Ottawa , February 27, 2012– Canada's top researchers in the natural sciences and engineering will be honoured today at an awards ceremony hosted by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. The achievements being recognized include groundbreaking discoveries about Earth system science, unlocking the codes that control human genetics, and using the characteristics of carbohydrates found inside cells to help combat disease. The 19 individuals and teams are winners of seven prestigious prizes awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
"Investing in science and technology has a direct impact on our quality of life," said the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology). "The accomplishments of these winners demonstrate how these investments benefit Canadians and our economy."
Among the prizes is NSERC's highest honour—the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering—awarded to W. Richard Peltier, a renowned physicist from the University of Toronto. Dr. Peltier helped pioneer Earth system science—a discipline that studies interactions between the land, atmosphere, water and the biosphere as an integrated system. He has developed powerful analytical tools to understand how climate has evolved over millions of years, and to test the quality of models used to project future changes.
The NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal recognizes the sustained excellence and influence of the winner's research. It guarantees Dr. Peltier $1 million in discovery research funding over the next five years.
"Canada's researchers are second to none when it comes to the quality and creativity of their work," said NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. "From students just embarking on their careers to seasoned researchers with well-earned international reputations, we can be extremely proud of the talent we help nurture."
A new prize introduced today—the NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research—will honour an outstanding doctoral student whose work exemplifies interdisciplinary research. The award was established by Gilles Brassard, winner of the 2009 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal.
Also being announced today are prizes for top graduate students, outstanding university-industry partnerships, groundbreaking discoveries and excellence in multidisciplinary research. Other researchers to be recognized at today's celebration include the following:
A full description of the NSERC prizes and winners can be found in the backgrounder.
NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for all Canadians. The agency supports some 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging about 2,000 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.
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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 and its predecessor—the Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering—have been awarded each year, since 1991, 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 up to $1 million in research funding over five years.
W. Richard Peltier
University of Toronto
W. Richard Peltier's research has helped pioneer Earth system science—a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to explaining how the Earth functions. His seminal contributions to geophysics, atmospheric physics, and climate change research have spawned a new sub-discipline in the solid Earth and climate dynamical sciences. Using sophisticated mathematical concepts, his models depict how climate evolved over the past 750 million years, and project how it will evolve in the future. His research on ice-age climate variability is considered the gold standard for scholarship on past climate change. He is the founding Director of the University of Toronto's Centre for Global Change Science.
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 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 research grant of up to $250,000.
Brendan John Frey and Benjamin J. Blencowe
Engineering and Medicine
University of Toronto
Drs. Frey and Blencowe have taken a major step forward in unravelling the riddle of how the human genome can do so much with what seems like a relatively small number of genes. Their discovery of a sophisticated DNA code that cells use to rearrange parts of genetic messages in a process called "splicing" sheds new light on how our bodies function and how DNA mutations can result in disease. This breakthrough will further guide the design of a new generation of diagnostic tests and biomolecular therapies.
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.
Since 2004, the Brockhouse Canada Prize has recognized 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 team research grant of up to $250,000.
The Alberta Carbohydrate Science Group :
David R. Bundle, John S. Klassen and Todd L. Lowary
University of Alberta
Glen Douglas Armstrong and Kenneth K.S. Ng
University of Calgary
The Alberta Carbohydrate Science Groupis a highly interactive team representing diverse disciplines focussed on solving problems that span the spectrum of chemistry, structural biology and microbiology. This broad range of expertise has propelled the group to make discoveries that are recognized at the forefront of glycobiology—one of the top fields that will impact the future of biomedicine. The team's research is leading to new ways of developing vaccines and better tools to combat antibiotic-resistant infections.
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: Each of the four winners receives a $200,000 research grant.
Partnership with a Small or Medium-Sized Company
Yun Zhang, University of New Brunswick
Research satellites provide the ultimate "big picture" and make it possible to see what's happening in hard-to-reach places. However, it can be slow, expensive and difficult to process the vast amounts of data captured by satellite imagery. This team is working to solve this problem by creating complex algorithms that can fuse images from satellites with a processing speed and image quality that is the best in the world. It's also developing technology that makes remote sensing imagery look more like traditional aerial photography.
Partnership with a Small or Medium-Sized Company
Eugene Fiume, University of Toronto
This partnership has made Canada a leader in the expanding field of visual modelling, which is used in film making, animation, architecture, medicine and a variety of other fields. In addition to patented, award-winning technology, the collaboration has trained dozens of top computer scientists. The research is being used by industry to conceptualize green buildings, improve environmental performance, design safer vehicles and diagnose disease.
Partnership with a Large Company
Rung Tien Bui, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi
Rio Tinto Alcan
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, lightweight and can be adapted to a wide variety of uses, putting it in high demand for everything from packaging consumer products to making more fuel-efficient vehicles. This partnership is ensuring Canada's continued leadership in aluminum smelting—a major contributor of jobs and economic growth. Ongoing research into better processes and technology is leading to more economical and sustainable production.
Leo Derikx Award (pre-competitive partnership with multiple companies)
Roussos Dimitrakopoulos, McGill University
BHP Billiton Canada Inc., AngloGold Ashanti Limited, Barrick Gold Corporation, De Beers Canada Inc., Newmont Mining Corporation, and Vale Exploration Canada Inc.
Mines operate in a complex, uncertain and high-risk global environment. Stochastic mine modelling helps mining companies produce more metal from the same resource and achieve a higher return on investment, while reducing environmental impacts. Dr. Dimitrakopoulos is among the world's foremost experts in this field. His laboratory generates new ideas and methods, and an original technical-scientific paradigm for addressing the sustainable development of mineral resources. His work is ensuring the effective supply of raw materials, metals and energy that ultimately support jobs and economic growth.
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. They have been awarded since 1965.
Value: Each of the six winners receives a research grant of up to $250,000 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 solely on research for two years. Each Fellow may also apply to the Research Tools and Instruments Grants Program for equipment funding related to their Steacie research.
Alisdair B. Boraston
Biochemistry and Microbiology
University of Victoria
Alisdair B. Boraston is one of the world's top experts on the structures and functions of carbohydrate-binding proteins, research that he uses to inspire innovative and ground-breaking solutions to important social and economic problems. By understanding how some proteins break down carbohydrates, his research will lead to new methods of encouraging the process for activities such as the production of biofuels, and of discouraging it in situations such as antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
University of Calgary
An internationally renowned leader in information visualization and interactive tabletop displays, Sheelagh Carpendale undertakes research to enable the design of innovative, people-centred information technologies. She studies how people interact with information, images, technology and each other. She then applies her observations to the design of interfaces and visual representations of data used in information technologies to make them more natural, accessible and understandable for the people who use them.
Mark MacLachlan has made significant contributions to the field of supramolecular chemistry, which focusses on molecules whose shape and properties allow them to self-assemble into new materials. Among his discoveries is a new iridescent glass film that can be tuned to filter or reflect various types of light. Its potential applications include coatings for glasses or windows that block ultraviolet light, or reduce heating and air conditioning requirements. He has also generated materials that show promise for storing electricity or hydrogen.
Randall V. Martin
Physics, Atmospheric Science and Chemistry
Randall V. Martin is painting a more comprehensive and accurate picture of pollution in the atmosphere by drawing on data from satellite sensors and computer modelling, in addition to the traditional stationary monitors located primarily in urban areas. Dr. Martin uses a combination of satellite remote sensing and global modelling of atmospheric composition to assess the quality of the air we breathe, no matter where we live. His work will improve estimates of air quality, track emissions, and expand monitoring of the atmosphere.
Electrical and Computer Engineering
The University of British Columbia
Robert Schober has made world-leading contributions to helping ensure that wireless network capacity keeps up with the demand for services. His current focus on designing co-operative wireless networks could extend capacity by making it possible for all the mobile phones in a network to function as transmission relays. Dr. Schober's many theoretical and applied discoveries have helped set new standards for the wireless industry.
Mathematics and Statistics
Considered one of the leading mathematical physicists in the world under the age of 40, Robert Seiringer explores some of the mathematical problems surrounding the collective behaviour of particles at the atomic and molecular scale. He is developing new mathematical tools that will enable scientists to understand and predict the behaviour of bulk matter made up of a large number of microscopic constituents. His work will help shed light on how the microscopic laws of nature relate to the various characteristics found in matter at a larger scale.
The NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize is awarded to the most outstanding candidate in the NSERC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships competition. The prize recognizes academic excellence, existing and potential research contributions, interpersonal and communication skills, and leadership abilities. The prize was established by Howard Alper, winner of the 2000 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
Value: The winner receives a $20,000 prize, in addition to their Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Physics and Electrical Engineering
University of Toronto
Quantum technologies that exploit the laws of quantum mechanics for information storage and processing could power the next generation of smaller and faster information devices. But the technologies fall short because key components are still too bulky. Alex Hayat's research aims to develop compact, highly-efficient quantum devices by combining quantum optics with novel states of matter, such as superconductors, that could once again revolutionize information and communication technology.
The NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prizes are awarded to the four most outstanding candidates in NSERC's postgraduate scholarships competition at the master's level, and to the most outstanding candidate in the NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships competition at the doctoral level. The prizes were established by Arthur McDonald, winner of the 2003 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, in memory of André Hamer, a very promising young scientist who passed away in 2003.
Value: Each of the five winners receives a $10,000 supplement in addition to their scholarship.
Neuroscience and Mental Health
University of Toronto
Matthew Florczynski helps unravel the mystery of how human brains store and retrieve memories. Using mice as subjects, he is testing how certain proteins affect the ability to remember and learn from an experience. The findings hold the promise of new treatments for neurological diseases and injuries.
École Polytechnique de Montréal
Sébastien Loranger's intriguing research focusses on using laser light with new materials to induce cooling. Such technology could eliminate the need for bulky coolers and fans driven by electricity, and lead to the further miniaturization of next-generation electronic devices and lasers.
University of Ottawa
Jimmy Ly is developing a three-dimensional numerical model that will help explain the complex factors at play in scouring—the process of water eroding the sediment that supports bridge piers. Pier scour plays a role in up to 60 percent of bridge failures, a proportion that could drop thanks to Ly's research.
Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Talena Rambarran hopes to develop more effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to silicone elastomers currently used in many medical devices and biomedical products. Using a class of reactions known as "click chemistry," her work could lead to a new generation of biomaterials that improve patient health and reduce risks to the environment.
The University of British Columbia
Christopher Willie will study healthy humans living at high altitude to answer basic physiological questions about a breathing disorder that mostly affects older, ill people, but often strikes healthy young people during sleep at high altitudes. His research may help prevent and treat age- and disease-related cerebrovascular and breathing conditions.
NSERC will introduce a new prize for doctoral students starting with the 2012 scholarships competition. The NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research will be awarded to an outstanding recipient of an NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship who best exemplifies interdisciplinary research. Preference will be given to a recipient who plans to pursue doctoral studies at a different university from the one that granted their most recent degree. The award was established by Gilles Brassard, winner of the 2009 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. The first winner of the NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research will be announced in 2013.
Value: The winner will receive a $10,000 prize in addition to their Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.