Monday, 15 December 2014


            In the early 1930’s Clifford Hargrove was a young boy growing up on New Brunswick’s picturesque Partridge Island.  With an natural attraction to all things nautical, he would frequently look out across the vast Atlantic Ocean pondering what his destiny might be, who would he become, where would he travel and how would he be remembered?

            As his step son since 1990, “Remembering Cliff” brings about a whole host of memories ranging from happiness and the many laughs we shared, our ongoing backgammon tournaments that would test our concentration and arithmetic skills (often over a couple of glasses of red wine) to the countless shared family Christmases, birthdays, thanksgiving and drop ins.  You could talk to Cliff on just about any subject matter and he would be genuinely engaged, animated and opinionated while imparting his lifetime of experience, wisdom and hard learned lessons. 

            Before finding his professional calling Cliff had a number of false starts and early career peregrinations.  After receiving a BA in 1949 in psychology and education,  he was hired as the Principal of the Grand Bay School in NB.  An naturally born teacher he was not and after a two year stint Cliff decided that education was not his forte . Likewise, there was a year working for a chartered accountant in Saint John, enrollment in chemistry at the University of Ottawa in 1952/53 and finally a stepping stone to physics at Montreal’s McGill University in 1953 which saw him thrive, earning degrees of BSc., MSc and eventually a PhD in nuclear physics in 1961 (the year I was born).

            Soon, the National Research Council (NRC) came calling and Cliff was fortunate to be recruited to their nuclear physics group.  Two years later he joined the High Energy Physics section whose primary focus is to study the properties of the components that make up a nucleus.  Through his approach to team work, laser-like focus and strong work ethic, he headed up the group and ventured into some advanced experiments which were at the forefront of sub-nuclear physics setting
Dr. Hargrove - NRC - 1970's

him up for the rest of his career.  Cliff was continually travelling to collaborate on various experiments all around North America and Europe.  Attached to some of the most venerable post-secondary institutions in the world, Cliff was a frequent traveller to Berkley National Lab in California,  Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island, New York, TRIUMF Lab in Vancouver, British Columbia, CERN in Geneva, Switzerland and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Lab (SNO) in Sudbury, Ontario to name a few.  Impressively, the product of these many experiments resulted in 350 published papers which have been referred to more than 20,000 times by others within the scientific community.               

            In 1991 their group transferred to Carleton University, where the many successful experiments continue today and may lead to new knowledge  that could ultimately provide details of the building blocks of nature.  While Cliff and his team were the recipients of numerous awards and recognition, one that stood out from the rest was receiving the inaugural John C. Polanyi award
Cliff + Colleague - Carleton University - Physics SNOLab Model 
(named after a Nobel Prize winner from the University of Toronto), bestowed to them by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.  The award was accompanied by a $250,000 prize and was given to the group for the experiment carried out in Sudbury which measured the neutrinos from the sun leading to several important discoveries. 
Neutrinos are one of the building blocks of the universe. They are one of the least understood fundamental particles that make up matter. They are similar to electrons, but do not carry an electric charge, meaning that electromagnetic charges don't affect them. This allows neutrinos to pass through matter without being affected by it while travelling great distances.     

            Serendipitously, I started working with Carleton University earlier this fall at the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities in the role of Advisor, International Development.  This past November I invited Cliff to meet the next generation in the scientific world, a post graduate Biomechanical Engineer (self professed physics fanatic) and a friend of mine named Tim Inglis.  After a delicious lunch at The Bakers Grill, with the conversation being dominated by astrophysics, black holes, dark matter, quarks and light-years, we took a stroll over to the Hertzberg Building on campus to check out some of Cliff’s experiments which are still ongoing as part of the Physic’s Department’s raison d’etre and core curriculum.  It seemed that everyone knew Cliff and were genuinely pleased to see him back at his “old haunt”.  Since retirement in 1995, Cliff would continue
Carleton University - Physics Department - Current Students
to oversee his life’s work at the university with the designation of a “Distinguished Research Scientist”.  One thing is for sure, despite his older age and no salary, nothing could keep Cliff and his never ending inquisitive mind out of the laboratory.  This was his life’s calling … nothing made him happier … he was still like a kid in a candy store with such a zest for knowledge that never abated.  I vividly recall numerous hours of conversations about the importance of neutrinos, identifying the missing matter in the universe, Canada’s vital role at CERN and his enduring pride surrounding his team’s essential contributions to the recent Higgs Bosom particle discovery commonly referred to as “The God Particle”.

In recent conversations with Cliff’s esteemed colleagues at Carleton University; Dr. Gerald Oakham – Chair, Physics Department and Dr. David Sinclair - Distinguished Research Scientist, Past Director of SNO, I asked both gentlemen to reflect back on Cliff’s career and speak to his contributions to both science and humankind.   David asserted that Cliff was instrumental in securing the agreement to have Atomic Energy of Canada Limited contribute the “heavy water” to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory lab which made the whole experiment possible in addition to his team leadership and many technical contributions including the design of the “photo tube” system which identified, captured and measured neutrinos.  Gerald stated that Cliff was a leader and visionary who understood that there is a convergence of understanding between the microscopic (sub atomic particles and matter) the and macroscopic universe (how galaxies, stars and planets form) where over the next 20-25 years the accumulated knowledge may lead to discoveries in areas such as medical processes and imaging which may one day ultimately hold the cure to many human conditions. 

My own take away when I reflect back to our many conversations, may be due in part to watching too many Star Trek reruns or present day programs like “Through the Wormhole” or “Cosmic Front”!  Regardless, I think Cliff’s lifetime contributions could provide us with the fundamental knowledge (building blocks) required to discover how to safely travel at light speed beyond our own galaxy to eventually discover earth like planets in other universes in which to continue the “Human Experiment”.  I would even venture a little further (pun intended) as proposed in an 2010 episode of “Through the Wormhole”; Is there a creator?  Was the universe created by chance or was it a work of god: Science shows that the universe may have been calibrated by someone or something.  Perhaps a supercomputer with god-like powers!
Cliff + Marta with our Clan - The Keg, Ottawa - 2005
 Remarkably, in a world of scientific, stoic and analytical matter-of-fact thinkers, Cliff often stood out because he was equally humanistic, empathetic, conversational and very approachable with a wide network of friends around the world.  Additionally, he had a great sense of humour and often my Mum Marta and Cliff would be drawn to watch the old British TV comedies with their rather dark and sarcastic plots and punch lines.  My Mum and Cliff met through their shared interest/passion for bridge and  in 1990 they became a committed and inseparable couple.  My brother Ray, sister Jackie, brother-in-law, Bruce, niece Alexandra, my partner Mary Anne and I quickly adopted Cliff into our family as both our mother’s life partner, our step dad and very much a friend and confidant to me personally. 

Cliff and Marta had many mutual interests including yearly season ticket holders for our National Art Centre – Pops Concert Series, they were both voracious readers, tennis aficionados and loved to travel.  From the volcanoes of Hawaii and Scottish Highlands to the beaches of Mexico,
Marta + Cliff - Christmas - 2013
Cuba, Costa Rica, Florida and sailing excursions to the Caribbean, they were both globe trotting like they were kids at heart.  Truth be told, Cliff was an experienced and seasoned sailor dating back to his upbringing in the Maritimes.  Always in search of his next grand adventure, he had committed to be part of a 7 person crew on a catamaran in the Caribbean with some of his family members next January.

            I still vividly recall our last supper at Mum and Cliff’s place, just three days before his sudden death due to a massive heart attack.  Typically that night, Cliff had a tremendous appetite, consuming twice of everyone else around the table.  Incredibly, right up until the day he passed away - one day prior to his 86th birthday - he was physically active and mentally astute.  Moreover, each and every week he would play bridge, get in a game or two of tennis, watch sports, keep track of his physics experiments, dote over his two grand daughters and enjoy a quality-of-life that most of us yearn for.  While his passing leaves a huge void in our lives, we are all grateful for the many amazing memories left by such an intelligent, humble and gracious man … a true gentle man
Cliff + Mike - Our Ongoing Backgammon Tournament 
That young Maritime boy from the 1930’s more than lived up to his potential, surpassed his contemporaries, raised two families, dared to dream, followed his passions and left an indelible mark on this world and indeed far out into the cosmos.  Finally Cliff, I want to leave your final send off with a fitting and poignant quotation from Walt Whitman.  “Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes”.  

Importantly, please watch the following 5 min. video clip below which profiles Cliff and recalls his many contributions to the scientific world.  If you want to dive deeper into the world of particle physics and continue to follow some of Cliff’s collaborations and experiments please check out the following links.


            While I will continue blogging in 2015, we will be adopting a new format of bringing you more varied and in-depth posting at the end of each quarter in the months of March, June, September and December.  If you liked what you have read and watched, please follow me on Google in addition to sending me your comments, “likes” and sharing this story with your network of friends.  I hope to see you on the sunny side of the mountain!


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About Me

My photo

Skiing and Film Career:


At age 15, Mike Nemesvary set his goal to become the best freestyle skier in the world.  By the mid 1980's he held more than 40 titles in his sport including 3 World Cup Victories; 18 World Cup Podiums; 3 European; 11 Canadian and 5 British Championships.  Mike also developed a successful sideline as a skier and stunt performer in a number of television commercials, programs and feature films including James Bond’s “A View to a Kill” and Willy Bogner’s “Fire and Ice.” 


Spinal Cord Injury:


On May 18th, 1985 Mike’s life dramatically changed during a routine trampoline workout when he attempted a double twisting, double back somersault and blacked-out, landing on his neck instantly becoming a high level quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down and losing full use of his legs, arms and hands.  Following months of intensive rehabilitation Mike picked up the pieces and began to rebuild his life.  He moved into an accessible home, learned to drive a modified sports car and became a proficient sit skier.  Wanting to share his life-affirming approach he started “The Back Up Trust”; a very successful UK-Based charity raising more than $20 million to enable people with spinal cord injuries to reintegrate back into society and surpass their aspirations by facilitating challenging sports.


Speaking Career and Disability Advocacy:


After completing his post-secondary education in Commerce, Mike developed and honed his skills to become a passionate, powerful and outspoken disability advocate.  He has represented many Not-For-Profit organizations including: World Committee on Disability; March of Dimes; Tetra Society of North America and National Access Awareness Week.  In 1992 he formed Mike Nemesvary & Associates and enjoys a successful and rewarding career as a professional speaker presenting 100's of keynotes, seminars and workshops to local, national and international organizations.  Some of his prestigious clients include: Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company; General Motors Corporation; Bell Canada; National Research Council; Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; Health Canada and the Canadian Injury Prevention Foundation.


‘Round the World Challenge:


Mike then decided to take the ultimate challenge by becoming the first quadriplegic to drive unassisted around the world.  More than 7 years in development, the ‘Round the World Challenge was a grueling circumnavigation lasting 7 months, through 20 countries and clocking more than 40,000 kilometres.  While navigating some of the most treacherous roads, enduring the most extreme weather conditions and temperatures on the planet, Mike also surmounted continual inaccessible stops and accommodations in an unrelenting, exhausting daily schedule.  During the formidable odyssey, Mike also managed to visit 40 medical institutions, gave 52 speaking engagements and wrote weekly columns.  The ‘Round the World Challenge successfully culminated in the Fall of 2001 and raised more than $1.5 million for spinal cord injury rehabilitation and research. His accomplishments received numerous honours and recognition in many countries including the “Key to the City” in Ottawa and the “Meritorious Service Medal” from the Governor General of Canada.


Personal Life:


Mike’s remarkable life has been extensively chronicled as the subject of six international and award winning television documentaries in addition to numerous magazine, newspaper articles, radio interviews and television appearances.  Mike presently resides south of Ottawa with his Partner, Mary Anne McPhee and “Sassy” and “Jigger”, both Labrador Retrievers “Certified Assistance Dogs”.  In his spare time Mikes enjoys sit-skiing, scuba diving, swimming, writing, backgammon, listening to music and playing the harmonica.