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Past Winners

Victoria M. Kaspi
Victoria M. Kaspi

Astrophysics

McGill University

2010 NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

Neutron stars—remnants of a collapsed larger star—offer unique opportunities to delve into the very nature of matter because of the extreme gravitational and magnetic forces at work. They can be as small as several kilometres across but more massive than the Sun.

Studying these unimaginably dense, far-off objects, McGill University astrophysicist, Victoria Kaspi, has increased our understanding of the fundamental physical laws governing the whole universe. Her recent discoveries have earned her the 2010 NSERC John C. Polanyi Award.

Dr. Kaspi’s research team, which included then-doctoral student René Breton, made headlines around the world in 2009 when it strengthened the validity of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The group’s precise measurements of a binary pulsar—a pair of stars that are part of the neutron star family—put the theory to a unique test that proved it could accurately predict the stars’ orbital behaviour.

Her team also found a missing link between pulsars and magnetars—another type of neutron star characterized by an ultra-strong magnetic field—clarifying the poorly understood relationship between these distant relatives. The discovery of the most rapidly rotating neutron star ever found challenged earlier models that had suggested it was not possible for neutron stars to spin so fast. Success in finding an object that had previously been too difficult to detect suggests that even faster spinning neutron stars likely exist.

Apart from challenging current thinking through her research, Dr. Kaspi has used her talent as a skilled communicator to frequently contribute to science programs aimed at mainstream audiences. She has also worked with organizations such as the Canadian Space Agency to create videos for students that promote careers in scientific research.