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Canada Awards Top Science Prizes

Mon, 02/14/2011 - 8:23am
EurekAlert

This week, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded 12 prizes to outstanding researchers. With an annual budget of more than C$1 billion, the federal granting agency is the country's largest funder of advanced research and training.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton was honoured with the prestigious Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. The University of Toronto computer scientist has contributed major advances to the understanding of neural networks and cognitive neuroscience. His computer algorithms are used in a wide variety of applications from voice recognition and the reading of bank cheques to the monitoring of industrial plants for safety. The Herzberg Gold Medal recognizes his sustained research excellence and influence.

Astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi collected the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, which is given to a researcher who has made a recent outstanding advance. The McGill University astrophysicist's team put Einstein's General Theory of Relativity to a unique and rigorous test. Dr. Kaspi's team also found a number of missing links between two classes of dense stellar objects-pulsars and magnetars-and discovered the most rapidly rotating neutron star.

Electrical engineer Guy Dumont and anaesthesiologist Mark Ansermino, both from the University of British Columbia, received the Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. Their collaboration yielded intelligent devices and systems that assist anaesthesiologists to monitor vital signs more effectively during surgeries.

Six rising international stars received E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships. These awards provide new opportunities for the winners to explore promising research avenues.

  • Andrea Damascelli, of the University of British Columbia, explores the new and unusual properties of quantum materials.

  • Mathematician Alexander Litvak, of the University of Alberta, is helping to resolve long-standing problems in the field of "high-dimensional phenomena."

  • Roberto Morandotti, of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, works on ways to transmit entangled photons that ensure the security of the information they carry.

  • Ruth Signorell, of the University of British Columbia, is involved in the detection and study of ultrafine aerosols in Earth's atmosphere.

  • David Vocadlo, of Simon Fraser University, studies the key role of carbohydrates in biological systems and devises novel disease treatment strategies based on this knowledge.

  • Oceanographer and marine biologist Boris Worm, of Dalhousie University, is helping to paint a comprehensive picture of the state of the world's oceans.

Three early career achievers were recognized. Rowan Barrett received the NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize for research into the genetic basis of adaptation. Audrey Kertesz earned an NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize for her work on the control of converters for solar panel arrays. Haley Sapers was awarded an NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize for her explorations into the possibility that meteorite impact craters may have nurtured some of Earth's earliest life forms.

The award ceremony was hosted by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at a ceremony in Ottawa on February 14.

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