MEET A MONTREALER: ROBERT RUTLEDGE

Posted on July 19th, 2010 by .

Dr. Robert Rutledge is a hunky associate professor in the Department of Physics at McGill University.

His work is primarily in observational high energy astrophysics, studying the behavior of neutron stars and black holes. Dr. Rutledge recently participated in the discovery of the most distant stellar object ever found, a gamma ray burst that occurred when the Universe was only 625 million years old. Which, believe it or not, is the exact same age as Celine Dion’s husband, René Angélil.

But Dr. Rutledge isn’t all soft-gamma repeaters and quiescent low-mass x-ray binaries, he’s also an expert on our national dish — Poutine!

Keep reading to discover the delicate relationship between astrophysics and poutine…

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BACKGROUND

Who are you?

I’m a Montrealer, born in California, a single guy who likes to learn.

What do you do?

I’m an astronomer, and a professor of physics at McGill University.  I study the stars — in particular, the densest mater in the universe, found in the center of neutron stars.  It’s interesting, because it ties astrophysics together with how quarks work — what happens when you bring billions and billions and billions of quarks together?  It’s a hard problem, and even our best mathematicians, our best computer scientists, our best nuclear physicists cannot solve it.

Why do you choose Montreal?

Montreal has some of the warmest, most outgoing, most diverse, and interesting people I’ve met anywhere.  It’s a marvelous community, and a great place to live.

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MONTREAL FAVOURITES

Café: La Croissanterie Figaro, at Hutchison and Fairmont.  Splendid terrasse, and I love the cheese danish.

Restaurant: Le P’tit Plateau.  Always a warm greeting, always wonderfully rich food.  And with so much delicious on the menu (the duck! the venison!), I’m a little embarrassed to admit that something I treasure from there is a tiny side which comes on some plates: a pastry filled with cooked carrots in bechamel sauce.  It tastes like home.

Boutique/Store: Le Potiquet (947 St. Zotique Est).  Handmade Quebec pottery, with an excellent selection, and really great value.  It’s a great local gift — right up there with maple syrup.

Bar/Lounge: L’ Barouf — wow, what a crowd!  Every visiting American friend I’ve brought there ditched me.  The crowd is that good.

Neighborhood: The Mile End – it’s where I live, and the streets bubble. The smell of honey from the bagel ovens; the greek food; the cafes on Parc and St. Viatuer, the fish markets, the ringletted Hasidic Jewish folks riding Bixis down du Parc, the excited hipsters talking social media, the bands which set up on street corners to play an impromptu holiday street concert.

Park: I run in Parc Mont-Royal, I picnic in Parc La Fontaine; but for true enjoyment, I go to the Parc St. Viatuer, where I sit near the War memorial, curl my legs beneath me and contemplate those who came before me and will come after me.

Festival: Nuit Blanche – the mid-winter “White Nights” festival.  With such a diversity of events going on across the city — dancing, art, clubs, ice-skating, swimming, church pipe organ concerts, guitar concerts, video, opera —  the streets are a hive, filled with friends and lovers.

Place to spot an attractive local: The Belgo Building. It’s a block west of Place des Arts, and has four floors of the most interesting galleries in Montreal.  Wander through, and you will see quite a lot which is very attractive, not all mounted on walls.

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QUICKIES

What exactly is the link between astrophysics and poutine?

I study the densest matter in the Universe  and while poutine is not quite as dense as that, it can feel awfully close once you’ve finished a large from La Banquise.  Which is what I love about it.

How will poutine lead to world peace?

If we could just get everyone in the world into a single room, to sit down in front of platters of poutine, it would become pretty damned peaceful, at least for a few minutes.

Why do so many folks choose Montreal to study and/or do research? Do Montrealers make good guinea pigs?

With four sizable Universities — McGill, Université de Montréal, Concordia and University Quebec at Montreal –  the city seems to attract scholars who love the intersection of ideas and cultures.  But Montrealers are not good guinea pigs: they are independent minded, and each unique in their ways.   Of course, that’s what makes Montrealers marvelous company as well.

Who is the most famous astrophysicist dude/dudette in the world?

The easy answer is, of course, Stephen Hawking.  I was at a party with him in Pasadena, thrown by Kip Thorne, and he had a group of people around him, and he was riffing off jokes — which, actually, it takes a while for him to deliver: so, there would be 3 minutes of silence as everyone watches the screen while he picks out words, then suddenly, peels of laughter.

How can someone have an astrophysical/scientific educational experience on a weekend trip to Montreal? Might it involve wine and our famous Montreal erotic dancers?

If an excellent astrophysical experience needs wine and an erotic dancer,  I’ve been doing astrophysics wrong.  But visitors to Montreal will find — whether they’re in a bar or restaurant, a museum or walking Boulevard Mont-Royal, a famous club or an infamous club — that wonderful Montreal experiences can begin with a simple phrase: “Let’s go look at the night sky together.”

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