Earth 4D program co-director Barbara Sherwood Lollar receives Canada’s highest science honour
University of Toronto geochemist is the 2019 recipient of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering
The award, bestowed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), is “awarded annually to an individual who has demonstrated sustained excellence and influence in research for a body of work conducted in Canada that has substantially advanced the fields of natural sciences or engineering.”
Barbara Sherwood Lollar is widely recognized as an exceptional Canadian researcher and leader. Her discoveries about the nature of water and life deep underground have led to radical shifts in how we understand our planet. These insights are being applied both on Earth to monitor water contamination as well as in the development of strategies to look for life elsewhere in the Universe.
“It is incredibly exciting for NSERC’s Herzberg Medal to recognize research on groundwater, the water cycle and subsurface processes,” says Sherwood Lollar. “No award of this nature is a solo act. The recognition shines a light on the broad and diverse teams of students, postdocs and collaborators who I have had the honour of working with over so many years.”
“The award recognizes the kind of interdisciplinary and paradigm changing research that CIFAR exemplifies and catalyzes,” she adds. “We are all looking forward to the immense opportunity Earth 4D – Subsurface Science and Exploration will provide to take this science to a whole new level.”
that to a certain degree
the way we think about this
planet whether that’s water
on the planet, life on the planet,
resources on the planet
we tend to think about it
from the very much from the context of the surface,
of a 2 dimensional
pale blue dot.
And we realized that if
we could transform our way of
thinking about the planet
encompass the challenges
of three dimensional science,
of thinking about what the subsurface
means in terms of
exploration for life,
understanding subsurface life,
understanding water resources,
understanding the distribution
of other fluids and gases
in the crust
that this could potentially
transform how we think
about the Earth but most importantly as well
shed light then on
how we might think about exploring other worlds.
One thing that stood out
is that the surface of Mars is a hostile place.
It is dry, cold, and it’s bad radiation.
So where would you want to be
if you were a microbe or any form of life?
You’d want to be underground
is the philosophy.
so that’s what led me to
this partnership with Barb
over the last couple of years because
here is where the expertise lies
to really understand
what a planet like Mars should
potentially behave like
and so we’re transforming the knowledge that we’re learning from the
Earth and trying to fit that into the what we understand about Mars.
There are not a lot of mechanisms to really allow that much free-thinking and inter-disciplinarity,
and I think it is that, that CIFAR is going to be particularly catalytic for us, to be
able to bring together people from extremely different perspectives and then give them
that intellectual freedom to challenge each other, challenge themselves to change the thinking.
Having life in this deep, long-term groundwater on Earth is just opening up an entire field
of science that we did not know to exist 10 years ago.
And so what does it mean?
I think we’re still trying to map that out, but in terms of a whole aspect of biology
that was unknown and how it affects the surface, how it affects the interior, how biology actually
works within these tight limits is really the importance of what’s going on with the
CIFAR counts 11 Herzberg Gold Medallists amongst its community of fellows. This includes 2018 medallist Lewis Kay and 2016 medallist Victoria Kaspi, who was the first woman to win the award.
According to NSERC, the award comes with a grant of up to $1 million to use for “personal university-based research or to direct in some related way, such as the establishment of scholarships or research Chairs in his or her name at Canadian universities.”
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CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.