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Eric Carl Svensson

August 13, 1940 - May 16, 2018

Eric Svensson: August 13, 1940 - May 16, 2018
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Eric Carl Svensson

PhD, FRSC, FAPS, FInstPhys

August 13, 1940 – May 16, 2018

Eric Svensson, a leader in the Canadian physics research community, passed away peacefully in Ottawa, Ontario on May 16, 2018 following a brief battle with cancer.

Eric was born on August 13, 1940 in the small hamlet of Hampstead, New Brunswick on the banks of the beautiful St. John River. Starting from a home that was full of love, but lacked both electricity and running water at the time, he traced an amazing arc through life. His formative years were spent exploring the woods and streams around Hampstead, where he developed his lifelong love of the outdoors, while his grade 1 – 8 education took place in the proverbial one-room school house to which he “walked 5 miles, uphill in both directions.” His academic abilities were recognized early, with Eric often acting as a tutor to his fellow students, both younger and older. As a result, he was taken in by the family of the local physician in order to complete high school approximately 25 km away in Gagetown, New Brunswick. From there, scholarships took Eric to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where he earned his B.Sc. in Physics in 1962, and then to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where he joined a unique cohort of young researchers and completed his Ph.D. in Physics in 1967 under the supervision of (future) Nobel Laureate Bertram Brockhouse.

In 1966, even before receiving his Ph.D., Eric was hired as a research scientist at the Chalk River Laboratories where, other than sabbatical years in Sweden (1972-73) and the United States (1981-82), he spent his entire scientific career, first with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and subsequently with the National Research Council of Canada. He became a leader in the experimental condensed matter physics community, applying the techniques of neutron scattering to study the structures and motions of atoms and molecules in both liquids and solids. He made fundamental contributions to understanding the different phases of water ice that occur at low temperatures and high pressures and was widely acclaimed for his breakthrough experiments demonstrating the existence of an unusual, macroscopic quantum-mechanical state known as a Bose-Einstein condensate that occurs in liquid helium as the absolute zero of the temperature scale is approached. Eric’s many fundamental research contributions were recognized internationally and he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (U.K.), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He remained actively engaged in research following his retirement and was named a National Research Council Researcher Emeritus in 2006.

In addition to his own research, Eric was passionate about the advancement of physics in Canada in general. He served for more than 14 years on the Council of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), including Chair of the Division of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (1993), President of the CAP (1997-98), Director of International Affairs (1998-2002), and Chair of the CAP’s Science Policy Committee (2003-2006). He played a significant role on the CAP’s Committee to Encourage Women in Physics over a period of almost 20 years and received a Special Merit Award from the CAP in recognition of exceptional contributions to the management of the Association in 2003.

Eric’s life outside the laboratory and conference room was just as rich. Eric and L. Patricia (nee Huxley) Svensson married in 1965 and together raised two sons, Gavin and Carl, in Deep River, Ontario. Whether it was during the countless hours spent working with them on regional, provincial, and national award-winning science fair projects, innumerable weekends travelling to ski races, or teaching his sons the “ways of the woods,” Eric was an ever-present and engaged father. In recent years, he took particular delight in dramatic readings of bedtime stories to his granddaughters Hannah and Mara during his regular visits to see them. Eric remained an avid outdoorsman throughout his life, a passion he continued to pursue well into his 78th year. He loved the Maritimes, and in recent years took his partner Ann McMillan to explore hiking trails in every eastern province. Eric was also a connoisseur of fine wines, with every bottle that emerged from his cellar receiving detailed tasting notes and a record of the company in which it was enjoyed.

Eric’s gentle nature, his wry smile, and the sparkle in his eyes, whether he was working in the laboratory, enjoying a fine bottle of wine at the dinner table, or paddling his canoe through Algonquin Park, will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

Eric is survived by his wife (separated) and friend Patricia Svensson of St. Catharines, Ontario, partner Ann McMillan of Stittsville, Ontario, son Gavin Svensson and daughter-in-law Amélie Blanchard of Saint-André-Avellin, Quebec, son Carl Svensson, daughter-in-law Joanne O’Meara, and granddaughters Hannah and Mara Svensson of Fergus, Ontario, as well as brother Alden Svensson of Saint John, New Brunswick.

In accordance with Eric’s wishes, cremation has taken place. In lieu of a formal ceremony, all friends, family, and colleagues are invited to a memorial celebration of Eric’s life that will take place at the Bear’s Den Lounge in Deep River, Ontario from 2-5 pm on Sunday, June 24.

In recognition of his many years of service to the Canadian physics community and the important role that scholarships played in his own education and academic career, the “Eric C. Svensson Memorial Graduate Scholarship” is being established by the Canadian Association of Physicists. In lieu of flowers, charitable donations toward the establishment of this scholarship can be made by clicking here.

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