Lab Canada

Scientists and engineer among this year’s $100,000 Killam Prize winners

Ottawa, ON – Two scientists and one engineer are among five scholars being honoured with the 2008 Killam Prizes, Canada’s most distinguished annual awards for outstanding career achievements in engineering, natural sciences, humanities, social sciences and health sciences.

Dr Frank C Hawthorne, of the University of Manitoba, is being awarded the prize for natural sciences. One of the world’s foremost Earth scientists, Dr Hawthorne has devoted his career to bringing an arsenal of experimental and theoretical techniques to bear on what were previously intractable problems in the areas of mineralogy, crystallography, and geochemistry.

His work on quantitatively predicting mineral stability as a function of chemical bonding at the atomic level has advanced mineralogy beyond traditional descriptive methods. His goal – to combine chemical theory and mathematics with new and innovative ways of understanding minerals – has led to groundbreaking research on crystal structures and crystal chemistry of complex minerals, and to advances in a number of topical areas, including environmental mineralogy (e.g., the disposal of high-level wastes). His numerous books and some 500 papers in scientific journals have resulted in acclamation as the world’s most highly cited geoscientist for the decade 1997-2007.

He holds a BSc from Imperial College, London, and a PhD (geology) from McMaster University.

Dr Peter St George-Hyslop, of the University of Toronto, is receiving the award for health sciences. Internationally celebrated for his transformative research into the basic causes and mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases in humans, Dr St George-Hyslop was the first to dramatically increase our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease.

His groundbreaking insights into the basic biology of cells and molecules, including the discovery and characterization of a previously unrecognized form of protein processing critical to both embryonic development and to normal aging, have opened up new avenues of research, laying the groundwork for therapies to treat genetically complex brain diseases. His publication citations alone number 9,000. He has also made significant contributions to the understanding of Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, inflammatory bowel disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

He holds an MD degree from the University of Ottawa, and he did further post-graduate work in internal medicine, neurology and molecular genetics at the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School.

Dr Michel V Sefton, of the University of Toronto, is receiving the award for engineering. An international leader in the area of biomedical engineering, biomaterials and regenerative medicine, he was one of the first to recognize the importance of combining living cells with synthetic substances (polymers) to create artificial organs and tissues – a field now known as tissue engineering.

Dr Sefton’s lab pioneered the use of biocompatible materials in artificial tissues. His seminal work led to the discovery of therapeutic biomaterials (materials with drug-like qualities) that exploit biological responses to create innovative medical devices. His current groundbreaking research into the creation of modular tissue components seeks to create cardiac muscle to treat heart failure and pancreatic tissue to treat diabetes, among other possible applications.

Dr Sefton obtained a B A Sc (Bachelor of Applied Science) from the University of Toronto and his ScD (Doctor of Science) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The $100,000 awards were inaugurated in 1981 and financed through funds donated to the Canada Council by Mrs Dorothy J Killam in memory of her husband, Izaak Walton Killam. The prizes were created to honour eminent Canadian scholars and scientists actively engaged in research, whether in industry, government agencies or universities.

The Canada Council will present the prizes on June 16 in Vancouver.