Ottawa, February 14, 2011– Today, the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and Suzanne Fortier, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), announced the winners of Canada's top natural sciences and engineering prizes awarded by NSERC.
"Our government is committed to developing, attracting and retaining the world's best researchers here in Canada," said Minister Clement. "We are proud to support NSERC as we honour our country's top natural scientists and engineers, and highlight the many ways in which their work is improving the lives of Canadians and people around the world."
Among the six prestigious prizes given today was the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, a $1-million grant that was awarded to Geoffrey Hinton, a renowned computer scientist from the University of Toronto. Dr. Hinton's work in machine learning has led to major advances in artificial intelligence, with applications that include monitoring industrial plants for improved safety, creating better systems for voice recognition and reading bank cheques. The NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal guarantees Dr. Hinton $1 million in research funding over the next five years. This announcement is another example of how the Government of Canada is harnessing the power of innovative digital technologies to develop new and improved services for Canadians.
"Canadian scientists and engineers are conducting some of the most ambitious, creative and successful research programs in the world," said NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. "These award winners represent the full spectrum of our country's research talent, from students just embarking on their careers to seasoned researchers making internationally recognized discoveries."
Minister Clement also announced the following prize winners:
The prizes will be formally presented during an evening ceremony hosted by Governor General David Johnston. Recipients of NSERC's Synergy Awards for Innovation, which were announced last fall, will also be recognized at the ceremony.
Canada leads the G7 in the amount of research and development performed by universities and colleges as a percentage of gross domestic product.
See the backgrounder below for more details about all the award winners.
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The Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, NSERC's highest honour, recognizes research contributions characterized by both excellence and influence—two qualities that defined Dr. Herzberg's illustrious career, which included the 1971 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The Herzberg Gold Medal is awarded each year to an individual who has demonstrated sustained excellence and influence in research for a body of work conducted in Canada that has substantially advanced the fields of the natural sciences or engineering. The award celebrates Canada's most outstanding scientists and engineers, raising public awareness about the major contributions that Canada's top researchers make to international science and technology, and to improving the lives of Canadians.
Value:The winner receives $1 million in research funding over five years.
University of Toronto computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton is among the world's leaders in the field of machine learning. His contributions to artificial intelligence have led to major advances in the field. Algorithms developed by Dr. Hinton have been used in a wide variety of applications, including monitoring industrial plants for improved safety, creating better systems for voice recognition and reading bank cheques. In studying the workings of the human brain, Dr. Hinton's work has also contributed to advances in cognitive psychology and neurobiology.
In tribute to the pursuit of research excellence the late Canadian scientist Bertram N. Brockhouse exemplified and inspired, NSERC offers an interdisciplinary research prize in his name. Dr. Brockhouse won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The Brockhouse Canada Prize recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines who have combined their expertise to produce achievements of outstanding international significance in the natural sciences and engineering in the last six years.
Value:The winners receive a $250,000 team research grant.
Electrical engineer Guy Dumont and anesthesiologist Mark Ansermino, both from the University of British Columbia, have created intelligent devices and systems that help anesthesiologists monitor patients' vital signs more effectively during operations. The devices have proven effective during hospital clinical trials. The team's future work will focus on translating these advances into safer, more sustainable healthcare in Canada and globally.
Created in 2006, the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award is named in honour of Canada's 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The NSERC award is given to an individual or team whose research, conducted in Canada, has led to a recent outstanding advance in any NSERC-supported field of the natural sciences or engineering. The research leading to the advance must have been funded at least partially by an NSERC grant.
Value: The winner receives a $250,000 research grant.
Victoria Kaspi's insights into neutron stars have boosted our understanding of the fundamental physical laws governing the universe. The McGill University astrophysicist's research team strengthened the validity of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, putting the theory to a unique test. Dr. Kaspi's team also found a number of missing links between two classes of dense stellar objects—pulsars and magnetars—and discovered the most rapidly rotating neutron star ever found.
NSERC's E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships honour the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, an outstanding chemist and research leader who made major contributions to the development of science in Canada during, and immediately following, World War II. Steacie Fellowships are awarded to enhance the career development of outstanding and highly promising university faculty who are earning a strong international reputation for original research.
Value: Each of the six winners receives a $250,000 research grant over two years. The host university receives up to $90,000 per year to fund a replacement for the Fellow's teaching and administrative duties during the course of the fellowship, allowing the Fellow to concentrate only on research for two years.
Andrea Damascelli, of the University of British Columbia, researches quantum materials, substances in which electrons give rise to new and unusual phenomena. He is building a spectroscopy centre that will make Canada a global leader and could provide knowledge resulting in new electronic materials for use in telecommunications, computer science and biomedicine.
Alexander Litvak, of the University of Alberta, is an internationally renowned mathematician who has made decisive progress on long-standing mathematical problems. He focuses on "high-dimensional phenomena," which are used to interpret data from a variety of fields.
Roberto Morandotti, of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, conducts research into ways of transmitting electronic information with unbreachable security. His new technology, based on high-performance integrated nonlinear devices, aims to put theory into practice by transmitting pairs of light particles—called entangled photons— through existing optical networks.
Ruth Signorell, of the University of British Columbia, studies molecular aerosols—microscopic particles suspended in space—to provide knowledge that can be applied in fields as diverse as space science and medicine. Her work includes the development of new instruments and experimental techniques for the detection of ultrafine aerosols in Earth's atmosphere.
David Vocadlo, of Simon Fraser University, pushes the boundaries of knowledge using innovative chemical biology approaches to study the key roles played by carbohydrates in biological systems. Leading a team of researchers, he is creating new chemical probes to pioneer carbohydrate-focused approaches for treating diseases such Alzheimer's and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
Boris Worm, of Dalhousie University, combines oceanography and marine biology to paint a comprehensive picture of the state of the world's oceans. His research helps governments improve fisheries and oceans management, which benefits the environment, the economy and society as a whole.
The Synergy Awards for Innovation were launched in 1995 by NSERC to recognize partnerships in natural sciences and engineering research and development between universities and industry. Since their inception, the awards have honoured the most outstanding achievements of university-industry collaboration in the natural sciences and engineering.
Value: The winning university receives a $200,000 research grant
Category 1: Small and Medium-Sized Companies
Brahim Benmokrane, Université de Sherbrooke
The normal life span of vital Canadian infrastructure—such as bridges, tunnels and parking garages—could soon exceed 100 years, thanks to materials and technologies developed through a two-decade research partnership between the Université de Sherbrooke and Pultrall Inc. Led by civil engineer Brahim Benmokrane, the research has developed ways to use fibreglass and carbon-fibre composites, rather than traditional steel, to reinforce concrete.
Category 2: Large Companies
Ahmet Alpas, University of Windsor
General Motors of Canada Limited
This partnership has developed new lightweight metal components for energy-efficient vehicles, resulting in a new generation of aluminum-silicon alloy internal combustion engines. These engines provide exceptional efficiency and durability, and improved fuel economy with lower environmental impact. The team's research on surface engineering and tribology—the study of friction, wear and lubrication—led to improvements in GM Canada's manufacturing processes.
Category 3: Two or More Companies
Donald Mavinic, University of British Columbia
Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc., Stantec Consulting Ltd., Metro Vancouver, EPCOR Water Services Inc., and Clean Water Services
As a component of DNA and a key ingredient in fertilizer, phosphorus is essential for all living things. Yet, it cannot be extracted, manufactured or substituted, making the world's supply finite. This partnership has developed a new way of reclaiming phosphorus, via technology that recovers 85 percent of phosphates from wastewater and converts it into fertilizer. In addition to creating a marketable product, the nutrient recovery system solves a costly maintenance issue for treatment plants.
Leo Derikx Award
Roderick Guthrie and Mihaiela Isac, McGill Metals Processing Centre (MMPC)
Hatch, Novelis, Heraeus Electro-Nite, Sumitomo Metals Industries, and Rio Tinto (with subsidiaries QIT-Fer et Titane and Alcan)
Formed in 1990, the McGill Metals Processing Centre is a leading global facility dedicated to finding better ways of processing and producing advanced metallurgical materials. Among its many achievements, the Centre's Liquid Metal Cleanliness Analyzer (LiMCA) technique to measure impurities in liquid metals has been adopted worldwide in aluminum smelters for melt quality assurance. The Centre's corporate partners include some 20 major international companies in the ferrous and light metals industries.
The NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize is awarded to the most outstanding candidate in NSERC's postdoctoral fellowship competition. The prize recognizes academic excellence, existing and potential research contributions, interpersonal and communication skills, and leadership abilities. It was established by Howard Alper, recipient of the 2000 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
Value: The winner receives a $20,000 prize in addition to their postdoctoral fellowship.
Rowan Barrett studies the genetic basis of adaptation—the process by which species evolve to fit their environments. His postdoctoral research, conducted at Harvard University, will allow better predictions about the extinction risk for species forced to evolve in response to changing climate conditions.
The NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prizes are awarded to the most outstanding candidates in NSERC's master's and doctoral scholarships competitions. The prizes were established by Arthur McDonald, winner of the 2003 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, in memory of a very promising young scientist who passed away in 2003.
Value: Each of the two winners receives a $10,000 prize in addition to their scholarship.
Audrey Kertesz works on the control of switched-mode converters for solar panel arrays, devices which transform DC voltages from one level to another. Her research, conducted at the University of Toronto, aims to improve the energy-harvesting capability of solar installations by optimizing the power output of each individual panel.
Haley Sapers researches the potential evidence of microbial life found in meteorite impact craters. Her work will provide insights into microbial diversity on Earth, early life on Earth, and the possibility of life on other planets such as Mars. She is based at the University of Western Ontario.