Thanks MAW

Professor Mary Anne White from Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia

Professor Mary Anne White from Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia

Last week I allowed my enthusiasm for adventure to overcome my anxiety, and what a good decision that was.

The main purpose of my visit to Canada was to visit Professor Mary Anne White (MAW) at Dalhousie University, Halifax.

While there I gave a couple of talks, and met an inspiring group of people doing amazing work. I’ll say more in the next couple of posts.

Here I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’ to Mary Anne. Firstly, for her kind invitation, but more importantly for her positivity. I found this really inspiring.

Clearly someone else found her inspiring too because on January 1st 2016 Mary Anne was awarded the Order of Canada – sort of equivalent to an OBE – for her scientific and outreach work.

Mary Anne and her team were looking at a wide range of materials problems: some very specific, some highly technical, and others which were profoundly fundamental.

Their approach to solving problems was to make precision measurements with real attention to detail, measurement uncertainty and reproducibility. Hearing her describe the approach was a heartwarming affirmation of the importance of measurement science.

One of the problems she was addressing concerned the equilibrium crystal structure of Boron – the fifth element in the periodic table. I can’t remember the name of the structure which appeared to win out – but I was shocked to find that there were still questions like this to be resolved about such apparently ‘simple’ materials.

Another problem concerned materials with negative thermal expansion – they get smaller when heated. This group of materials even includes – in one temperature range – silicon. Understanding these materials is both a matter of curiosity and of great practical value – they could allow the development of materials with zero thermal expansion which would be useful in a large number of applications.

So my task for the coming months is to allow myself to be inspired by Mary Anne’s positivity, and to incorporate a little of it into my day-to-day activities. As I face the daunting tasks ahead of me, this possibility feels like a real gift: Thanks MAW.

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