On November 19, 2021, Dr. Alan McConnachie, Research Officer with the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre and Dr. Phil De Luna, Director of the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) were inducted to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.
Dr. McConnachie is recognized for his critical contributions to our understanding of the Local Universe and the galaxies that surround the Milky Way.
Over the past few years, Dr. McConnachie has made several notable research accomplishments. He initiated and led an international collaboration mapping the surroundings of the Andromeda galaxy, which produced a defining image of the faint outskirts (stellar halos) of galaxies. In addition, he has also been crucial in advancing our knowledge of the structure and dynamics of nearby dwarf galaxies as well as being a Canadian leader in "wide field" astronomy. This expertise is critical for his role as an instrument scientist at the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre.
"I firmly believe that advances in astronomy, as in any science, do not arise because a better answer to a question is being given, but because a better question is being asked in the first place. From this perspective, the question: "where to start?" is the first step to making the Universe understandable," shared Dr. McConnachie. "A key moment in my career was when I realized "where to start?" applies not only to my immediate research interests in observational studies of galaxy assembly, but also to more practical efforts such as developing new instruments or capabilities that are necessary to enable future advancements."
Since earning his Ph.D in astrophysics from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Dr. McConnachie has authored 153 publications in peer‑reviewed journals that have received more than 11,000 citations. Dr. McConnachie is also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria.
When asked what inspires him most about his research, Dr. McConnachie replied, "I enjoy making new discoveries, and I have discovered that I get immense satisfaction from enabling others to make discoveries too. The collaborations I have led have allowed bigger observational programs to be tackled than could have been done individually, but from a pragmatic viewpoint, their success is due to the bringing together of excellent individuals into a team that complement each other well."
Phil has built and continues to lead the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge program focussing on Canada‑made clean energy technology. He has developed transformative technologies to help Canada achieve net‑zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Working at the intersection of public, private, and academic sectors, Phil considers himself a research capitalist—finding, co‑investing, and developing the most impactful technologies to solve climate change.
"My desire to join the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists is rooted in my value of community. I am a strong believer in the importance of relationships. When all is said and done, no one will remember how much money you make or the title you carried, they will remember how you made them feel," shares Phil. "As a member of the College I will contribute my energy, creativity and vitality to the community. I will participate fully and leverage my own vast personal network to help others within the College."
Phil's work on cleantech has been published in high‑impact scientific journals such as Nature and Science as well as in mainstream media. In addition, Phil has given hundreds of talks, taken part in panel discussions, podcast interviews and speeches on topics such as science, climate change, clean technology, diversity and innovation.
Congratulations Dr. McConnachie and Dr. De Luna on this thrilling and well‑earned accomplishment!