The University of Winnipeg



UWinnipeg physicist inspires future scientists

Kids and adults alike are invited to STEAM Big at Science Rendezvous, Canada’s largest science and engineering festival.

The free family festival, co-hosted by The University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba, will be held at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus on Saturday, May 11.

Last year, the festival attracted over 4,000 attendees, including 600 volunteers. Those numbers are expected to be higher this year.

One of those volunteers is UWinnipeg assistant professor Dr. Russell Mammei (physics), who will be hosting the popular “Hold a Cloud in Your Hand” exhibit encouraging children (and children at heart) to create water vapor-filled clouds out of dry ice pellets and soapy water.

He remembers one Science Rendezvous event where a young boy became so enthralled with the activity, he spent two hours in the room experimenting. 

“It was great seeing him explore the parameter space, as it were, and making conclusions based upon them,” said Mammei. “I have done this activity many, many times and I still enjoy it. The fun effect comes on very fast. And who doesn’t like playing with bubbles?”

Mammei is considered one of the leading experts in Canada in the field of ultra-cold neutrons. His expertise includes undergrad research in electron scattering physics, a PhD in ultra-cold neutron physics and a post-doc in accelerator physics. He is currently an assistant professor specializing in cold and ultra-cold neutron physics.

“I like taking on research projects that expand my skill set,” he said. “In my current research, I am trying to understand why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe, and which theories beyond the standard model of particle physics are correct.”

He didn’t always know he wanted to be physicist. Mammei’s university education began in engineering at the University of Texas. An opportunity to pursue undergraduate research in nuclear physics inspired him to switch majors. This led to his involvement in the undergraduate physics society, including a term as president. During this time, he took part in many science outreach activities to inspire future scientists.

He always looks forward to the opportunity to connect with the general public.

“I see it as my duty, especially as a university professor, to encourage the public to become more science literate,” he said. “I really enjoy engaging young people in science in hopes that I might spark an interest that could steer them into a STEM field.”

While “Hold a Cloud in Your Hand” is a colourful, fast-paced activity that (literally) puts science in the hands of young people, there is a connection to his more in-depth UWinnipeg research studying ultra-cold neutrons at TRIUMF and using Nab to determine correlations in unpolarized neutron decay at Oak Ridge National Lab. 

“I use cryogens, which are really cold liquids and gases, in both of these research projects,” he explained, “I connect that to my outreach activities that require dry ice, which is very cold. For Nab I am working on building and testing two state-of-the-art proton detectors and I tie this into the cloud chamber alpha particle detector demo as well.”

Mammei offers some important advice for all aspiring scientists.

“Let’s measure it,” he tells students of all ages. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, and when you don’t have the answers, ask for help.” 

Science Rendezvous is Canada’s largest science and engineering festival, a marquee event, and signature partner of NSERC Science Odyssey (which runs May 4 to 19). Every year, more than 300 events take place in 30 cities, 10 provinces, and two territories across Canada, including the Manitoba event, co-hosted by University of Manitoba and The University of Winnipeg.