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In Memoriam: Jules Carbotte (1938-2019)

by Jon Farrow
Apr 15 / 19

CIFAR, Canada and the world have lost a brilliant physicist, a gregarious community builder and a kind heart in Jules Carbotte.

The legacy of his research will live on, in part through the world-leading Quantum Materials program that he helped instigate and through the many students he mentored.

Jules CarbotteCarbotte, a well-known McMaster University quantum theorist, became the director of a new CIFAR program in superconductivity in 1988, just two years after high-temperature superconducting materials were discovered. From the beginning, he wanted to build a sense of camaraderie in the program, and urged that members work as a unified group, sharing resources, students and facilities. This ethos continues today in the Quantum Materials program and permeates CIFAR’s wider approach to research.

“Jules played a seminal role in creating the quantum materials community that evolved since then into a unique collaborative enterprise,” writes Louis Taillefer, the current co-director of CIFAR’s Quantum Materials program and professor of physics at the Université de Sherbrooke. “Jules was a fine man and a passionate researcher. I always valued his wisdom and I loved to discuss with him.”

A talented and dedicated physicist, Carbotte is remembered for his keen insight, strong leadership and approachable manner. He was kind to all, no matter their station, and had a knack for explaining science. It is this ability that led him to become the scientific adviser to CIFAR President Stephan Dupré in 1998.

Former Governor General the Right Honourable David Johnston, who was chair of CIFAR’s board at the time, said then that Carbotte’s "reputation as an outstanding physicist is matched by a rare ability to explain science to non-scientists."

Thirty years later, CIFAR continues to convene extraordinary minds to address science and humanity’s most important questions. Jules Carbotte was a key contributor to CIFAR’s success.

To read the obituary of Jules Carbotte in the Hamilton Spectator, click here.

Below are a selection of the many comments CIFAR received in remembrance of Carbotte.

CIFAR (then CIAR) was still a young organization when high-temperature superconductivity was discovered. CIAR started a program on this big question in 1988, unusually quickly. This timely decision was made possible because there was one man in Canada whose whole scientific life had prepared to take the challenge and head the program. It was Jules Carbotte.

During 10 years, Jules built the Canadian effort on high-temperature superconductivity and instilled a sense of community that is still present. He continued to participate in the program, was unusually productive till the end, and always close to experiment. I was happily surprised in the last few years to discover papers by Jules on graphene and Weyl semimetals that had already answered some questions I was just starting to ask myself.  He was born and raised in Manitoba in a French Canadian family at a time where things were not easy for minorities in Canada. He was an inspiration for me, and for many of us I think. He will be sorrowly missed.

-André-Marie Tremblay, Fellow, CIFAR; Full Professor and Research Chair in the theory of quantum materials, Université de Sherbrooke

I knew Jules for over 50 years and am greatly saddened to learn of his passing. Jules was a great expert on superconductivity and mentored a number of students who went on to make their own important contributions. I remember visiting with Jules about his efforts in the early days to establish the CIFAR program. The sense of community that he fostered and that has become a central part of CIFAR represents a fitting tribute to the kind of person that Jules was. He will be missed by all of us.

-Doug Scalapino, Fellow, CIFAR; Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, University of California Santa Barbara

Joules was an outstanding scientist and a genuinely kind person. He was extremely kind to us when our family first met him in the CIFAR meetings as a completely new comer to Canada. All of us in my family will remember him.

-Yong-Baek Kim, Fellow, CIFAR; Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Quantum Materials, University of Toronto

Jules had a deep love of the program and its members. I think we all feel a great loss.   

-Graeme Luke, Fellow, CIFAR; Professor and Research Chair, McMaster University

Jules did a great job as first director of this CIFAR program, made lots of interesting contributions to physics and was a very nice man. He will be sorely missed.

-Ian Affleck, Fellow, CIFAR; University Killam Professor, University of British Columbia

Jules played such a major role in elevating Canadian condensed matter physics to a world leading level, especially in the area of superconductivity, which led to the CIFAR program on high temperature superconductivity and more recently the Quantum Materials program. We have a lot to remind us of his contributions.

-George Sawatzky, Fellow, CIFAR; Professor of Physics, University of British Columbia

I remember Jules as a kind and good-natured person, who enjoyed laughing and sharing stories. We had the pleasure of his regular presence in the CIFAR office for a time during the late 1990s/early 2000s, when he held the role of Scientific Advisor for CIFAR President Stefan Dupré. I know he will be missed.

-Paula Driedger, Programs & Information Officer, CIFAR

"...His greatest influence was his strong belief, and life-long participation in, collaborative research. McMaster was a remarkable place to learn the art of collaboration, having theorists and experimentalists, across physics, chemistry and engineering, in close proximity. He built this interdisciplinary spirit into the original CIAR program in superconductivity, drawing together a team of highly complementary researchers from across the country. He also built in a place for students to play a role in that. Students were invited to the very first meetings of this remarkable group; Graeme Luke and I both met at a memorable Halloween meeting that brought together the west coast and central Canada researchers in the field for the first time. This too set the stage for my research career, introducing me to new people, new ideas, and very new experimental techniques. Soon after, all of these features were built into the CIAR program formally, with a student-led school becoming a highly successful feature of the program, now much copied as a way to both grow collaborations and cultivate new researchers. The vibrant community that we are in is filled with people who are a direct result of the success of this vision and focus on the next generations."

- Doug Bonn, Fellow, CIFAR; Professor of Physics, University of British Columbia