Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX physics graduate joins Nobel Prize winner’s group as graduate student 

September 9th, 2020
Dean Eaton

Dean Eaton has an exciting year ahead: the 2020 StFX graduate, who received a joint first class honours degree in physics and mathematics, is starting this September as a graduate student in the group of 2018 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Donna Strickland at the University of Waterloo.

“The part that excites me the most about joining the group is that it is quite the small group unlike a lot of other groups at the graduate level. It will have very significant effects on starting my professional career, as people will see both of our names on paper(s) we will hopefully be publishing together while I’m completing my masters here,” says Mr. Eaton of Bridgewater, NS, who received StFX’s 2020 Yogi Joshi Prize for Excellence in Physics.

StFX Physics Department chair Dr. Peter Marzlin welcomed news of the accomplishment. 

“We are always very proud of our alumni and they often let us know how well they feel prepared for grad school. However, Dean has been an exceptional student, who was able to complete a fantastic honours project while also running the undergraduate physics conference AUPAC 2020. I guess Dr. Strickland, whom he met through his involvement with AUPAC, was just as impressed with him as we are,” says Dr. Marzlin. 

Mr. Eaton says the opportunity came about in part as he was the co-lead organizer for the Atlantic Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Conference (AUPAC) 2020 conference held at StFX and he was in charge of booking and liaising with guest speakers. 

Along with Dr. Strickland, the conference also attracted Dr. Renee Horton, a NASA engineer and advocate for diversity and inclusion in science, and Dr. Allan H. MacDonald, Wolf Prize and Herzberg Medal recipient, professor at University of Texas, Austin and a StFX alumnus, as speakers. 

“We very early identified Donna as someone we would want to come speak at our conference. We tried to set the bar high for the conference as it had never had a Nobel speaker before,” he says. 

Mr. Eaton says he had tried a few emails to her executive assistants, but never received a firm answer. While waiting to hear back, he attended the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) congress in 2019 at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Strickland was a conference keynote speaker. Mr. Eaton says he attended a social after her lecture and was sitting at an empty table when she joined him to talk. They talked about the conference, graduate school, his current research, and he says shortly afterwards, Fraser Turner, a former graduate student of Dr. Strickland’s and fellow StFX graduate, joined the conversation. Mr. Eaton says they spoke about him potentially working for her in graduate school, which led him to visit last Thanksgiving to see the lab, talk more with Dr. Strickland in person, and to visit the campus and the city. 

He says he isn’t yet sure what the focus of his research will be, as there are multiple projects he can take on for his master’s, but that it will be in the area of non-linear optics. 

Along with AUPAC 2020 and the CAP congress, while at StFX, Mr. Eaton also attended the AUPAC in 2019 and the 2019 Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference (CUPC) where he presented his summer research. He held a teaching assistant position for a first year physics lab and a second year circuits lab and participated in summer research after his first, second, and third year at StFX. He was also part of the swim team his first two years at StFX and was vice-president of the volleyball society in his third year. 

“StFX has definitely helped and prepared me enough for this,” he says. 

“Having the smaller classes and a small department let me do more research and as a teaching assistant, than what would be possible at almost any other university in the world,” he says. “On top of having amazing professors who take the time to go above and beyond in the upper year courses to ensure we are ready for graduate school.”


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