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Top science and research prizes celebrate Canadian discoveries and put Canada on the world stage

Canada’s top prize awarded to science leader whose work on ancient water is shaping the search for life on other planets

News release

May 6, 2019

May 6, 2019 – Ottawa, Ontario

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Canada proudly supports the science and innovations that further our knowledge of the universe and the world in which we live. Our researchers, from PhD students just embarking on their careers to seasoned scientists making internationally recognized discoveries are some of the best and brightest in the world. They also serve as an inspiration to the next generation and illustrate that diversity is what brings new dimensions to science and research.

Today, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, and Dr. Digvir S. Jayas, Interim President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), will honour 28 of Canada’s top scientists and seven industry partners at an awards ceremony at Rideau Hall. The researchers will receive six NSERC prizes for a range of research including creating new safety enhancements for hospital beds, developing biodegradable plastics for disposable coffee pods and commercializing the first-ever non-military infra-red camera.

Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar will be awarded NSERC’s most prestigious award, the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, worth $1 million. As one of Canada’s most renowned earth scientists, Dr. Sherwood Lollar’s insights about the nature of water and life on our planet have shown us that there is still much to discover about the origins and evolution of Earth. Her discoveries and expertise on ancient water are helping shape space exploration and the search for life on other planets.

Dr. Douglas Stephan is receiving this year’s John C. Polanyi Award for 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.


“I am honoured to celebrate Canada’s leading researchers for their ground-breaking contributions to science and engineering. Their dedication and discoveries are helping us overcome challenges we face today, and are making our health, environment and communities thrive. These researchers, some of Canada’s best and brightest, are exactly why Canada has a reputation for being a world-leader in science and discovery.”
– The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport

“NSERC is pleased to honour these early career and established researchers for their significant accomplishments. These exceptional individuals are prime examples of the talent that NSERC supports to push forward the limits of knowledge and explore innovative research avenues.”
– Dr. Digvir Jayas, Interim President of NSERC

“I am honoured to receive this year’s NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal. When you look at the winners who have come before, it’s an enormously humbling experience. It’s exciting for me, but also for the team I’ve worked with throughout my career—the students in my lab, and my colleagues around the world. The work being done in Canada to understand the subsurface of our planet is helping to shed light on possible ways to both sustain the earth’s water resources, but also to explore other planets and the extraterrestrial real estate.”
– Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University Professor of Earth Sciences and Director of the Stable Isotope Laboratory, University of Toronto

Quick facts

The six NSERC prize categories, totalling $3.71 million are as follows:

  • Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering—One prize valued at $1 million
  • Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering—One prize for a team of researchers valued at $250,000
  • John C. Polanyi Award—One prize valued at $250,000
  • E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships—Six prizes valued at $250,000 each
  • Synergy Awards for Innovation—Three prizes valued at $200,000; one valued at $100,000
  • Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research—One prize valued at $10,000

Associated links

Daniele Medlej
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Science and Sport

Media Relations
Innovation, Science and
Economic Development Canada

Valérie Levert-Gagnon
Media and Public Affairs Officer
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

NSERC invests over $1.2 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research in Canada. Our investments deliver discoveries—valuable world-firsts in knowledge claimed by a brain trust of over 11,000 professors. Our investments enable partnerships and collaborations that connect the makers and users of discoveries. Research partnerships established by NSERC help inform research and development and solve scale-up challenges.

NSERC also provides scholarships and hands-on training experience for more than 30,000 post-secondary students and post-doctoral fellows. These young researchers will be the next generation of science and engineering leaders in Canada.

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