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Lorne Trottier, co-founder of the Montreal-based video graphics company Matrox Electronic Systems and president of Matrox Graphics, last week bestowed a $12-million gift to the faculties of science and engineering to establish two endowed chairs and provi-de fellowships to graduate students.
The gift brings Trottier's support of McGill to $22 million since he graduated in 1970, when he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He later completed a master's in engineering and eventually received an honorary science doctorate from McGill — and continued an ongoing love affair with all things scientific.
"When I was about 11 years old, a new friend introduced me to the world of electronics," Trottier recalled before an audience of McGill faculty, staff and students, as well as industry peers. "I was instantly hooked and began building all sorts of interesting electronic devices, ranging from crystal radios to ham radio gear. I went to the library and started reading every introductory book I could find — not only on electronics, but also on science in general. I became curious about almost everything."
Trottier eventually pursued a career in electronics but has retained a passion for science in general, particularly astronomy and space exploration — basically, anything to do with stars and sky.
"At about the same age, I got my first bicycle. One of my favourite destinations was Dorval Airport, to an access road just short of the main runway. It was a great thrill for me to watch as jets came thundering in at near treetop level, delicately levelling their wings in the wind as they passed directly overhead to land. It's a thrill that I have never outgrown. At the start of each cycling season I still cajole my poor wife, Louise, on a trip to watch the airplanes land."
Though he never obtained a pilot's license, since his days at McGill he has enjoyed the somewhat safer hobby of building and flying remote-controlled model airplanes.
"I get the same kick out of watching one of my model aircraft land, under my control but with my feet safely on the ground."
While studying at McGill, he went to the Engineering Library every week to read the latest issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. This was a time when the first robotic missions were being deployed to the moon, Venus and Mars, and the US Apollo program was in full development, culminating in the first manned landing on the moon in 1969.
Upon graduation he had hoped to work as an engineer in the space program. He was offered a job in the aerospace industry but turned it down after deciding during an interview that "building spacecraft was a tedious, painstaking process."
Instead, he co-founded Matrox Electronic Systems in 1976 but he's kept a close eye on developments in the fields of aeronautics and astrophysics ever since.
One key development, he noted, has been Montreal's emergence as one of the world's leading centres of the aerospace industry. In the field of astrophysics, many new wonders have been discovered, including quasars, pulsars and black holes.
In presenting the gift, Trottier thanked McGill "for the great educational foundation on which I have built my career, and for the opportunity to support two domains of research and development that are of such personal interest to me."
Trottier's gift to the Faculty of Science allows Victoria Kaspi, a McGill physics professor, world-renowned expert on neutron stars and a Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics, to hold the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology. It will also bolster McGill's astrophysics program by establishing fellowships to attract top graduate students.
The Lorne Trottier Chair in Aerospace Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering will be filled through an international search.