telescopes located 3 074 kilometres apart, in British Columbia and Ontario.

Now, VLBI lets countless telescopes around the world function as one for radio astronomy and geographical surveying, ensuring millimetre accuracy of measurements for the positions of objects on Earth and outside this galaxy, reaching out to the early universe.

Story number 44

Eye on the sky

Blazing a trail in observatory know-how

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope at Mount Mauna Kea, Hawaii has unlocked secrets about star clusters, galactic structures and our own Milky Way galaxy.
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT)

Standing out as a world-leading expert in observatories is no small task. Over the last century, remarkable developments in telescopes and their supporting instruments have altered our view of the Universe. Yet hard work and innovation affirms Canada's place as one of astronomy's brightest stars.

After assuming stewardship for the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in 1970, NRC took astronomy to new heights with the construction of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). Located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the CFHT is renowned for delivering some of the best images of all ground-based telescopes. Its instrumentation provides images sharp enough to pinpoint individual stars in far-off galaxies and can record the spectra of up to 100 very faint galaxies simultaneously.

CFHT was only the beginning. Its construction led to the creation of other partner observatories, further establishing Canadian firms and engineers as experts in the design, manufacture and construction of instruments and enclosures. While NRC's observatories have reported incredible discoveries, they have also yielded advances for industry, including high-performance computing, stealth aircraft detection and GPS operation.

Story number 45

Fresh food for thought

Food storage systems for northern veggies

In the 1960s, NRC research led to improved shipping and preservation methods for food produced in Canada.

Today's consumers enjoy assorted foods from faraway places. However, not so long ago, challenges arose even when transporting foods from farms on one of Canada's coasts to kitchens on another coast. During those cross-country treks, supposedly hardy vegetables like parsnips, onions and turnips turned limp. Meanwhile, cold-resistant bacteria coated beef with an unappetizing slime.

In the 1960s, NRC researchers conducted tests that showed bacteria growth on beef could be prevented by storing the meat in air containing 20 per cent carbon dioxide. For vegetables, the researchers went against popular "wisdom" that high humidity causes vegetables to rot. The team proved otherwise and designed better storage facilities to keep vegetables cool while preserving their natural moisture. Researchers also went on to improve the stability of powdered eggs and curing of bacon.

These findings vastly improved Canada's shipping and preservation methods, extended food's marketing season and led to higher revenues for Canadian producers. Consumers could access more food choices outside of peak seasons, thus benefiting from NRC's food preservation techniques, many of which are still fresh today.

Story number 46

For peat's sake

Better ice roads for Canada's North

NRC's permafrost studies with industry and federal partners have influenced road-building in northern regions around the world.

Canadians expect freeze-thaw cycles to wreak havoc. Yet, in Canada's northernmost regions, those cycles mean more than cracked and sinking roads or buildings. Sure, thawing permafrost causes expensive damage and landslides. But, as permafrost heats up, ecosystems can also be thrown out of balance; defrosting can release underlying stockpiles of methane and carbon frozen in peat.

By adapting roads to protect permafrost from undue thawing, researchers hope to avert infrastructure problems and environmental crises. In the 1970s, NRC explored protective tactics collaboratively with federal partners and Dow Chemical of Canada. They installed synthetic insulation panels of varying thicknesses during different seasons. For six years, they measured changes near Inuvik at test stretches and non-insulated sections of the Mackenzie Highway.

As recently as 2013, the Department of Transportation for the Northwest Territories recommended that road builders heed environmental findings from those four-decades-old studies: minimize impact by constructing future Mackenzie Highway expansions early in the year on completely frozen ground. NRC's permafrost studies influenced engineering and construction in Canada and internationally, and forged sustainable paths across the permafrost.

Story number 47

Grain gains

Hull-removal technology for the world

An NRC device called a "decorticator" developed in the 1970s for removing the hulls from crops like sorghum and millet is helping agriculture and food production around the world.

For millions of people in the world's semi-arid regions, sorghum and millet are important staple foods. However, these crops cannot be eaten until the outside layer, or hull, of the grain is removed. To do so, women and children have traditionally spent hours daily, pounding the grain by hand.

In the 1970s, NRC designed the first effective device that allows farmers to hull sorghum and millet cheaply and quickly. The device, called a decorticator, processes the grain in a fraction of the time it takes to remove the hulls manually. Unlike previous designs, NRC's model was relatively cheap to install and easy to maintain. NRC created two prototypes that became jump-off points for technology transfer to Africa, India and parts of Latin America.

Most modern decorticators are based on NRC's design, which has been modified over the years to meet local needs in countries such as Zimbabwe, Senegal, Tanzania and India. Decorticators have given people the power to feed themselves using hardy local crops instead of depending on expensive imports such as rice and wheat.

Story number 48

Nobel quality analysis

Canada's Einstein and pioneer in molecular spectroscopy

"The world's foremost molecular spectroscopist and his large institute in Ottawa is the undisputed center for such research" were the words used to introduce NRC's Gerhard Herzberg when he received the 1971 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

"A Mecca of science" and "the leading research centre of its kind in the world" were phrases used to describe Gerhard Herzberg's lab at NRC when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1971. From the early days of his career, Herzberg explored the energy content and properties of molecules using a new science of spectroscopy to study phenomena outside the visible region of light.

Herzberg's pioneering interest was free radicals, essential to understanding how chemical reactions proceed. In a reaction, original molecules break into fragments, which rearrange to form new molecules or free radicals. They are difficult to study because their lifetimes are measured in millionths of a second. Working with unseen light waves in spectroscopy could capture their properties with precision. Before winning the Nobel Prize, Herzberg had determined the properties of more than 30 free radicals, including the very difficult methyl and methylene.

His research contributed enormously to quantum mechanics as well as the development of molecular spectroscopy. Herzberg also influenced all branches of chemistry, including applications in advanced medicine.

Story number 49

A mind for modern music

Orchestrating digital instruments

Hugh Le Caine's 35-year career at NRC led to scientific and musical achievements such as the electronic sackbut—the world's first electronic music synthesizer.

Hugh Le Caine's 35-year career at NRC united science and art, running from atomic physics and radar to a wide variety of musical innovations. Through progressive technology, he transformed a water drip into "Dripsody," his renowned composition of musique concrète,a subgenre of electroacoustics.

By designing dozens of first-of-a-kind instruments, Le Caine electronically recorded and manipulated natural sounds. His 1970 polyphonic synthesizer outshone any other synthesizer and controlled multiple, simultaneous sounds. By 1972, he had developed the hybrid Paramus, a computer-controlled polyphonic synthesizer, which appeared a decade before comparable digital synthesizers defined the 1980s.

Le Caine created boundary-pushing technology for world-renowned composers while introducing easy-to-learn instruments for people new to music. His inventions included: the 1940s electronic sackbut that experts label the first voltage-controlled synthesizer, touch-sensitive keyboards, amplifiers, sound filters, specialized oscillators, controllers, sliders and variable-speed, multi-track recorders.

The World's Fair, Expo 67, provided international prominence for Le Caine's handcrafted instruments, which collectively made Canada's earliest electronic music studios possible at Canadian universities. His technologies inspired generations of musicians and students, while his technologies influenced commercial manufacturers like Baldwin and Moog.

Story number 50

Moulin muse

Vertical turbine design for maximizing wind energy

NRC was the international leader in developing a distinctive vertical-axis turbine design, nicknamed the eggbeater because of its shape.

Since the 1974 oil crisis, engineers have attempted to harness the power of wind. Today, skyscraper-sized wind turbines with long rotating blades mark rural landscapes in many parts of the world.

NRC contributed uniquely to wind energy technologies as the international leader in developing a distinctive vertical-axis turbine design, nicknamed the eggbeater because of its shape. An experimental version built in Quebec in 1977, and a second installed later with Hydro-Québec, remain among the largest, most powerful vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) in the world. While not widely used, VWATs function well in unusual and urban environments. Their advantages include having fewer moving parts, not depending on wind direction and being comparatively silent.

Vertical turbines have entirely changed the image of wind power. Two of them were fitted into the Eiffel Tower in 2015, turning one of the world's most iconic tourist attractions into a model for renewable energy. The turbines supply all the electrical power for commercial areas on the Tower's first floor.

Story number 51

Music to the ears

Standards for the loudspeaker industry

NRC revolutionized the loudspeaker industry in the 1970s by developing and refining tests for clarity, definition, fullness and exactness in sound fidelity.

For many years, a lack of standards to measure loudspeaker performance led to inconsistent speaker quality and design. Unfounded or inconsistent claims by manufacturers confused music lovers everywhere. Whether it was the music of Beethoven or the Beatles, loudspeaker makers had no reliable means of measuring sound quality, because sensory experience is exceptionally difficult to calculate.

NRC designed protocols for testing loudspeakers, using an anechoic chamber—a room that absorbs sound and eliminates echo. The chamber effectively eliminates the influences of walls, ceilings, floors and objects such as furniture. Floyd Toole, a psychoacoustics pioneer, worked with Canadian speaker makers in the 1970s to develop and refine tests for clarity, definition, fullness and exactness in sound reproduction or fidelity. The Audio Engineering Society published Toole's research, which became a worldwide benchmark for audio evaluations.

Globally, loudspeaker manufacturers continue to test and measure sound reproduction using NRC's anechoic chamber. In guiding manufacturers to understand in scientific terms those performance characteristics that make good sound—or what most listeners consider good sound—NRC revolutionized speaker design.

Story number 52

Animation at a fast clip

Academy Award™ for computer animation pioneers

In 1997, NRC's Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein were honoured with an Academy Award for Technical Achievement recognizing their role as pioneers of animation key frame technology, which was demonstrated in the 1974 animation short, Hunger (La faim).

In the early years of animation, animators took months and years to draw scenes and characters, which made animation a painstaking and expensive art.

Then in the 1960s, NRC's Nestor Burtnyk devised a technology that freed animators to create art faster using computer-generated animation. Working with his colleague Marcelli Wien, he created two-dimensional, key-frame computer animation technologies. Instead of having junior animators manually draw every scene between major actions, the researchers had a computer mathematically and visually conjure the missing steps to make each sequence or "key frame" flow seamlessly.

Burtnyk and Wein welcomed animators into their NRC lab to experiment. Together, they developed two groundbreaking films with Peter Foldes and the National Film Board of Canada: Metadata (1971) and Hunger (1973). Hunger won international awards and took its place in history as the first computer-animated movie nominated for an Oscar. In turn, Burtnyk and Wein won 1997 Academy Awards for Technical Achievement for pioneering computer animation.

Their techniques continue to underpin movies, TV, advertising, software and video games, and have inspired generations, particularly the nearly 50 000 Canadians employed in the nation's $7.5-billion digital media industry.

Story number 53

Accreditation for advantage

Canada's world-class calibration and measurement labs

NRC's long history of delivering accurate technical assessment and calibration services to Canadian laboratories led to the establishment of a world-class accreditation program with the Standards Council of Canada.

Canadians expect medical, food inspection and product-safety laboratories to have precise equipment and competent staff to conduct tests that provide accurate results. However, we rarely consider how these services are assessed. When the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) was established in 1970, a long-term goal was to provide a system that would permit competent test and calibration organizations to qualify for accreditation.

NRC was already delivering calibration and technical assessment services for measurement systems involving everything from mass, acoustics and resistance to photometry and thermometry. As NRC kept pace with increasing demands for accuracy, its measurement system grew to be among the most accurate in the world. It was natural for SCC to form a laboratory accreditation partnership with NRC, and in 1988 the Calibration Laboratory Assessment Service (CLAS) was launched.

Today, CLAS provides services to a wide range of calibration labs. Accredited organizations provide assurance to clients that their labs conduct accurate measurement and tests. That assurance extends globally with more than 90 accreditation systems worldwide recognizing SCC and NRC's CLAS.

Story number 54


Canada's most famous robot

NRC named the Canadarm and directed its design, development and construction — overseeing a Canadian industrial team led by Spar Aerospace for NASA's space shuttle program.

In the early 1970s, NASA asked how Canada wanted to contribute to a new space shuttle program. NASA needed to retrieve and move around oversized equipment in outer space and liked the idea of an enormous crane. Canada chose to construct what would become known as the Canadarm.

NRC committed to take on the prototype's "design, development, manufacture and delivery." The 15-metre long Canadarm had various joints and lifted more than 30 tonnes with precision and control. NRC oversaw its industrial engineering and contracted partners like manufacturer Spar Aerospace. The Canadarm—a name coined by NRC—launched in November 1981 with Canada prominently displayed on its sleeve. Successive Canadarms followed. Originally, the Canadarm was to retrieve and repair satellites from space shuttles. But, it became a workhorse for spacewalks, a light source with mounted illumination, an eye-int-the-sky with an attached camera, a sunshade for astronomical observations and a pick to clear ice from the orbiter.

Canadarm established Canada's international reputation for robotics, while inspiring new technologies for everything from assembly line work to surgical-guided robotics.

Story number 55

Busted by vapour

Bomb-detection technologies

When the RCMP solicited the help of NRC to develop a portable device that could "sniff" explosives, NRC came up with the advanced portable Explosives Vapour Detector or EVD-1, which airports quickly began adopting in the 1980s.
Transport Canada

Hijackings and bomb threats multiplied in the 1970s. Since explosives release chemical vapours, the RCMP wanted ways to sniff out the faintest whiff of trouble. This was not a task for x-ray scanners or metal detectors, and although dynamite detection devices existed, they had limited capabilities.

The RCMP called in NRC; scientist Lorne Elias had used technology to find, concentrate and analyze vapours from pesticide chemicals—so why not trace explosives? By adapting the technology, Elias, created NRC's Blue Box—a portable, highly effective device—renamed EVD-1 for explosives vapour detector. His prototypes helped protect royalty, the Pope and a U.S. president.

Then, when a 1985 bombing killed 329 people onboard an Air India flight leaving Canada, the federal government ordered EVD-1 devices for broader use at airports nationwide. Elias's team also adapted another technique (ion-mobility spectrometry), which sped up detection. These proven, commercialized techniques became commonplace countermeasures and remain in use at airports worldwide. The faster technique even finds illegal and designer drugs, but EVD-1 alone uncovers newer, plastic explosives like C4.

Story number 56

Gene genie

Conjuring the world's first synthetic human insulin

NRC's Dr. Saran Narang is credited with the invention of synthetic insulin, which resulted in the drug Humulin, now used by approximately 300 million people worldwide.

Some of the world's 415 million diabetics could not take Banting and Best's animal-derived insulin. Another version was essential.

After training with Nobel laureate and genetic-code-cracker Har Khorana, Saran Narang joined NRC. Narang strived to build genes synthetically. Khorana synthesized genes first, but with shortcomings. Narang's NRC team perfected a speedier and more productive process by 1972. Unsatisfied with synthesizing smaller genes, Narang set his sights on human proinsulin. Within four months, he had bacteria cloning genetic material. A Cornell University colleague verified Narang's process. It generated biologically active genes, synthetically identical to the original gene. Using his solution-phase process, Narang synthesized human proinsulin as DNA chunks, which Cornell colleagues stitched together.

Narang created the world's first synthetic human proinsulin gene, making development and manufacture of the pharmaceutical Humulin possible in 1982. By 2003, nearly all the insulin-dependent diabetics—upwards of 4 million people—were prescribed synthetic proinsulin. Narang paved the way for other, more efficient processes for genetic engineering. Cambridge University named Narang one of the twentieth century's most outstanding scientists.

Story number 57

Putting seaweed in the pink

A global seaweed industry for Atlantic Canada

To re-establish Canada's market share for edible seaweed lost to competition, NRC helped Acadian Seaplants Ltd. develop an attractive pink colored variation of Irish moss and perfected a tenderizing procedure that gave the product a mouthwatering texture.
Acadian Seaplants Limited

Seaweed research began at NRC when supplies from Asia were cut off during the Second World War. Seaweed extracts are used to thicken everything from medicine and beauty creams to many foods. Canadian scientists could hardly ignore all the seaweed covering beaches, filling coves and lining wharves everywhere. They set to work on formulas for a gelling and suspending agent called carrageenan.

Seaweed research at NRC eventually cultivated the founding of Acadian Seaplants Limited (ASL), in Nova Scotia. In the early 1980s, NRC researcher James Craigie was instrumental in establishing ASL's competitive advantage. When foreign competition threatened the East Coast industry, he developed an attractive pink coloured variation of Irish moss and perfected a tenderizing procedure that gave the product a pleasing texture. The new variation re-established the Japanese market for Canadian seaweed.

Today, ASL develops seaweed in advanced technology laboratories, creating and selling products for people, animals and plants—all derived from seaweed. Canadian seaweed is used around the world in agriculture, processed foods, animal feed, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even beer.

Story number 58

Unmasking sugarcoated diseases

World's first conjugate vaccine technology

A team or researchers led by Harold Jennings created a vaccine to protect millions of children around the world against meningitis C, a potentially fatal infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.

Early vaccines left infants at high risk for preventable diseases. The vaccines could not protect infants, whose under-developed immune systems overlooked any bacteria coated with complex sugars called polysaccharides.

In the early 1980s, Canadian researcher Harold Jennings filed the world's first patent for conjugate vaccine technology to help infants recognize bacteria and produce life-saving antibodies. Using chemistry, this technology attaches a protein to the sugars, flagging the bacteria for antibody production. To apply this technology, Jennings developed a meningitis C vaccine for millions of infants as young as two months of age. Meningitis C is often fatal because it infects the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Great Britain was first to start a mass-immunization program for infants. In its first year, new cases of meningitis C decreased by 75 to 85 per cent. And, by the second year, the disease was virtually wiped out across Great Britain. The innovations do not stop at meningitis C; NRC's pioneering work with conjugate vaccines has spawned work on other vaccines that show promise for preventing various diseases.

Story number 59

Rogue rig

Enhanced safety for offshore oil exploration

NRC's work on the Ocean Ranger investigation has informed better standards for offshore escape, evacuation and rescue—including safer lifeboats, and higher standards for immersion suits.

When the Ocean Ranger oil-drilling rig capsized and sank off the coast of Newfoundland in February 1982, all 84 crew members perished. The state-of-the-art rig was the world's largest semisubmersible offshore drilling platform and, like the Titanic, billed as unsinkable. Canada set up a Royal Commission to scrutinize how the disaster happened and why nobody survived.

Based on its proven expertise in marine engineering, NRC was invited to conduct scientific investigations for the commission's inquiry. Built in the Gulf of Mexico, the Ocean Ranger had never been tested for North Atlantic conditions. To recreate the disaster and analyze what happened, investigators gathered data from nearby rigs. They simulated the Ocean Ranger's position and movements during the fateful hurricane-force winds and 15-metre waves. The commission and NRC uncovered a litany of contributing factors: weaknesses in industry regulations, flawed designs, limited training and poorly enforced safety guidelines.

NRC's work on the Ocean Ranger investigation has informed better standards for offshore rigs, and crew evacuation and rescue, including safer lifeboats, and improved standards for immersion suits.

Story number 60

A radical discovery

Free radical chemistry delivers antioxidant for humans

A team of NRC researchers, led by Dr. Keith Ingold, pioneered research in free radicals and their oxidation role in the aging process, proving that vitamin E behaves as an antioxidant in living animals.

Chemists have explored the nature of free radicals since the 19th century. But it wasn't until much later that scientists discovered their essential role in the body's aging process, its healthy function and the development of cancer and atherosclerosis—two leading causes of mortality in industrialized society.

A team of NRC researchers led by Dr. Keith Usherwood Ingold made outstanding contributions to international science by quantifying free-radical chemistry. Through investigations into the role of oxidation in the aging process, their pioneering work proved that vitamin E behaves as an antioxidant in living animals. Prior to that, the team made groundbreaking discoveries about how antioxidants can slow the degradation of certain materials, including engine lubricating oils and rubber.

NRC's game-changing findings on vitamin E led to a variety of medical breakthroughs, including improved treatments for patients awaiting heart surgery and a greater understanding of certain diseases involving vitamin E deficiency. The team's earlier research into material degradation helped redefine the petroleum and plastics industries.

Story number 61


Tracking the lost neutrinos

NRC played a lead role in creating the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) — the world's most powerful detector of neutrinos.
Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB)

Billions upon billions of invisible particles called neutrinos constantly escape the Sun's core at the speed of light, bombarding Earth. Solar neutrinos carry information about the Sun's energy reactions. Yet, scientists could neither fathom how many neutrinos existed, nor what happened to them, because calculations of the seemingly massless particles never added up. Two thirds seemed to vanish.

Two kilometres underground, in Canada's Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), solar neutrino detectors unraveled the mystery. As it happens, neutrinos have multiple personalities. What start as electron neutrinos in the Sun change into other, more difficult to detect, types of neutrinos before reaching Earth. Arthur B. McDonald led SNO's astroparticle physicists to successfully track and count the changed neutrinos, or neutrino oscillations. The discovery earned him the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with the leader of Japan's Super-Kamiokande team. SNO itself grew from a 1984 plan championed and backed by NRC with Queen's University and other government and university partners.

SNO's triumph has divulged a significant neutrino secret that could change our understanding of the Sun's energy reactions and the structure of the Universe.