MAGNET researchers recognized with prestigious Polanyi Award

Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Professor at the University of Toronto and MAGNET faculty member, has won the prestigious NSERC John C. Polanyi Award for her pioneering research on billion-year-old water and the clues it may provide about ancient life on Earth and Mars.

The award honours an individual or team whose Canadian-based research has led to a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering.

The award-winning research involves collaborations among faculty within the network and a number of MAGNET trainees including Postdoctoral Fellow Jill McDermott, MSc student Cheyenne Sica, and undergraduate student Patrick Watt.

“The joy of discovery has been at the heart of this work by our team – opening our eyes to the understanding that even here on Earth there are regions of our hydrosphere and biosphere still unexplored.”   ~ Sherwood Lollar

Sherwood Lollar and colleagues grabbed headlines around the world with their discovery of ancient waters bubbling out of rock fractures in mines more than two kilometres underground in Timmins, Ontario, and South Africa. Their analysis of this billion-year-old water showed it contained biologically useful chemicals and much more hydrogen gas than previously thought—conditions similar to those found near deep sea vents, which host thriving microbial ecosystems.

Sherwood Lollar has surmised that similar deep chemical processes may exist on Mars, where NASA has already found rocks of comparable age and geology.

This research shifts our conception of how old groundwater can be and expands our understanding of energy-producing chemical reactions that sustain deep microbial life. The findings could prove useful for a future Mars expedition and deepens our understanding of the geochemical processes at play in waste disposal and groundwater clean-up.

The award was announced at an official ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on February 16, 2016.


L to R: Kirsty Duncan (Minister of Science), Victoria Kaspi (McGill University), Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister), B. Mario Pinto (President of NSERC), Barbara Sherwood Lollar (University of Toronto), Speaker of the House of Commons. (Credit: NSERC)



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