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U of W professor gets major grant

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A University of Winnipeg professor received a major boost to his work to improve modern technology.

Chemistry professor Dr. Chris Wiebe received a $500,000 grant through the Government of Canada’s Canada Research Chairs program in March.

Wiebe received the Tier II award in the discipline of quantum materials, and he plans to focus on magnetism.

"Anything that is inside your computer, or your iPod, or your iPhone, at some point someone had to design (those) materials to store information, to store energy and to make your machine work," he said. "I make the magnetic materials that will hopefully be involved in tomorrow’s technologies.

"We have to understand magnetism in order to create better computers, design better computers. With everything becoming smaller and smaller, the magnets become smaller and smaller, and eventually, you’re down to the size of an atom. You have to understand how atoms and molecules work, and we don’t understand that very well."

Wiebe said he hopes to help technologies like computers or cell phones run more efficiently.

Such products heat up because the electrons flowing through wires "don’t flow perfectly," bouncing off each other and the sides of the wire, thereby creating heat. He’s trying to find a way to create a superconductor that can run at room temperature, meaning computers, phones, and on a greater scale, power lines and MRI machines, wouldn’t lose electricity.

"(Currently), you have to cool (wires) down with nitrogen liquid helium, which is expensive and hard to get to remote areas," said Wiebe. "It really would change everything, but the problem is no one understands how superconductors work."

Wiebe said he feels like "an explorer" when he goes into the lab every day, as he and his students are always discovering new things.

"There are always mysteries out there. Some people think that there’s an end to science coming, that’ll be it, and the end is coming," he said. "I think my nature is more clever than that. There’s always something new to discover."

Wiebe credited his teachers at Radisson School, John W. Gunn Middle School, Transcona Collegiate, and the University of Winnipeg for encouraging his interest in science.

"I wasn’t thinking about applications (of the research) – I just studied something that I really enjoyed and I really loved," he said. "That’s what I try to tell my students:  ‘If you find something that you really enjoy doing, just keep on doing it.’"

To help give back, Wiebe has established a physics scholarship at Transcona Collegiate Institute to be given to a worthy graduating student.

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Twitter: @metroWPG

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