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Gilles Fontaine (1948 – November 1, 2019) was a professor of astrophysics at the Université de Montréal in Quebec, Canada.

Gilles Fontaine
Died (aged 71)
Known forwhite dwarfs, sub-dwarf stars and astroseismology
AwardsSteacie Prize, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Montreal
ThesisOuter layers of white dwarf stars (1974)
Doctoral advisorHugh M. Van Horn

Fontaine's research interests included theoretical and observational studies of white dwarfs, sub-dwarf stars and astroseismology (the interpretation of variations in brightness of certain pulsating or vibrating stars to understand their interior structure).[1] In particular, he found that white dwarfs can serve as test benches for the equation of state, the coefficient of transport, and the phase transition between solid and liquid states at very high densities.[2]

Early life and educationEdit

Gilles Fontaine was born in 1948 in Lévis, Quebec. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Université Laval in 1969. He arrived at the University of Rochester in the fall of that year to begin his graduate work, initially hoping to study quantum optics. However, he ended up following his interest in astronomy to work with Hugh M. Van Horn on modeling convection in the surface layers of white dwarfs.[3][4]


After receiving his PhD in 1974, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at University of Western Ontario where he worked with John Landstreet, gaining experience with observational astronomy. In 1977 he became an assistant professor at the Université de Montréal.[3][5] He was promoted to associate professor in 1980 and full professor 1986.[5]

In 1981, expanding upon his PhD research in white dwarfs, Fontaine founded a research group specializing in white dwarf asteroseismology with his colleague François Wesemael. This research group received international acclaim for its wide-ranging contributions to our understanding of white dwarfs.[4] Three of Fontaine's PhD students, would go on to win the Canadian Astronomical Society Plaskett medal, awarded for the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy at a Canadian university.[5]

In 1982, the group made headlines by predicting the existence of a new type of pulsating star, a DB white dwarf, which was later confirmed by telescope observations. This was the first time that the existence of a variable star was predicted by mathematical models first, rather than being discovered first through observations.[3]

In 1987, Fontaine along with his collaborators, attempted to determine the age of the Universe using the amount of time it takes for white dwarfs to cool. Comparing observations to numerical simulations, the found that the Universe is between 10 billion and 300 million years old.[3]

In 1990, his group published the first results from the Whole Earth Telescope, a network of telescopes around the world located at different longitudes that could collectively provide continuous observations of pulsating white dwarfs.[3]

In 1996, the asteroseismology group at the Université de Montréal once again predicted a new type of variable star, a B-type white subdwarf, which was confirmed by observations by the South African Astronomical Observatory in 1997.[3]

In 1992, he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2016 he was awarded the Canadian Association of Physicists Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Physics "for his pioneering, world-renowned work in theoretical and observational studies of white dwarf stars."[2]

Over his career, he published more that 200 scientific articles. He was a member of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iRex) and the Centre de recherche en astrophysique du Québec (CRAQ).[6]

Fontaine died November 1, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec.[6]



  1. ^ "Gilles Fontaine". Institute for research on exoplanets. 2014-08-14. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  2. ^ a b c "Gilles Fontaine awarded the 2016 CAP Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Physics - CASCA". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mont-Mégantic, ASTROLab du parc national du (2016-01-01). "Gilles Fontaine | Astronomers". Canada under the stars. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  4. ^ a b Van Horn, H. M. (Hugh Moody), 1938-. Unlocking the secrets of white dwarf stars. Cham. ISBN 9783319093697. OCLC 899576397.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b c Lamontagne, Robert (10 Apr 2000). "Professor Gilles Fontaine receives the Carlyle S. Beals award for 2000". Canadian Astronomical Society. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  6. ^ a b ""In memoriam": Gilles Fontaine". (in French). 2019-07-15. Retrieved 2019-11-09.
  7. ^ Government of Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (2016-06-28). "NSERC - E.W.R. Steacie - Past Winners". Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  8. ^ "The Steacie Prize - Recipients". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  9. ^ "Prix Acfas Urgel-Archambault". Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Membres". Société royale du Canada.
  11. ^ "Les Prix du Québec - recherche d'un récipiendaire". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  12. ^ "Carlyle S. Beals Award - CASCA". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  13. ^ " : Gilles Fontaine". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  14. ^ Government of Canada, Industry Canada (2012-11-29). "Canada Research Chairs". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  15. ^ "Québec Science". Retrieved 11 June 2019.
  16. ^ "Université de Montréal" (in français). Retrieved 11 June 2019.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  17. ^ "An asteroid is named in honor of astrophysicist Gilles Fontaine | CRAQ". Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  18. ^ "M.P.C. 118219" (PDF). Minor Planet Center. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2019.

External linksEdit