Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Past Winner
2018 NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering

Department of Biochemistry

University of Toronto

Lewis Kay, a researcher at the University of Toronto and winner of the 2018 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal, has spent his career studying what makes humans tick deep inside. His research focuses on improving Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, the technology used to capture images of proteins within human cells. Thanks to Kay’s innovations, we are taking pictures of larger, more complex proteins than ever before, and actually watching them in motion. This is revealing important clues about fundamental questions in physics, chemistry and biology. We are learning how our bodies operate at the most fundamental level and, most importantly, learning how the tiniest changes can have big implications for our health and well-being.

Kay’s achievements are truly impressive technical breakthroughs. He has invented technologies that allow us to see the invisible. We can now watch the smallest building blocks of life as they move, change and interact with one another over time. We can see when they change shape in an intentional way and, more importantly, we can see what happens when they move in strange ways. Those strange positions can be the first instances of a disease or disorder and may hold the key to figuring out treatments for conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. If we can learn how diseases begin and develop in their earliest stages, we can learn how to undo those developments. Scientists may be able to restore a molecule to its proper form, or counteract the effects of the change and prevent a disease from taking hold.

Kay’s technologies have been keenly embraced by researchers around the world. His methodologies have had impacts for physicists and mathematicians, and his technologies are used in biochemistry and molecular biology labs around the world. His innovations have given researchers powerful tools to examine the most fundamental components of life and set the stage for breakthrough discoveries. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to science and discovery, Lewis’ peers have awarded him the 2018 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s highest honour for science and engineering.

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