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University of Toronto takes home slate of NSERC awards

February 27, 2012

University Professor Dick Peltier leads the pack with the Herzberg Gold Medal

TORONTO, ON – Five U of T researchers and stu­dents have been award­ed prizes from the Nat­ur­al Sci­ences and Engi­neer­ing Research Coun­cil (NSERC) in recog­ni­tion of their schol­ar­ly achieve­ments.

The mar­quee award, the Ger­hard Herzberg Cana­da Gold Medal for Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing, went to U of T physi­cist Prof. Dick Pelti­er, a pio­neer in Earth sys­tem sci­ence.

The medal, which comes with $1 mil­lion, is named for Cana­di­an Nobel Lau­re­ate Ger­hard Herzberg and award­ed annu­al­ly for out­stand­ing and sus­tained con­tri­bu­tions to Cana­di­an research in the nat­ur­al sci­ences and engi­neer­ing. It is wide­ly con­sid­ered the most pres­ti­gious award a nat­ur­al sci­en­tist or engi­neer can win.

Oth­er U of T researchers and stu­dents hon­oured includ­ed Pro­fes­sor Bren­dan Frey, Pro­fes­sor Ben­jamin Blencowe, Pro­fes­sor Eugene Fiume, post-doc­tor­al fel­low Alex Hay­at and Master’s stu­dent Matthew Flor­czyn­s­ki.

“That U of T is home to five win­ners of this year’s NSERC prizes is a reflec­tion of the aston­ish­ing breadth of tal­ent at our insti­tu­tion,” said Pro­fes­sor David Nay­lor, the university’s pres­i­dent. “I’m espe­cial­ly proud of the fact that these hon­ours have been award­ed to schol­ars with decades of expe­ri­ence and to oth­ers who are just begin­ning their research careers. I extend con­grat­u­la­tions to all the winners—and my thanks to NSERC for its con­tin­ued sup­port of Cana­di­an researchers.”

Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor Pelti­er was cit­ed for sem­i­nal con­tri­bu­tions to geo­physics, atmos­pher­ic sci­ences and cli­mate change research. Using sophis­ti­cat­ed math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts, Pelti­er builds mod­els that depict how cli­mate has evolved over the past 750 mil­lion years and project how it will change in the future. His research on ice-age cli­mate vari­abil­i­ty is con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard for schol­ar­ship on past cli­mate change. The Herzberg Medal is the lat­est in a long line of hon­ours for Pelti­er, which includes the 2002 Vetle­sen Prize (often called the Nobel of earth sci­ences) and the 2010 Bow­er Award. At U of T he holds the title Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor, which is the high­est hon­our the Uni­ver­si­ty bestows on its fac­ul­ty mem­bers.

The John C. Polanyi Award was shared by Pro­fes­sor Frey of the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Depart­ment Elec­tri­cal and Com­put­er Engi­neer­ing, the Depart­ment of Com­put­er Sci­ence and the Don­nel­ly Cen­tre for Cel­lu­lar and Bio­mol­e­c­u­lar Research, and Pro­fes­sor Blencowe of the Don­nel­ly Cen­tre for Cel­lu­lar and Bio­mol­e­c­u­lar Research and the Depart­ment of Mol­e­c­u­lar Genet­ics. The pair has tak­en a major step for­ward in under­stand­ing how the human genome can do so much with what seems like a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of genes. Their dis­cov­ery of a sophis­ti­cat­ed DNA code that cells use to rearrange parts of genet­ic mes­sages in a process called “splic­ing” sheds new light on how our bod­ies func­tion and how DNA muta­tions can result in dis­ease.

Giv­en in hon­our of John Polanyi, a U of T pro­fes­sor of chem­istry and 1986 Nobel Lau­re­ate, the award rec­og­nizes a recent sci­en­tif­ic advance.

Pro­fes­sor Fiume of the Depart­ment of Com­put­er Sci­ence won one of four Syn­er­gy Awards for Inno­va­tion, which rec­og­nize part­ner­ships between uni­ver­si­ties and indus­try. Fiume and his indus­tri­al part­ner, Autodesk, were rec­og­nized for mak­ing Cana­da a leader in the expand­ing field of visu­al mod­el­ling, which is used in film­mak­ing, archi­tec­ture and med­i­cine, among oth­er fields. Research emerg­ing from the part­ner­ship is being used by indus­try to con­cep­tu­al­ize green build­ings, improve envi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance, design safer cars and diag­nose dis­ease.

Hay­at, a post­doc­tor­al fel­low in the Depart­ment of Physics, won the Howard Alper Post­doc­tor­al Prize, which rec­og­nizes aca­d­e­m­ic excel­lence, exist­ing and poten­tial research con­tri­bu­tions, inter­per­son­al and com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills and lead­er­ship abil­i­ties.

Flor­czyn­s­ki, a Master’s stu­dent in the Insti­tute of Med­ical Sci­ences, won one of four André Hamer Post­grad­u­ate Prizes, award­ed to the most out­stand­ing can­di­dates in NSERC’s post­grad­u­ate schol­ar­ship com­pe­ti­tions.

“It is impor­tant to note that the work of these researchers has a direct impact on glob­al soci­ety, from cli­mate change to genet­ics to inno­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy that is used in a vari­ety of fields that mat­ter to all of us,” said Pro­fes­sor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-pres­i­dent research.

The win­ners were hon­oured in a cer­e­mo­ny host­ed by the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al in a cer­e­mo­ny in Ottawa on Feb. 27.


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