Star researcher pushes the frontiers of physics

“The astronomy equivalent of finding needles in haystacks” is how Vicky Kaspi, BSc’89, founder and Director of the McGill Space Institute and Professor in the Department of Physics, describes her mission to discover the location and origins of magnetars, neutron stars and fast radio bursts (FRB). Yet find them she does.

Through her tireless work, Kaspi discovered only the second magnetar in our galaxy — a rare, bizarre type of star with a colossal magnetic field. Her research group also identified multiple rapidly spinning compact neutron stars called pulsars, confirming Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Among those identified by Kaspi’s group was the fastest-spinning pulsar known, one that rotates at 716 times per second. Kaspi plays a major role in giving the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope its powerful FRB-detection capabilities.

In 2016, Kaspi became the first woman to win the prestigious Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering medal, adding to the dozens of accolades to her name, including the Rutherford Memorial Medal (2007) and the Prix Marie-Victorin (2009). In 2019, she was on Nature’s year-end list of “ten people who mattered in science.” Kaspi was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2016.

Kaspi’s leadership has transformed McGill into the country’s locus of high-energy astrophysics research. Under her wing, the next generation of scientists have taken flight.