Lab Canada

$500,000 in Killam Prizes awarded to five prominent Canadian scholars

Ottawa, ON – The winners of the 2012 Canada Council Killam Prizes include a champion in the field of HIV/AIDS and Canada’s leading research economist. Other winners are world leaders in the fields of engineering, physics and philosophy.

The Killam Prizes are, as a group, Canada’s leading prizes for career achievement in the fields of humanities, engineering, natural sciences, health sciences and social sciences. This year, the winning scholars are Jean Grondin of Université de Montréal, Geoffrey Hinton of the University of Toronto, Louis Taillefer of Université de Sherbrooke, Mark Wainberg of McGill University and John Whalley of the University of Western Ontario.

“The Canada Council, in addition to its public mandate in the arts, is pleased to administer these seminal awards for academic research and scholarly achievement,” said Joseph L. Rotman, Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts. “The Council applauds the five 2012 Killam Prize winners, who represent the best in Canadian ingenuity and creativity.”

Killam Trusts Managing Trustee George Cooper noted, “The Killam Prizes honour the achievements of Canadian researchers and scientists. The 2012 winners are accomplished experts who have made significant contributions to their fields and it is only fitting that they receive one of the most prestigious research awards open to Canadian scholars.” 

The University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, who won in the Engineering category, has made contributions to the development of several of the most successful machine learning algorithms. These algorithms have had, among other things, a direct impact on how we use the internet today as well as a strong influence on psychology and neuroscience. They are now being used for a huge variety of applications including searching and recommending products on the web, interpreting images, improving the yield of chemical plants and recognizing speech.

He directs the program in Neural Computation and Adaptive Perception for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and his research has contributed to both science and engineering. His 2007 Google Techtalk, an introduction to his recent research on deep learning, has been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube and is in the top 10 for both number of views and quality rating. 

Université de Sherbrooke’s Louis Taillefer won in the Natural Sciences category. Internationally known for his research on superconductors, he is currently engaged in research that could launch a major technological revolution. With his team of students and post-doctoral researchers, he is working to find a superconductor that can work at room temperature. These materials conduct electricity perfectly, but so far only at extremely low temperatures.  

He has made several discoveries, including the slowest electrons in metals, the first instance of multiple flavours of superconductivity, and a new quantum critical point where superconductivity and magnetism meet. In 2007, his team observed quantum oscillations – the most pristine voice of electrons – in a copper-oxide superconductor. This pivotal discovery opened a promising new path in the quest for room-temperature superconductivity.

He is the Canada Research Chair in Quantum Materials at Université de Sherbrooke and Director of the Quantum Materials Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research – a highly collaborative network of researchers regarded as the leading group in superconductivity research.

The Jewish General Hospital at McGill University’s Mark A. Wainberg won in the category of Health Sciences. His work resulted in the development of one of the most valuable drugs in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the novel compound 3TC. His studies served as the basis for this compound to enter clinical trials. He remains one of the most productive researchers in the field worldwide. 

He was also the first in Canada to isolate HIV from infected individuals, to conduct direct research on the virus and its behaviour under drug pressure, and to describe the problem of HIV resistance to antiviral drugs.

More recently, he has successfully elucidated several of the molecular mechanisms responsible for resistance to antiretroviral drugs and has contributed to the development of several new promising compounds. He is currently involved in collaborative research that is aimed at slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS in several countries in southern Africa.