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Past Winner
1998 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship

Sara Iverson


Dalhousie University

Dr. Thomas A. Brzustowski, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), today announced that Dalhousie biology professor Sara Iverson has been awarded one of the country's top research awards - a 1998 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship.

"The fellowship recognizes Dr. Iverson's outstanding basic research on the physiological biochemistry of milk production in mammals and the role of fat in animal reproduction and survival," said Dr. Brzustowski. "She has also pioneered a major new interdisciplinary field that is having wide impact in ecology and wildlife conservation."

Although Dr. Iverson's interests extend across a wide range of animals from seabirds, bears, fruit-and insect-eating bats to whales, her primary study animal is the seal, in large part because of the extraordinary role that calorie-rich fats play during nursing and prolonged fasting. One of the seals she studies, the hooded seal, has the shortest nursing period (four days), highest rate of milk fat output (about 60,000 calories per day) and, not surprisingly, the fastest pup growth rate (over 7 kg per day) of any mammal.

The Dalhousie researcher has established Canada as the world leader in developing the use of fatty acid 'signatures' to study animal feeding and foraging in the wild. This powerful technique involves detection of the telltale traces of prey fatty acids in the fat stores of predators. Through it the animal becomes the data logger, recording information on its diet and foraging patterns. This data, in turn, can reveal important information on changes in prey species and their abundance, as well as offer valuable insight into the health of the ecosystem. The research is of particular value to Canada, which has many difficult-to-study marine mammals, as well as unanswered questions concerning the status and vulnerability of fish stocks.

In adding his congratulations, Dr. Ron Duhamel, Secretary of State (Science, Research and Development), said, "Dr. Iverson's exceptional research, along with that of other young university researchers like her, creates a better future for all Canadians. Research and innovation are the key to leading Canada into the new millenium."

Dr. Iverson, who works with scientists around the world, is praised as an outstanding collaborator. She has assumed a leading position in a rapidly expanding field; and is a role model for her undergraduate classes and her graduate research students, the majority of whom are women.

The NSERC Steacie Fellowship will permit her to expand her laboratory research as well as her field studies on Sable Island.

The fellowship is one of only four awarded each year. The honour is given to university researchers who are capturing international attention for outstanding scientific or engineering achievement. NSERC will provide Dalhousie University with the full amount of Dr. Iverson's salary for up to two years. The fellowship will free her to pursue her innovative research full-time, as well as obtain significant new research funding from NSERC.

The three other 1998 Steacie fellows are Jonathan Schaeffer, Dept of Computing Science, University of Alberta; Louis Taillefer, Dept. of Physics, McGill University; and Michael Ward, Dept. of Mathematics, University of British Columbia.

The NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Fellowships will be presented by His Excellency The Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, Governor General of Canada, in a ceremony at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, on April 27.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is the national instrument for making strategic investments in Canada's capability in science and technology. NSERC supports both basic university research through research grants and project research through partnerships of universities with industry. NSERC also supports the advanced training of highly qualified people in both areas.