Chris Waddell Celebrates Gold Medal Win

May 10, 2024
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Chris Waddell

The Department of Physics & Astronomy is honoured to announce the recipient of this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medal competition: Dr. Chris Waddell, a recent PhD graduate in theoretical physics. 

The gold medal is awarded to a graduate student with outstanding academic achievement, as assessed through transcripts, dissertations, and reference letters from both a thesis supervisor and the Department Head. 

Under the guidance of supervisor Dr. Mark Van Raamsdonk, Chris Waddell achieved the highest academic record of his cohort and made significant contributions to the study of quantum gravity, specifically in leveraging the relationship between holographic quantum field theories and gravity theories to learn about supersymmetric quantum theories, cosmological physics, and evaporating black holes. 

The field of quantum gravity emerges from two ground-breaking theoretical triumphs of the 20th century: Einstein’s theory of relativity, which revolutionized our understanding of space, time and gravity, and the development of quantum mechanics, which later evolved into quantum field theory. Chris explains that his research concerns the nexus of these two theories, which can be reconciled within a framework known as the “AdS/CFT Correspondence” capable of describing physical phenomena across all energy scales, including those associated with black holes and the early universe. 

“My work is trying to apply this framework to describe physical effects I’m interested in”, he explains. “The ultimate goal of a consistent quantum theory of gravity would be to answer fundamental questions that have been so far elusive. For example: How did the universe begin, and what will its fate be? What are the fundamental constituents of the universe? Do black holes destroy information? In principle, a complete theory would allow us to answer any of these.” 

Chris explains the significance of this award at this stage in his career: “As grad students we’re here because we love doing research, that’s the motivator”, he clarifies. But he admits that his path within academia has not always been an easy road, having experienced self-doubt and impostor syndrome frequently throughout grad school. In that context, winning the Gold Medal serves as a meaningful and appreciated validation of his hard work. And, as Chris adds, this award is clearly a “reflection of the amazing mentorship I’ve received from my supervisor, Mark.”

Established in 1873, this Academic Medal is the most significant and notable award recognizing outstanding academic performance by a graduate student. Recipients receive medals and certificates signed by the Governor General at the UBC May graduation ceremony. 

This marks the first instance of consecutive Gold Medal winners from the Department of Physics & Astronomy, with Chris’ medal win following one year after Ketty Na’s recognition for her dissertation on electron-phonon coupling in 2023. 

Dr. Chris Waddell is currently working in a post-doctoral position at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, continuing his research pursuits in quantum fields and strings. 

Congratulations Chris on this incredible achievement!



  • Meet PHAS faculty and student members of the String Theory Group at UBC
  • See the PHAS Theoretical Physics page here