Science & Technology

Attended KCSS • 1985–1990

Inducted October 2008

Thomas J.


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Environmental sciences from the Arctic to Mars

Dr. Tom Duck is a professor in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a specialist in lidar (laser radar) technology and an atmospheric scientist.  His research has examined climate and atmospheric dynamics in the High Arctic at Eureka, Nunavaut Territory (80°N, 86°W), and also the atmosphere of Mars during the 2008 Phoenix Mars Scout mission.

Tom benefited tremendously from his education at King City Secondary School.  A passion for science and music was stoked by Dan McConnachie in grades 7 and 8.  Jim Johnson provided fantastic background in mathematics in grades 11 and 13... Yes, we still had grade 13 then, and it was a good thing.  Much can be learned outside the classroom, and countless hours were spent pole vaulting and absorbing other important lessons from Coach Bob McAlpine. Tom also participated in the wonderful KCSS music program led by Jim Corbett. These teachers, and many others, are owed a debt of gratitude.

After Secondary School, Tom completed a B.Sc. (1990-1994) and Ph.D. (1994-1999) in Physics at York University. As part of his graduate research, Tom visited the High Arctic (approximately 10 months total duration) where he witnessed the 24-hour wintertime darkness and experienced temperatures that were below -50°C at times. The Arctic is largely unexplored due to the hostile environment, and will remain open to future students for scientific discovery.

The Arctic continues to fascinate, and Tom helped co-found the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change (CANDAC) in 2003. Recent years have seen continued loss of the summertime sea-ice cover, which is thought to be a result of global climate change. There is a critical need for study in this area, and students who are interested in the environment are encouraged to get a good grounding in hard science topics like Physics and Chemistry. A solid understanding of current and future environmental challenges will be needed to sustain our way of life.

Following two and a half years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory, Tom joined Dalhousie in 2002. He established a Lidar observatory to study pollution and smoke transport, and the green laser beam emanating skyward from his rooftop lab is a popular sight in Halifax. Using lasers to study the atmosphere is a great way to make a living!

Tom joined the Phoenix Mars Scout team in 2003 and was later named a Co-Investigator. The Phoenix mission landed a spacecraft on the Northern Plains of Mars in 2008. This lander was the first successful polar mission to Mars and “tasted the water” below the dusty surface. The Canadian contribution to this NASA/JPL mission was a meteorological station with a small Lidar system aboard.

Tom is grateful for the love and support of his wife Louisa and children Thomas and Maggie.  He is also very thankful to his parents, Tom and Wendy Duck, who are always there to help and made education a priority.

Written October 2008


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