Martin HoudeWestern Science


I study astrophysical processes in the interstellar medium. My research has been strongly focused on the study of magnetic fields and turbulence in molecular clouds and star-forming regions. I pioneered novel methods that have led to important and new physical models that have significantly contributed to this field of research. I established and led the technique for studying magnetic fields in turbulent molecular clouds by comparing the line profiles of coexistent ion and neutral molecular species, which provided the first observational evidence for the fundamental (turbulent) ambipolar diffusion phenomenon. With collaborators I developed the angular dispersion technique for the analysis of magnetic fields using dust polarization maps, which is now widely used for characterizing magnetized turbulence in star-forming regions. With my research group we also discovered the presence of circular polarization signals in molecular rotational spectral lines (e.g., in CO), which we successfully explained through the Anisotropic Resonant Scattering (ARS) effect stemming from the quantum mechanical interaction between the molecules, the radiation field and the ambient magnetic field.

In recent years, we undertook a novel line of research where we applied Dicke's superradiance to astrophysics and, in particular, to the strong radiation flares observed in maser-hosting regions and to fast radio bursts (FRB). Although superradiance has been an intense subject of research in theoretical and laboratory quantum optics since its introduction by R. H. Dicke in 1954, it had remained unnoticed by astrophysicists since our recent work. Our application of superradiance to FRBs led us to the discovery of the "sub-burst slope law," which has been verified for repeating FRBs.

July 2013 - present: Professor, Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario

January 2020 - present: Affiliate, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo

December 2017 - May 2019: Visiting Professor, Institute for Quantum Computing, Univerisity of Waterloo 

January 2011 - January 2017: Visiting Associate in Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

July 2009 - June 2013: Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario

July 2004 - June 2009: Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy, University of Western Ontario

1993 - 2004: Senior Scientist, Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, California Institute of Technology, Hawaii

1987 - 1993: Design and System Engineer, Canadian Marconi Company, Montréal, Québec