Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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NSERC Prizes 2019: Barbara Sherwood Lollar

Department of Earth Sciences
University of Toronto


Video Name

NSERC Prizes 2019: Barbara Sherwood Lollar


NSERC Communications



Release Date

May 6, 2019


Barbara Sherwood Lollarís research career has been defined by exploration and discovery. As one of Canadaís most renowned earth scientists, she has given us incredible insights about the nature of water and life on our planet. Her work has been recognized for helping us understand environmental clean-up processes that remediate and preserve precious water resources. Her work has also shown us that there is still much to discover about water on this planet. Her celebrated research on ancient water discovered kilometres below the surface in mines on the Canadian Shield and in ancient rocks throughout the world has earned her international acclaim. This discovery peeled back a new layer of the Earth to help reveal subsurface lifeforms thriving in conditions that scientists had once thought were uninhabitable. Today, her expertise on earth systems is taking her out of the deep earth and out to the distant solar system. Sherwood Lollarís knowledge about water and life on our planet is helping shape space exploration and the search for life on other planetsówhere could life have existed, how it might it survive, where it might be found? Itís the search for the unknown that drives Sherwood Lollarís remarkable career and has led her to become one of our countryís most celebrated researchers. In recognition of her outstanding accomplishments and discoveries, as well as her numerous contributions to scientific knowledge, NSERC names Barbara Sherwood Lollar as the 2019 recipient of the Herzberg Gold Medal.

Barbara Sherwood Lollar

I received a steady diet of Jules Verne books growing up and loved them. Reading him, I think I had this idea that I wanted to be a scientist, but the good days of exploration, of finding really new stuff, were probably over. There's been enormous discoveries over the last little while: the discoveries on Mars from the Curiosity Rover, the discovery of some of these ocean worlds, and the discovery of all of these exoplanets now. And one of the things that's been an emerging theme amongst all of that is the idea of looking at using the Earth as a lens to understand how you might research elsewhere. So the kind of work that we do, right here in Canada, to understand the subsurface of our planet is actually helping to shed some light on possible ways of exploring all of those planets and beyond, all of that extraterrestrial real estate.

Obviously I've learned not to say, oh, yeah, I'm an isotope geochemist because it does tend to shut down the conversation. What do I research? Well, I research water. One of the wonderful things about working in earth sciences is that the problems of science that you are facing in earth sciences are so fundamentally important to the human race. You've got people who are coming in either because they're passionate about the search for life, they're passionate about understanding the ways in which studying this planet can inform astrobiology and the search for life elsewhere. There's huge amounts that we still don't understand. There's huge frontiers for exploration, as well as knowledge.

If you're passionate about something, you're probably going to find out something nobody else has ever figured out before. I certainly never expected, as a kid when I thought that it would be fun to do this, that it could possibly be this much fun.