Submitted by Kathryn MacLeod (Senior Communications Advisor, Communications Branch National Research Council Canada / Government of Canada)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2022)
Tom Landecker awarded the W.G. Schneider Medal
Dr. Tom Landecker, Researcher Emeritus, has recently been awarded the W.G. Schneider Medal – the highest expression of recognition for achievement at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). This award recognizes an employee who has made an outstanding contribution to the NRC above and beyond the expectations of their job duties, and who exemplifies the NRC’s values.
Dr. Landecker has been a major force in, and an inspiration to, Canadian astronomy for 5 decades. With expertise in both engineering and astronomy, he has pushed technological improvement in the service of science, working with academic partners to develop novel telescopes at the NRC’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) which have enabled science, including some of the world’s foremost research on Fast Radio Bursts here in Canada.
He is a publishing powerhouse, authoring 150 refereed journal articles in science and engineering. He celebrated his 80th birthday with 9 new papers in 2021 alone.
He is highly respected among his peers in astronomy, not just for his expertise, but also for his enthusiasm, leadership and mentorship, inspiring and encouraging the next generation of Canadian astronomers.
A Legacy of Telescopes and the Discovery They Enable
Dr. Landecker first arrived at the DRAO as a postdoctoral fellow now a part of the NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre, in 1969.
In that role, he helped build the Synthesis Telescope – a unique imaging radio telescope that is open to all Canadian and international astronomers. Later, as Director of the DRAO, Dr. Landecker used the Synthesis Telescope to lead the team carrying out one of the largest surveys of the interstellar medium (dust and gas), the Canadian Galactic Plane Survey (CGPS, 1995-2014). He developed techniques for wide-field polarization imaging that have become standard in the field. The project produced over 400 refereed publications, and continues to generate about 20 more each year. This success spawned an international era of wide-field radio surveys.
Following this, Dr. Landecker started the Global Magneto-Ionic Medium Survey (GMIMS), mapping out the polarization of the entire radio sky, and making this available to all astronomers via the NRC’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre. The GMIMS consortium comprises 14 Canadian and 22 international scientists, including many experts in magnetic field studies.
All of Dr. Landecker’s projects have developed new technical capabilities to support science that previously was simply not possible, from telescope upgrades and new algorithms for the CGPS, to new feed concepts and on-site demonstrations leading to the success of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME).
Supporting University Collaboration
Dr. Landecker has also played an instrumental role in the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), sited at the DRAO. He advised university partners on the development of CHIME’s unprecedented “half-pipe” design, to realize a valuable new tool for cosmology and the hunt for Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). CHIME has been spectacularly successful, receiving the Governor General’s Award for Innovation (2020) and the Berkeley Prize of the American Astronomical Society (2022). A CHIME result on FRBs was lauded among the top scientific results of 2020 among both Nature and Science magazines.
“Tom has been absolutely crucial to the success of CHIME, on account of his deep knowledge of radio instrumentation, his amazing expertise on Galactic emission, his enthusiastic appreciation and detailed knowledge of a very broad range of research topics, and his very deep respect for his colleagues.”
– Mark Halpern, University of British Columbia and Principal Investigator, CHIME
“Tom has been a major driving force behind Canadian radio astronomy for many decades… Tom has been absolutely essential to the development, construction, implementation, testing, calibration and scientific exploitation of CHIME.”
– Victoria Kaspi, McGill University and Principal Investigator, CHIME/FRB
Dr. Tom Landecker’s enthusiasm, technical expertise, scientific focus and hands-on work ethic have directly inspired generations of students and postdoctoral fellows. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia – Okanagan. He has supervised 17 graduate students at Canadian universities, and worked closely with many more, acting in particular as a strong advocate and mentor for women in engineering and science.
“Tom Landecker has been my mentor since I was in graduate school… In a world filled with competitive agents, he is the most collaborative and inclusive person I know. My graduate students and I have benefited immensely from his knowledge and wisdom; I am eternally grateful for his support and friendship.”
– Professor Jo-Anne Brown, University of Calgary
“Through mentorship, Tom has encouraged female students and postdocs, myself included, into the traditionally male-dominated fields of astronomy and engineering, always with a genuine trust in their abilities and their potential to contribute… His way of communicating empowers me to learn new concepts and fill in gaps in my understanding while feeling that I am part of a productive conversation.”
– Anna Ordog, current Postdoctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia-Okanagan