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McGill astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi wins 2016 Herzberg Gold Medal

Dr. Kaspi among 15 top Canadian researchers in science and engineering recognized by NSERC.

BY NATALIE SAMSON | FEB 17 2016
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McGill astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi. Photo credit: Martin Lipman/NSERC

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has unveiled the winners of the 2016 NSERC Prizes. The agency named Victoria Kaspi, a professor of astrophysics and director of the Space Institute at McGill University, winner of the 2016 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

Dr. Kaspi’s study of neutron stars – the ancient remnants of the most massive stars in the Milky Way – has led to important discoveries in the field. She is the youngest researcher and the first woman to win the Herzberg Medal, an award that recognizes research excellence and influence in Canada over the course of a career in the natural sciences or engineering and represents NSERC’s highest honour. The prize comes with a grant of up to $1 million to go towards university-based research. Dr. Kaspi holds the Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics and the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology at McGill. She has previously won a 2015 Canada Council Killam Prize, the Rutherford Medal from the Royal Society of Canada and the Prix Marie-Victorin, Quebec’s highest honour for scientists. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Being awarded the Herzberg medal is a tremendous honour and thrill,” Dr. Kaspi told the McGill Reporter. “The funds provided as part of this award will be used in training the next generation of scientists in state-of-the art astrophysics research and, for example, in high performance computing and management of big data as part of the upcoming new Canadian CHIME radio telescope and its quest to understand the origin of the mysterious phenomenon of Fast Radio Bursts.”

Dr. Kaspi has spoken out about the need for more women in the STEM fields and what she sees as her duty to model the change she wants to see.

Among the other prizes awarded by NSERC:

Barbara Sherwood Lollar (earth sciences, University of Toronto) won the $250,000 John C. Polanyi Award, a prize that celebrates a recent outstanding advance in any NSERC-supported field of the natural sciences or engineering. Dr. Sherwood Lollar and her team discovered ancient groundwater sources at mines in Timmins, Ont., and South Africa, and their analyses of the water have impacted researchers’ understanding of how deep microbial life is sustained, among other findings.

Shana Kelley (faculties of pharmacy and medicine, U of T) and Edward H. Sargent (faculty of applied science and engineering, U of T) are co-recipients of the $250,000 Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering for creating AuRA, a breakthrough in point-of-care diagnostics platforms. For more than a decade the pair has joined their research in electrochemistry and biochemistry, and engineering physics, electrical engineering and nanomaterials to collaborate on a toaster-size device that can diagnose some infectious diseases in about 20 minutes.

The NSERC Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research awards $10,000 to an outstanding recipient of an NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship who engages in exceptional interdisciplinary research. The 2016 winner is Yasser Gidi (department of chemistry, McGill), who has developed a single-molecule platform able to observe proteins that allow viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV to reproduce, and often mutate.

A full list of award winners can be found here.

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