Issue 11, April 8, 2020

 It will come as no surprise that this newsletter is a little late. We have all been working hard to adapt to the changing conditions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be some time before all of our community's regular research work and routines can resume. Federal and provincial health and safety measures to address the crisis will take time, and more importantly, patience. The continuation of our research depends on the community's ability to endure these stressful times. I sincerely hope that our community is persevering and in good health. While many of us are still pushing science, or other ventures, forward from remote offices, we encourage everyone to make health and safety your top priority. Take the time to check-in, talk with, care for, and support yourself, your loved ones, and your colleagues. The science will be waiting for us once the crisis has passed.
That said, work is still getting done. The astroparticle physics community is responding extremely well to these circumstances. Many of our programs continue to be rolled out in adapted forms. We have some exciting things to report on and some new opportunities for engagement.
Be well, Stay safe,

Tony Noble,
Scientific Director
McDonald Institute

Particle Physicists Addressing Ventilator Shortages
Canadian astroparticle physicists, engineers, project managers and their colleagues across the country are working with Italian and other counterparts around the world to develop an easy-to-manufacture, medical ventilator. The devices are desperately needed to keep the most severely stricken COVID-19 patients breathing long enough to recover from viral lung infection.
Canadian physicists have been working with a large contingent of Italian colleagues to design a prototype of the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM). The project was initiated by Dr.  Cristiano Galbiati of the Global Argon Dark Matter Collaboration in Italy, who recognized the need for additional ventilators early in the pandemic, and received government permission to develop a first prototype at the SAPIO Life s.r.l. ventilator repair and support center in Vaprio d’Adda, near Bergamo.

The MVM project’s goal is to deliver a simplified device that can provide assisted and recovery ventilation. By designing it with readily available off-the-shelf components, the MVM could be manufactured rapidly in order to meet projected surges in demand.
Dr. Cristiano Galbiati
The collaboration continues to grow and now spans more than 50 public and private organizations. It includes personnel from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), TRIUMF, SNOLAB, St. Michael’s Hospital, and Queen's University where Dr. Art McDonald has been coordinating the Canadian team. Italian contributors come from Gran Sasso Science Institute, 10 laboratories of the Italian National Institutes for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and Health (ISS) and more than a dozen universities and private-sector firms. Other European experts include those from CERN, CNRS-IN2P3, CIEMAT, the Max-Planck Institute and AstroCent. U.S. contributors include two Department of Energy national laboratories and five universities. 

To facilitate rapid certification of the final design, additional direction is being provided by Health Canada, the US FDA, the US Air Force and the Italian Istituto Superiore di Sanità and Consiglio Tecnico Scientifico della Protezione Civile.  At the same time, the MVM Consortium is making sure that design and background knowledge is in the hands of a manufacturing partnership to allow them to gear up quickly for production. Other teams across Canada and around the world are doing similar work and are using a variety of go-to-market strategies to get more ventilators in the hands of doctors as soon as possible. 
The MVM project is developing in an open innovation framework to encourage collaboration in design and testing. This will also minimize the time required to get the ventilators manufactured and distributed to the people who need them. The team regularly updates the design specification and description in 

Left: A March 31 iteration of Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) controller base assembly with connecting ports.
Image provided in the arXiv paper at:
Above: Testing performance of an early prototype with a breathing simulator at Ospedale San Gerardo in Monza, Italy.
For more information about the MVM project, please visit the website at:

Open source paper:

Funding campaign:  

PICO Collaboration pivots to develop PICO 500
Schematic view of a preliminary version of the pressure vessel that will hold the quartz inner vessel with the active mass.
With the operation of PICO-40L in SNOLAB on hold, the PICO team has taken advantage of this laptop bound circumstance to develop their next-generation Dark Matter Detector PICO-500, which will open new areas of parameter space, allowing access to a smaller cross-section and a different way to search for dark matter.
PICO-500 has recently found success as they confirmed a key manufacturer who can produce the crucial fused silica vessels, that will contain the active material. “We’re secure at this point that things are going to be made, and they are on their way,” says Dr. Ken Clark, who is optimistic about the project.
The next design task for the team is to engineer the pressure vessel for the container that will be used to re-pressurize the detector immediately following a particle interaction. Using this trying time to their advantage, the team has been giving more attention to this design work. 
Focus on the associated systems continues as hours of research go into how to fill, empty and install the detector. Thankfully, with the help of detailed 3D models of both the detector and SNOLAB, there is the ability to meticulously plan every detail of the design virtually. Using the models, the team can see how they can maneuver the various cranes to place the proposed pressure vessel into the virtual water tank. 
First, however, the pressure vessel needs to reach the tank. While the components of PICO-40L were more easily transportable, the size of PICO-500 presents new challenges the team will have to overcome. With recent improvements into imaging, the PICO team is now able to see 3D scans of the mine as well as the lab space and identify the method of bringing the detector into place. Simulations allow them to visualize centimetre by centimetre spacing to understand how to successfully transport the detector’s components.

Schematic of the installation at SNOLAB.
It looks like the international PICO team will be able to make the best of the situation and use the time to solve a few scientific puzzles hoping to eventually unravel the mystery of dark matter. 

Uniting Canadian input: The Astroparticle Community Planning - Non-Accelerator and Sub Surface (ACPNAS) Virtual Town-hall Meeting
With respect to current health and safety concerns, the ACPNAS Town-hall Meeting will now be a fully virtual event. With this change to the virtual environment, there is now greater accessibility for the entire community to take part.

The process, facilitated by SNOLAB and the McDonald Institute, aims to bring the community together to discuss ideas, projects and potential collaborations as well as coordinate the priorities of the Canadian astroparticle physics non-accelerator and sub surface effort.

Researcher and faculty input is essential in developing a strategic direction, and Post-doc/graduate students will find participation valuable by contributing to the community vision and making connections for potential future collaboration.  

The ACPNAS planning committee is currently developing the agenda for the town hall that will place on May 6th and 7th . The meeting will take advantage of the virtual tools available and provide an interactive experience for all attendees.

The committee is in the process of evaluating the optimal way of using the virtual meeting space. If you have any suggestions for this meeting, please let us know.

To help us to understand the number of attendees, please fill out this very brief attendance registration:

If you have any questions, please reach out to your respective ACPNAS co-chair:
Neutrino Properties
Ken Clark -
Alex Wright -

Neutrino Messengers
Erica Caden -
Carsten Krauss -

Dark Matter
Simon Viel -
David Morrissey -

Silvia Scorza -
Fabrice Retiere -

To mark the seventh orbit-versary of the very first Astronomy on Tap event in NYC, satellite locations around the world are merging to ignite a 7 hours for 7 orbits astro-vaganza of content from across the globe! Tune in to the Astro on Tap HQ youtube channel to enjoy a variety of talks and live Q&A on astronomy:

Professional Development and Learning Series
The McDonald Institute is launching a new professional development series of online workshops! Open to all undergraduate and graduate students, these workshops are free to attend and will focus on a wide variety of topics.

The first session, held earlier last week, was led by Ed Thomas (McDonald Institute Associate Director) and centred on learning objectives and best practices for presentations (web-based emphasis).

If you have questions about the Professional Development and Learning Series or are interested in registering, please contact Alex Pedersen, Business Development Officer at

Planned Sessions:

Tuesday, April 7, 2020  – 1:30pm-2:30pm EDT 
Skills Development : Individuals will use the new Queen’s Skills Cards to assess their proficiency in and enjoyment of 35 transferable skills, as well as the relevance of these skills to their target roles. Individuals will be invited to brainstorm specific examples of their skills in action, which can then be used in cover letters and in interviews. 
Presenter:   Carli Fink, Career Counsellor at Queen’s University Career Services,

Tuesday, April 14, 2020  - 1:30pm - 3:00pm EDT 
Resumes/CV/Cover letters : Individuals will learn strategies to stand out as an applicant and will begin to revise their own resume/CV to demonstrate maximum “match” with their goals. Individuals will learn strategies to stand out as an applicant and will begin to revise their own cover letter(s) to demonstrate maximum “match” with their goals. 
Presenter:  Carli Fink, Career Counsellor at Queen’s University Career Services,
Tuesday, April 21, 2020 -  Session TBC 
Tuesday, April 28, 2020:   1:30pm-2:30pm EDT  
Interview strategies:  Individuals will learn common types of interview questions (i.e., introductions, behavioural questions, and weaknesses) and strategies for answering them effectively, as well as consider what types of questions to ask at the end of an interview. In the 90-minute option, individuals will also gain confidence through practicing common interview scenarios. 
Presenter:   Jenny Lee Northey, Career Counsellor at Queen’s Career Services 

Tools from the Couch: A Learning Series
Mark Richardson (McDonald Institute Education & Outreach Officer), is launching the Tools from the Couch Series, an opportunity to share the diverse expertise that exists in the department and community on different computational (or otherwise!) tools that we use for our research.
Starting on Thursday, April 2nd, we will host a weekly session on a different topic, while resources and example files will be shared on the McDonald Institute Website. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
  • Bash Scripting and Unix
  • Latex
  • Python, astropy, matplotlib, and Jupyter Notebooks
  • Parallelization: OpenMP, MPI, GPU
  • MCMC
  • Machine learning (supervised and unsupervised training)
  • Gaussian Processes
  • Version Control and Git
  • Code Clinics
  • Hackathons
  • Social Media APIs
  • Photoshop / Illustrator 
  • Excel and Word
  • Microsoft Teams
The next session will take place on Thursday, April 9th at 1:30 PM EDT. This is a follow up to the first session and will focus on some higher level tools with unix, and then unix scripting.

If you have any questions about the Tools from the Couch Series, or if you would like to register, please email Mark Richardson, the Education and Outreach Officer, at .

Virtual Round Table Discussions
An initiative of physics graduate students at Queen's University, which began last year, is continuing online with a session last week focused on supporting students through isolation during COVID-19.

Round-table discussions are informal, and non-academic discussions focused on topics that are essential to students' daily lives. Each meeting has a topic (i.e. diversity, health, stress, societal perspectives on academia, etc.), and some questions centred around the topic to guide the discussion.
Everyone is welcome to express their thoughts, opinions, or experiences. Anyone is welcome to join these informal discussions, including faculty, staff, post-docs, grad and undergrad students. It promises to be a safe space for people to discuss potentially sensitive issues. The morale of the discussions is that we are there to listen, support, respect and learn from each other.

To be notified or learn more about upcoming Round Table Discussions, or to start an RTD at your institution, contact Ingrida Semenec at

Alda-Kavli Learning Centre: Social Media for Scientists
The Alda-Kavli Learning Centre, in partnership with the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science, provides webinars and workshops on various topics around science communication.

This webinar, presented by Sree Sreenivasan, has been added to YouTube for viewing any time. Enjoy!
Social Media for Scientists: Extending Your Digital Footprint
A fun, fast-paced workshop for scientists, science communication practitioners and researchers that provides actionable tips to improve your social media skills and reach.

What to know in 2020 about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
Avoid common mistakes experts make using social media
How to use social to listen in addition to broadcasting

New AstroParticle Bites:
Neutrinos have a special relationship with beta decay. It was due to beta decays that neutrinos were postulated in the first place. Traditionally, beta decay was empirically seen as a neutron decaying into a proton and electron (aka beta particle). As the neutron, proton and electron masses were fairly well known, the daughter products of this reaction should have had predictable energies due to the principle of conservation of energy.
A diagram of the KATRIN experiment. The cylinder to the right is the main spectrometer and is over five stories tall. (Credit: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)
However, it was observed that the energy spectra (a histogram of beta particle energies from many decays) were continuous – an apparent violation of the conservation of energy. This discrepancy led to the discovery of a neutrino – a small, chargeless particle that does not interact through the usual forces.

The neutrino carries away some portion of the energy, leaving the kinetic energy of the beta particle as some value between the electron rest mass and the Q value (the total energy released in the decay). However, if the neutrino has mass, it means the high end-point of the energy spectrum, corresponding to a scenario where the neutrino has no kinetic energy, should be less than the Q-value. This is because the rest mass of the neutrino must also be taken into account: the greater the mass, the larger the difference between the Q-value and endpoint.

The name of the game is, therefore, a super-precise instrument able to measure exactly where the endpoint energy of the energy spectrum is.

Read Benjamin Tam's article here:
Benjamin Tam

I am a PhD Candidate in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University working on the SNO+ experiment. My research is at an intersection of physics, chemistry, and engineering. I am involved in upgrading the Nobel prize-winning Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in an effort to search for neutrinoless double-beta decay. I am also passionate about science outreach and education. I am typically otherwise found mountaineering, speed skating, or making awful puns.

Thank you for your continued interest in the Canadian astroparticle physics community.
If you would like to view past newsletters from the McDonald Institute, please visit the: Newsletter Archive .

Stay home and stay safe!

If you would not like to receive the McDonald Institute Newsletter, please click the link below or use the Update Profile link in the footer:

Unsubscribe from the McDonald Institute Newsletter.