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Professor Vicky Kaspi staring at the camera and standing in front of a moon posterExplore Earth’s Biological and Physical Systems and the Universe

Like others throughout history, McGill researchers investigate foundational questions, such as “What are the origins of life?”, "What is the nature and origin of the Universe?", and "What physical laws govern the cosmos?”

McGill is a major player in the rapid and extensive advances in our understanding of the natural world and its systems. This research has revealed the laws of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, the nature of life, the place of the Earth in the Universe, and the evolution of our own species.

Our knowledge continues to expand, with major discoveries being made every year in fields, such as molecular biology, astrophysics, cosmology, and subatomic physics. Observing and modelling the Earth, atmosphere, the world’s ocean and fresh waters are fields of continuing importance at McGill. Our world-class researchers recognize the importance of translating theoretical work into applications for current local, regional, and global environmental challenges.

Image credit: Normand Blouin

Research Examples

Cosmology and Astrophysics

Instrumentation for cosmology and astrophysics developed at McGill is allowing astronomers to observe and interpret the earliest moments after the Big Bang and explore the most intriguing areas of our cosmos. Along with a network of international observatories, we can map the sky faster than ever before, enabling full-sky measurements that may unlock the mystery of dark energy that is powering the accelerated expansion of the Universe. Advances in digital instrumentation now allow us to detect, for example, an unprecedented number of fast radio bursts, a newly discovered and unexpected astrophysical phenomenon. These advances in instrumentation and fundamental knowledge have wide applications in communications and earth observation, but also in our understanding of our place in the Universe.

Ecology and Evolution

Research in ecology and evolution reveals how diverse biological communities persist, and respond to human stresses such as pollution and climate change. Ecological principles underlie the practical disciplines such as resource management and conservation biology. Evolution is the science that describes how organisms are all related to one another and explains our place in the natural world. Evolutionary principles are key to understanding and controlling some of the most urgent practical problems of our time, such as resistance to antibiotics or the tolerance to pesticides in the fungi and insects that attack our crops and forests. McGill research is revealing the great evolutionary malleability of organisms and how that evolution alters communities, ecosystems, and their services to people.


Nanoscience aims to discover and understand how traditional macroscopic material property scaling laws break down as one approaches the nanometer scale. At the nanometer scale, electrical conduction becomes quantized, nanomaterials exhibit mechanically vastly superior properties, and biochemical sensors can detect single molecules. Our researchers work on the development and application of nanotools, including computationally-intensive modelling methods, scanning probe microscopy, and nanosystem self-assembly and explore a range of quantum technologies including quantum optics and ultrafast optical sciences. A prime example of an application of nanoscience is the use of engineered DNA to construct targeted drug delivery systems.

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