Spencer returning as Canada Research Chair

The University of Lethbridge's first graduate in the Earth, Space and Physical Science PhD program is coming back to the U of L through the Canada Research Chairs program.

Astrophysicist Dr. Locke Spencer, who has been working at Cardiff University in Wales, is receiving $500,000 in funding over the next five years as a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Experimental Astrophysics.

The funding will support the development of instruments that will provide new insights and improved understanding of our universe. The focus of Spencer's research program will include the development of instrumentation unique within Canada, as well as the creation of new observation and data processing techniques that will be used for future large-scale international projects.

"I am very excited to continue research in this field and to start a new chapter of it at the University of Lethbridge," says Spencer, a former Calgarian who attended the U of L for his masters and doctoral studies.

"My U of L graduate training has opened many doors for me and I am truly humbled at the prospect of embarking through this one. Through conducting research in Cardiff I have extended my skills and network to include a variety of leading international projects and collaborations. This CRC funding/position provides the opportunity to bring this experience to Canada and continue to build on the strong international reputation which we have."

During his initial time at the U of L, Spencer worked closely with graduate supervisor Dr. David Naylor in the development and eventual deployment of Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE), an instrument on the Herschel space telescope. SPIRE picked up heat signals that are not visible by optical telescopes, and will help to answer the age-old question astronomers have been asking for centuries: "What's out there?"

Spencer continued his involvement with the Herschel/SPIRE project while extending his research towards other projects including working with the Planck space telescope as a post-doctoral researcher at Cardiff.

Naylor says space astronomy projects typically have a cradle to grave lifespan of around two decades from concept studies, through engineering models to flight instrumentation, and the operation and post operation phases.

He adds Canada has rightly earned international recognition for its contributions to several space astronomy missions.

"With a number of far infrared space astronomy missions under development it is essential that Canada builds research capacity to exploit these emerging opportunities if it is to remain at the forefront of the field," says Naylor. "The U of L has recognized the long term nature of these opportunities and has made a strategic investment in the astronomical instrumentation group. Having spent the last years working with scientists on the Planck space project, Dr. Spencer brings a depth of expertise and a network of collaborators which will allow the U of L to further build upon its reputation."

Spencer's studies will advance the understanding of the evolution of the Universe through next-generation far-infrared space-based astrophysical instrumentation and will position Canada as a significant contributor to international research projects.

U of L Vice-President (Research) Dan Weeks says Spencer's research will build capacity in an area of research strength at the U of L.

"Through the efforts of researchers like Dr. Naylor and Dr. Spencer, the U of L has become an international leader in building instrumentation that provides our world with the tools to better understand our universe," says Weeks. "An example of this leadership is the fact that the U of L hosted the first and only SPIRE consortium meeting to be held in Canada last year."

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development.

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships – Canada Research Chairs – in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country. The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds.

"Our government is committed to attracting and retaining the world's best and brightest researchers, supporting innovation, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy," says Canada's Minister of State Gary Goodyear. "By investing in programs such as the Canada Research Chairs, we are fostering cutting-edge research and the generation of new innovations for the marketplace, for the benefit of Canadians."

The U of L is a comprehensive academic and research university as mandated by the Government of Alberta. Last year the U of L was named by Research Infosource as Canada's Research University of the Year – Undergraduate Category.