Astrophysics: $26 million to search for life in space

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Astrophysics: $26 million to search for life in space

The very young star known as protostar L1527 is located in the constellation Taurus.

Montreal philanthropist Lorne Trottier has donated 26 million dollars to fund research in astrophysics. An envelope that should reinforce Montreal's status as an international center for research on exoplanets.

This donation from the Trottier Family Foundation, which will help dozens of scientists search for life in space, is the largest ever in Montreal's astrophysical research sector.

The envelope was split in two: one part for the Trottier Space Institute of McGill, which receives 16 million, and the other for the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) of the University of Montreal, which is awarded 10 million.

The director of iREx, astrophysicist René Doyon, is delighted to see the funding of his research activities increased for the next 10 years.

Public funding, he says, is important, but not enough. The contribution of the private sector is necessary.

“We are looking for life elsewhere, it will take several decades. This donation will allow us to continue to attract the best researchers and the best students. It's a very big day for Montreal. »

— René Doyon, Director of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the University of Montreal

René Doyon, astrophysicist

For its part, the McGill Trottier Space Institute will devote 8 million to the construction of a new building, an annex to its current building where students and professors are cramped.

The other half of the donation will be used to fund graduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, among others.

The director of the institute, Victoria Kaspi, assures that research in astrophysics benefits the economy, culture and society as a whole.

It takes as an example the algorithms used for space exploration which are subsequently applied to other industrial sectors.

Engineer and businessman Lorne Trottier became a billionaire by selling the shares of his company Imagerie Matrox.

The discreet entrepreneur 74-year-old devotes part of his fortune to supporting scientific research.

Passionate about astronomy from an early age, he has high expectations for astrophysical research.

Discovering life elsewhere in the universe would be the best, he says with a burst of laughter. For me, it's a matter of time. It is inevitable. They will find it, perhaps even in our solar system.

Launched last December, the James-Webb Space Telescope is revolutionizing astrophysics.

The project is led by NASA and its partners, the European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies.

As part of this program, dozens of Montreal researchers are tasked with analyzing the images of exceptional quality, captured by the telescope in orbit at 1 .5 million kilometers from Earth.

They hope to detect signs of life. But the steps are many and laborious, says Olivia Lim, a doctoral student at the Institute for Research on Exoplanets.

Her current task is to monitor three distant planets that could have of an atmosphere. This would then be a clue that would lead to the traces of a possible form of life, but it is a long process. It will last for months, even years.

The announcement of the donation from the Trottier Family Foundation gave him hope of being able to stay in Montreal to do research.

“It is very inspiring, very encouraging to see that there are people who recognize our work. »

— Olivia Lim, doctoral student

René Doyon assures that Montreal universities engaged in research in astrophysics are among the world's gratin, while projects around the telescope James-Webb always require more manpower.

We have nothing to envy to the greatest of this world, whether Harvard or Caltech ( California Institute of Technology), supports the astrophysicist, while adding that students jostle every summer to intern at iREx.

Student retention is a real battle because the competition is fierce, however concedes Victoria Kaspi. You need ways to attract and retain the best.

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