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NSERC Presents a Conversation With Axel Becke
Department of Chemistry, Dalhousie University, interviewed by B. Mario Pinto, President of NSERC


Video Name

Conversation with Axel Becke


NSERC Communications



Release Date

February 17, 2015


Scientists and engineers around the world rely on Dr. Axel Beckeís ground-breaking chemical theories and computational methods to advance numerous sectors ranging from drug discovery to cleaner energy. Dr. Becke is the 2015 winner of NSERC's Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. Itís no wonder the Dalhousie University chemistry professor is one of the most frequently cited researchers in the world.

Mario Pinto

Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I am Mario Pinto, President of NSERC, and I am here with Dr. Axel Becke, recipient of the 2014 Herzberg Gold Medal. Axel, itís good to speak with you. And congratulations on winning NSERCís top research prize.

Axel Becke

Thank you very much.

Mario Pinto

Axel, youíve made a revolutionary, fundamental contribution to chemistry and related areas. Could you comment and tell us a little bit about the nature of your discovery and its impact?

Axel Becke

My research area is called density functional theory, and we all refer to it as just DFT. Density functional theory is concerned with the motions of electrons in all matter, and it is a branch of quantum theory that allows us to do computations of systems containing enormous numbers of atoms.

So quite literally, density functional theory is applicable to anything and everything because all matter in our terrestrial world depends on the motion of electrons, but until the 1980s, I would say, it did not have high enough accuracy to be useful. And I just wondered how can we make it better? think, to put it in a nutshell, 30 years later, we have improved the accuracy of DFT energy calculations by about a factor of 50.

Mario Pinto

What types of scientists are making use of your methods?

Axel Becke

All scientists, and Iím not being facetious with that answer. My papers have been referenced a hundred thousand times to date and are increasing at the rate of 8,000 per year.

Mario Pinto

How do you think NSERC and support in general from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has helped you and has been important to your career progress?

Axel Becke

Absolutely 100 percent important. NSERC has been my constant research partner every year of my academic and graduate student career.

Mario Pinto

Where do you think the field of chemistry is heading?

Axel Becke

Chemistry really is the central science of everything, and I think all challenges in the future that will benefit mankind will have chemistry as a central tool. So you can just list off the exciting developments in science that are coming up: biological chemistry, medicinal chemistry, self-assembling nanosystems, 3D printing, solar energy conversion. Nature does it better than anyone else. Itís photosynthesis; thatís chemistry.

Mario Pinto

Well, itís been a pleasure to be a partner, Axel. And thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Axel Becke

Thank you. Thank you very much.