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ArrowLook Who’s at the Lab: Guillaume Gervais
November 2012

In Look Who’s at the Lab, we profile some of the hundreds of scientists who visit our lab every year.

Guillaume Gervais Physicist Guillaume Gervais, a long-time user at the MagLab, in his McGill University lab.

The Basics

Title:  Associate professor in physics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada

MagLab user since:  2005 (as a professor)

Number of visits to the lab:  About 10

Dates of most recent experiment: 
October 2012

Home: Montreal, Canada

Distance traveled to the MagLab:  About 3,500 miles

General research interests:  Fractional quantum Hall, quantum electronics, nanofluidics, 16 tesla atomic force microscopy



Most Recent MagLab Research

Title:  “High Magnetic Field Measurement of Hydrogenated Graphene”

Other participants:  Jonathan Guillemette, physics graduate student at McGill University; Thomas Szkopek, senior investigator and an associate professor of electrical engineering at McGill University.

Synopsis:  Gervais is studying graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of pure carbon in which atoms are arranged like a honeycomb. His research focuses on hydrogenated graphene and its predicted “bandgap” — an energy gap in a crystalline solid where no electrons can exist. The confirmation of such a bandgap could lead to important practical applications.

“In this project, we are studying the synthesis and properties of hydrogenated graphene, wherein hydrogen is covalently bonded to carbon.”

“Hydrogenated graphene is the lightest chemical derivative of graphene, with completely uncharted properties. This study is important from the point of view of 'bandgap engineering.' While graphene is truly a fantastic material, holding the record for room temperature mobility, its application to high-speed transistors is limited by a zero-energy bandgap. However, a bandgap is theoretically expected to open in hydrogenated graphene, which would make graphene much more appealing for high-speed transistor engineering.”

Facility:  Millikelvin Lab

Equipment: A helium-3 refrigerator fitted with an 18 tesla magnet.

Techniques:  Conventional quasi-direct current transport on a gated device.

Quick Q & A

Q: What’s the best thing about working at the MagLab?
A: “Largest magnetic fields + best staff = best magnet facility in the world! Whenever I come to the lab, I also have the chance to learn some great physics from (MagLab physicist) Lloyd Engel … Much of what I know today, I learned from Lloyd.”
Q: What do you miss most about home when you’re here?
A: “My young son RaphaŽl.” What Gervais misses most about his 3-year-old is his “funny jokes and smile.”
Q: What’s the most unscientific thing about you?

“I looooove fast motorbikes. I just bought a 2013 BMW (model HP4). I also enjoy drag racing. I am hoping to build my own drag bike according to my own design some day soon — whenever my son can help me, and wants to help me, so we can both learn together!”

Guillaume Gervais bike

These days, Gervais races only on official drag-racing tracks.

“If I crash on the track, it’s going to hurt my wallet and my ego, but the track is designed for that, and so it is safer.”

At right is a photo of the motorcycle he ordered prior to coming to the lab for his last experiment. He picks it up in April 2013.

Q: Scientist and non-scientist (living or dead) whom would you most like to meet?

“I am more interested in meeting nonscientists, as I meet scientists all the time. I would most like to have met Martin Luther King, because he was a man of strong character.”

Q: What are you reading now?

“Quebec’s Female Artists of the 20th Century” produced in 2010 by the National Museum of Fine Arts in Quebec.

A friend of his — who is a painter and whose aunt is one of the women portrayed in the book — gave him his copy, which focuses on Quebec’s greatest women painters since the 1950s.

Q: Complete this sentence: We could make great stries in science if we could just figure out ______________.
A: “ … how and what the ‘so-called evolution’ really is, and how it really works at small scales, in a quantitative manner. Lots of entropy to figure out!”
Q: What advice would you give someone just starting out in your field?
A: “(Passion)2 + (Ambition)3 + (Intuition)4 … aim for the sky, and you will reach the stars.”
Q: What keeps you awake at night?
A: “The Unruh effect. That is the prediction from relativity that an accelerating body should emit radiation just like a black hole. Can we observe it?”

“Oh, and my son, too, when he is having nightmares.”
Q: What is it about graphene — a one-atom thick sheet of pure carbon with its atoms arranged like a honeycomb — that fascinates you and keeps you studying it?
A: “Graphene is the ultimate 2D material. My former doctoral student, Cory Dean, now a professor at The City University of New York, is the true champion for the cleanest graphene devices, and he studies with great success 2D quantum correlations in this material.”

“With my collaborator Professor Szkopek at McGill, we went in the other direction and decided to make some of the most disordered graphene materials. We’re interested in the physics of 2D disordered media as well as bandgap engineering.”
Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: “I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
                                           —Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)

“Every course I teach at McGill University, I always finish with this quote because I really believe it. As a scientist, we are faced with choice. Sometimes the harder path is the one to choose because we are going to learn more that way. In the long run, effort pays off in science.”
Q: Do you have any parting thoughts on science today?

“The future of science is in the hands of the young ones now, who in turn will become the next generation of scientists. For that to happen, science must be taught in the early stage of any child’s education.”

How early?

“In kindergarten.”


  1. Hydrodynamics of Superfluid Helium in a Single Nanohole; M. Savard, G. Dauphinais, and G. Gervais, Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 254501 (2011). Note: Selected as Editor’s suggestion.
  2. Positive and Negative Coulomb Drag in Vertically-Integrated One-Dimensional Quantum Circuits; D. Laroche, G. Gervais, M.P. Lilly, and J. L. Reno, Nature Nanotech. 6, 793 (2011); Note: see also News and Views article by BŁttiker and Sanchez, Nature Nanotech. 6, 757 (2011).
  3. Quantum-Classical Crossover and Apparent Metal-Insulator Transition in a Weakly Interacting 2D fermi Liquid ; Xiaoqing Zhou, B. Schmidt, C. Proust, G. Gervais, L.N. Pfeiffer, K.W. West, and S. Das Sarma, Phys. Rev. Lett.107, 086804 (2011).
  4. Adiabatic Cooling with Non-Abelian Anyons; G. Gervais and Kun Yang, Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 086801 (2010).
  5. Colossal Magnetoresistance in an Ultra-Clean Weakly Interacting 2D Fermi Liquid; Xiaoqing Zhou, B.A. Piot, M. Bonin, L.W. Engel, S. Das Sarma, G. Gervais, L.N. Pfeiffer, and K.W. West, Phys. Rev. Lett.104, 216801 (2010).
  6. Flow Conductance of a Single Nanohole; M. Savard, C. Tremblay-Darveau, and G. Gervais, Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 104502 (2009).
  7. Wigner Crystallization in a Quasi-three-dimensional Electronic System; B.A. Piot, Z. Jiang, C.R. Dean, L.W. Engel, G. Gervais, L.N. Pfeiffer, and K.W. West, Nature Phys.4, 936, (2008).
  8. Contrasting Behavior of the 5/2 and 7/3 Fractional Quantum Hall Effect in a Tilted Field; C.R. Dean, B.A. Piot, P. Hayden, S. Das Sarma, G. Gervais, L.N. Pfeiffer, and K.W. West, Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 186806 (2008).
  9. Intrinsic Gap of the ν=5/2 Fractional Quantum Hall State; C.R. Dean, B.A. Piot, P. Hayden, S. Das Sarma, G. Gervais, L.N. Pfeiffer, and K.W. West, Phys. Rev. Lett.100, 146803 (2008).
  10. Evidence for Skyrmion Crystallization from NMR Relaxation Experiments; G. Gervais, H.L. Stormer, D.C. Tsui, W.G. Moulton, P.L. Kuhns, A.P. Reyes, K.W. Baldwin, K.W. West, L.N. Pfeiffer, Phys. Rev. Lett.94, 196803 2005.

Date posted: November 5, 2012

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