Dr. Chris Wiebe

Researcher Profiles

Dr. Chris Wiebe

Associate Professor Christopher Wiebe, Department of Chemistry

Can you share a brief description of your current research.

I am a solid state chemist.  I synthesize new materials in the laboratory and test their electric and magnetic properties.  There is a lot of overlap between what I do and what is called condensed matter physics as well.   Many of the materials that we work on find their way into modern technologies such as how your computer stores data or how an MRI magnet works.

In what ways could this research affect the average person?

Almost every piece of technology that you use, from your iPad to your cell phone to your computer, relies upon electronics that was developed by solid state chemists and condensed matter physicists.  We are also involved in cutting-edge research to understand magnetism at an atomic level, which is important for developing new technologies such as very efficient solid state batteries, new ways of high-density data storage, and high-temperature superconductors.  The discovery of a superconductor that works at room temperature, for example, would completely change our world, from cheap MRI scans to high-efficiency transportation of electricity in hydro lines.  Superconductors are also the greenest materials on the planet, so we do our bit for the environment.

For you personally, why do you want to do this kind of research?

I have always had a deep love for chemistry, physics, and mathematics, and my current area of research involves all three disciplines.  I was highly influenced by my professors at the University of Winnipeg to be interdisciplinary, and I owe a debt of gratitude for them for putting me on this path in the first place.  I feel that my research has some immediate, practical benefits, but I also get to explore basic ideas in quantum mechanics (which is the language that we use to describe matter).  Plus, it is fun to make new materials that no one has made before!  I am an explorer finding new lands every day at work.  

What is the most satisfying part of this research?

We are entering an age of science where the old ideas that we once held dear – that of reductionism – are coming to an end.  We once thought that if we understood the properties of an atom, for example, then we could understand how all matter works.  This isn’t true!  New properties often emerge when many atoms work together.  This idea of emergence is completely changing how think about science, and it is very exciting time to be involved at the ground floor.  Decades from now, we might be teaching chemistry in a very different way, for example, then what we are doing now with this new knowledge.   It is a completely different way of looking at the Universe.

What kind of student involvement do you have in this research?

My first research experience was as an undergraduate at the University of Winnipeg, and it completely changed my career path.  I was amazed that I could do what I love and get paid for it!  It is very important to try to give back what I gained at the University of Winnipeg through undergraduate research assistants that I employ in my lab.  My students are typically growing new crystals or measuring new properties of matter near absolute zero in temperature.  We also travel to different research labs to explore the properties of materials using particles called neutrons, which act like tiny magnets.  By observing how neutrons scatter when they interact with solids, we can learn about atomic structure, the forces between the atoms, and their magnetism.

What would you say to students who may be interested in this field of study?

First of all, do what you love to do.  If you are naturally curious and work hard doing what you love, you will be successful.  Solid state chemistry requires some patience, and a broad knowledge base in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, so make sure that you take the right courses if you are interested in this research.  We have a unique research facility called PRIME at the University of Winnipeg (the Prairie Research Institute for Materials and Energy), and we are always looking for bright students to come join our team.  Come and check us out!