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Retired physics professor Douglas Hallman. Photo by Scrappy Sisters Photography


‘Parts of our lives are beyond scientific understanding’

By Kylie Taggart

Douglas Hallman of Sudbury, Ont., is among the scientists involved in the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics-winning discovery that neutrinos switch identities as they travel from the sun, a finding that shows the subatomic particles have mass. A retired physics professor and member of St. Peter’s United, Hallman spoke to Kylie Taggart.

On becoming involved in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project: I became involved in the project in 1985, when a group looking for a spot for an underground lab in Canada visited Sudbury. We have deep nickel mines nearby and it turned out that our site was judged the best in North America. It is located two kilometres underground so neutrinos from the sun can be detected without interference from cosmic rays.

On building the SNO: In the early days, our group at Laurentian University provided local support for the work. This included tasks like evaluating the underground environment to make sure we could put a detector in place that would give us useful measurements. We were also helping establish a cleanliness program for the lab. The lab needed to be kept very clean because mine dust has a small radio-active background that could have interfered with our measurements. Our group grew to take on other roles as SNO operations began.

On the Nobel Prize: We were surprised and elated that this recognition came to director Dr. Art McDonald and the SNO team. My wife, Judith, and I were really pleased when we were invited to go to Stockholm for Nobel week in December. It was wonderful to be a part of it and get acquainted with people in other fields.

On his involvement at St. Peter’s: I’ve had various roles over the years, from helping with Christian education when our kids were small to chairing the council. I’m chair of the worship and music committee and sing in the choir. Judith is the music director.

On being a scientist with faith: I look at scientists as having gifts of intellect and insight and the availability of many tools to make discoveries about the world and the laws which govern it. In science, one builds on previous knowledge, one makes a hypothesis and tests it carefully, reviews results and carefully makes conclusions. I think scientists tend to use that approach in their lives to some degree. I still feel that is a good approach to life. Then, I think there are parts of our lives and world that are beyond what we can understand from, or control through, science. That is where I think there is a place for a belief in God.

On Genesis versus the Big Bang: I take the view that the Bible is a history of people’s relationship with God and that Genesis is a story of creation. In many ways, what we know about the start of the universe scientifically and the way in which things evolved have great similarities with that story.

On the parties across Canada to acknowledge the Nobel win: I think we’re celebrating pretty well. It is a happy occasion.  

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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