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Government of Canada celebrates Canada’s top scientists and engineers

Prizes recognize exemplary achievements by some of the best and brightest researchers in the world

News release Professors Students

November 10, 2020

The world is shining the spotlight on science now more than ever as we face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Canadian science and engineering researchers continue to lead on the world stage, the Government of Canada celebrates the country’s research excellence by honoring some of its best and brightest.

Today, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and Professor Alejandro Adem, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) are pleased to announce this year’s recipients of NSERC Prizes. Twenty-six of Canada’s world-leading scientists and engineers, and 13 of their industry partners received NSERC prizes recognizing their contributions in a range of research fields. Topics explored include advancements to our understanding of the effects of climate change on biodiversity in urban, natural and ocean environments, the impact of aerosols on the Arctic, the development of sustainable pesticides, and innovations in quantum computing technology.

Dr. Molly Shoichet is this year’s recipient of Canada’s most prestigious science prize, the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, worth up to $1 million. Dr. Shoichet’s breakthrough invention of hydrogels enabled researchers to grow human cells in three-dimensional environments, and has since led to game-changing applications in the areas of tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical testing. Dr. Shoichet’s contributions have fundamentally advanced biomedical engineering research and placed the next generation of medical treatments within our grasp.

Dr. Karen Maxwell is receiving this year’s John C. Polanyi Award in recognition of her ground-breaking discovery and ongoing contributions to the field of biochemistry. Dr. Maxwell and her team discovered that the soil-dwelling bacteria Streptomyces produces molecules that stop viruses in their tracks and prevent fast replication, a breakthrough that opens up a new method to screen for drugs that could be useful for the treatment of human cancers and viral infections.

NSERC celebrates research excellence with a wide range of prizes. Individual awards focus on accomplishments that range from innovative discoveries by young researchers to lifetime achievement and influence. 


“Our government is steadfastly committed to science and research, and is proud to honor today’s recipients for their outstanding achievements in their fields. These researchers exemplify Canada’s culture of curiosity and innovation, and are making the breakthroughs that have the power to improve the lives of all Canadians from better understanding the effects of climate change to making medical advancements.”
The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“This year is about highlighting and celebrating how much science is playing an important role in our everyday lives. The prize winners showcase their excellence in science research with their breakthrough successes in diverse fields. Congratulations to all prize winners for their significant achievements.”
Professor Alejandro Adem, President of NSERC

“When I found out that I had won the Herzberg award, I was overwhelmed because it seems so unreachable. When you look at all the people who have won this award before me, they are people that I hold in such high esteem. To be among them, and to have my peers consider me to be among them, is so exciting and so thrilling.”
Dr. Molly Shoichet, Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto

Quick facts

  • Honouring the memory of Canadian Nobel laureate Gerhard Herzberg, the NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal is the agency’s highest honour. It provides recipients with up to $1 million in discovery research funding over five years.
  • Today’s ceremony celebrates the outstanding achievements of recipients who received five NSERC prizes totaling up to $3.95 million.
  • NSERC-funded researchers are honoured every year for achievements that showcase the high caliber of talent and the innovative research taking place in Canadian universities and colleges.

Associated links

Full list of NSERC prizes, this year’s winners and their profiles


John Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

Media Relations
Innovation, Science and
Economic Development Canada

Christine Seguin
Media and Public Affairs Officer
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

NSERC invests over $1.2 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research in Canada. Our investments deliver discoveries—valuable world firsts in knowledge claimed by a brain trust of over 11,000 professors. Our investments enable partnerships and collaborations that connect the makers and users of discoveries. Research partnerships established by NSERC help inform research and development and solve scale-up challenges.

NSERC also provides scholarships and hands-on training experience for more than 30,000 post-secondary students and post-doctoral fellows. These young researchers will be the next generation of science and engineering leaders in Canada.

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