Dr. Shaun Hall

Research Scientist

Shaun Hall is a general physical chemist, with experience in nonlinear spectroscopy and optical techniques for identifying molecules at interfaces (Ph.D. Victoria, 2011), computational and mass spectrometry techniques (B.Sc. Ottawa, 2006), ab-initio and molecular dynamics simulations of complex systems (PDRA Montpellier 2011-2012, Sheffield 2012-2015), and mass metrology (National Research Council of Canada, 2015-2017).

Shaun was employed as a Staff Scientist in Chemistry at SNOLAB from 2017 until 2023, focusing on the chemistry aspects of all experiments housed at SNOLAB, with special emphasis on the liquid scintillator systems used in SNO+, performing physical, chemical, and computational experiments to explain the molecular behaviour within these complex, fascinating mixtures.

As a research scientist at SNOLAB, Shaun continues his studies on liquid scintillator experiments, SNO+, chemistry education, crystal growth for detector development, material science for particle and astrophysics experiments, chemical safety and the application of computational chemistry methods to dark matter studies.

What does a typical day at SNOLAB look like for you?

Varied. Extremely varied. I have always, proudly, pursued physical chemistry and well, SNOLAB is the nexus not only of physics and chemistry, but also astronomy, health sciences, biology, and many others, meaning there are near infinite opportunities for me to apply my skills. This also means ‘active, lifelong learning’ is something that is a huge requirement here, and one I particularly love. I get to interact with, perhaps, more projects than many of the scientists at SNOLAB, making sure each experiment has the necessary analytical chemistry required and, whenever more is needed, applying my physical and computational chemistry skills to get the answers the projects need. In particular, I spend a lot of time on SNO+ working on the liquid scintillator development, stability, and characterization. One of the other major tasks is what I like to call ‘Interdisciplinary Translation’, making chemistry make sense to physicists and physics make sense to chemists.

How would you describe your work in simple terms?

I have had the opportunity to study with and learn from a number of exceptional people, especially those who have utilized both experimental and theoretical methods to study problems. For me, that means doing everything from mixing liquids in those strange conical flasks that are the go-to for fake chemists on TV, to using those strange boxes with imposing sounding names (Mass Spectrometer, X-Ray Fluorimeter, etc.) to see what has happened, to finally sitting down with the math and a computer trying to explain why it happened. I like to do chemistry and physics, from initial idea to complete understanding, trying not to miss anything along the way.

What is something in your career you are especially proud of?

I took the long road to this position. A long and strange road though organometallic chemistry to gas phase ion chemistry to nonlinear optical spectroscopy to computational chemistry to material science to metrology. It is hard to imagine a place and a position in which I could employ everything I learned but, somehow, I am here adding particle and astrophysics to the list and using it all. I feel both pride and gratitude to all those who have taught me along the way.

Why did you choose physics/chemistry?

Imagine a young boy tapping on a wooden desk and demanding every adult in the vicinity explain to him what it was made of… then the television… then a plastic chair… and just never stopping, to the frustration of every adult in the vicinity. The desperate, unyielding need to know what matter is, how matter interacts, and how to modify, employ, and control that matter is what drives me. That hooked me in my youth and has never let go. Now, at SNOLAB, asking how matter interacts with antimatter, neutrinos and dark matter? I imagine that young boy would be amused, if slightly upset that I do not yet have all the answers.

What is something about you that might surprise people?

The desperate need to know things does continue outside of science, but I do have to keep the topics down to remain sane. I focus on the Phoenician civilization, Mesolithic archaeology, hominin evolution, art history, apocrypha, rugby and cricket. I am also a profoundly average Sim-Racer and writer.

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