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NSERC and Killam award winners announced

Some of Canada’s biggest research honours were recently bestowed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

By SEYRAM KUDOLO & NATALIE SAMSON | MAY 06 2019

In the past few weeks, Canadian research-funding agencies took the time to announce the winners of some of the most prestigious awards in this country – just in time for the end of the academic year.

NSERC Prizes

On May 6, Governor General Julie Payette, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, and Digvir S. Jayas, interim president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), honoured 28 of Canada’s top scientists and seven industry partners with six NSERC prizes totalling $3.71 million.

The winners are:

Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering ($1 million)

  • Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University of Toronto (earth sciences), is one of Canada’s most renowned earth scientists. Her insights on the nature of water and life on Earth, leading to new understanding about the clean-up processes that will help preserve water resources, the origins and evolution of Earth, and the search for life on other planets.
Geoscientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar won the 2019 Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. Photo courtesy of NSERC.

John C. Polanyi Award ($250,000)

  • Douglas Stephan, University of Toronto (chemistry), is being recognized for his work redesigning a 100-year-old chemistry process to make it cheaper, more efficient and environmentally friendly. His discovery allows researchers to perform chemistry that was previously beyond their grasp, leading to advancements in areas such as drug development and green chemistry.

Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering ($250,000 per team)

  • Pascale Champagne (civil engineering), Michael Cunningham (chemical engineering), Philip Jessop (chemistry), and Warren Mabee (geography), all from Queen’s University, jointly won for their interdisciplinary work to achieve a more environmentally sustainable future through science research that considers the integration of technologies, natural resources and industrial processes from several different angles.

Synergy Awards for Innovation (three prizes of $200,000; one of $100,000)

  • Paul Charette, Université de Sherbrooke (engineering), for leading a team from U de Sherbrooke, Polytechnique Montréal, and industry partner Teledyne DALSA to create the world’s first high-resolution infrared camera for non-military use.
  • Luc Landry, Cégep de La Pocatière, brought together engineers from the Solutions Novika centre, based at Cégep de La Pocatière, and industry partners from Umano Medical to develop the next generation of hospital beds.
  • Amar Mohanty, University of Guelph (plant agriculture and engineering), has teamed with three Ontario-based companies to develop biodegradable substitutes for petroleum-based plastics. Using natural fibres and resins found in non-food agricultural material and waste streams, they have created materials that are being used in products like single-serve coffee pods.
  • Roberto Morandotti, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (energy materials telecommunications), for collaborating with OptoElectronic Components Inc. and QPS Photronics Inc. to combine quantum mechanics and integrated photonics in designing technology to support quantum computing capabilities.

E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships ($250,000 each)

  • Lin Cai, University of Victoria (electrical and computer engineering), is working on wireless networks that will sort and transmit instantly the speed, location, destination, and driving conditions to autonomous vehicles. This technology will help prevent accidents, reduce traffic jams, and save energy.
  • Maud Ferrari, University of Saskatchewan (veterinary biomedical sciences), is a predation ecologist who focuses primarily on freshwater and marine predator-prey interactions. She aims to understand how prey animals detect and learn to distinguish threats from non-threats in their environment, and how environmental change is affecting these processes.
  • Erin Johnson, Dalhousie University (chemistry), is applying her expertise in theoretical chemistry to density-functional theory — a powerful modelling tool used by researchers to design the chemical building blocks that lead to new materials and pharmaceuticals.
  • Paul McNicholas, McMaster University (mathematics and statistics), is designing tools to sift through massive amounts of data to reveal patterns and trends for a range of external collaborators. Currently, he’s working on a tool to help with early diagnosis and treatment for children with autism.
  • Dwight Seferos, University of Toronto (chemistry), is developing new materials from novel resources, like vitamins, to create power-storing plastics that are safer, environmentally friendly and less expensive to manufacture than conventional batteries.
  • Hongbo Zeng, University of Alberta (engineering), is a chemical engineer with an interest in the molecular surfaces of polymer materials, fluids, and natural resources, and how to build better materials, particularly for natural resource management.

 Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research ($10,000)

Anna Golubeva, University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (physics and astronomy), is exploring quantum many-body systems, trying to understand precisely how interactions between microscopic particles lead to complex properties of the macroscopic system, work that will lead to developments in quantum computing.

Killam Program

Yoshua Bengio, Canada Research Chair in
Statistical Learning Algorithms at Université de
Montréal, is one of five winners of the 2019 Killam
Prizes. Photo courtesy of Mila (Quebec Artificial
Intelligence Institute).

In late April, the Canada Council for the Arts announced the winners of its prestigious Killam Prizes and Killam Fellowships. This year, the five awards and six fellowships have been distributed across five institutions.

Killam Prizes ($100,000 each)

  • Yoshua Bengio, Université de Montréal (natural sciences), is Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms, and founded the world’s largest deep learning university research group, Mila (Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute). He is a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence, and is co-recipient of 2018 A.M. Turing Prize.
  • André Blais, Université de Montréal (social sciences), is a professor of political science, and holds the university research chair in electoral studies. An expert in electoral studies, he led the Making Electoral Democracy Work project, and was a member of the research team in charge of the Canadian Election Study.
  • Keith W. Hipel, University of Waterloo (engineering), is a professor of systems design engineering, senior fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, coordinator of the Conflict Analysis Group, and an officer of the Order of Canada. He is well-known for his interdisciplinary research on the development of several aspects of decision-making methodologies to solve complex problems that intersect society, technology and the environment.
  • Stephen W. Scherer, University of Toronto (health sciences), is founder of the most popular copy number variation (CNV) database, the Database of Genomic Variants. His research group contributed revolutionary insight into disease mechanisms and evolution by co-discovering gene CNV as a common type of variation in DNA. The team also made discoveries relative to brain development that demonstrate autism can have a biological foundation.
  • Lynne Viola, University of Toronto (humanities), is a professor of history and a leading scholar of Soviet Union history. Her research focuses on mass repression in the 1930s, and her publication of Stalin-era archival documents are popular in the public sphere. She received the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize in 2018.

Killam Research Fellowships (two years of release time from their institution, valued at $70,000 per year)

  • Matt Dobbs, McGill University (natural sciences), is an astrophysicist whose research team is developing new techniques for commissioning and calibrating CHIME, the first major research telescope to be built on Canadian soil in more than 30 years.
  • Dennis Hall, University of Alberta (natural sciences), is developing greener chemistry research processes to help provide environmentally responsible methods for producing commodity chemicals and new medicines.
  • Catherine Sulem, University of Toronto (natural sciences), is a math professor who will focus her research on nonlinear partial differential equations that model wave propagation in physical contexts, such as fluid dynamics, nonlinear optics, and plasma physics.
  • Marten van Kerkwijk, University of Toronto (natural sciences), is a professor of astronomy who hopes to pursue a new measurement technique, “scintillometry,” which attempts to use radio emission to make measurements of radio pulsars at extremely high angular resolution, effectively using the interstellar medium as a giant interferometer.
  • Xiao Yu (Shirley) Wu, University of Toronto (health sciences), is a professor in the Leslie Dan faculty of Pharmacy whose work will focus on nanomedicine, specifically developing new agents that can enter the brain to allow for a non-invasive early detection of neurodegenerative diseases and to monitor disease progression.
  • Andrei Yudin, University of Toronto (natural sciences), a chemistry professor, is working to develop new technologies that will help discover discover therapeutic agents that contain boron. The main application of this research will be to discover novel molecules to combat antimicrobial resistance.
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