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Five top researchers awarded Polanyi Prizes

Toronto, ON – Five Ontario researchers have been awarded prestigious Polanyi Prizes for breakthroughs in research that have the potential to, among other things, forge a new understanding of gravity, and target and kill cancer cells.

“The Polanyi Prizes are the highest honour researchers can achieve from the province of Ontario; the research talent being recognized is bringing our knowledge of science, medicine, economics and literature to new heights and is being applied to benefit all Ontarians,” said Max Blouw, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and president of Wilfrid Laurier University.

The Polanyi Prizes were created to celebrate John Charles Polanyi’s 1986 Nobel Prize, and the areas of research they recognize mirror those of the Nobel Prizes. Winners – post-doctoral researchers in the early stages of their careers – are awarded $20,000 by the Ontario government.

“The province has been loyal to these prizes for over a quarter of a century, believing that the soil of Ontario is suitable to the cultivation of Nobels,” says Dr. Polanyi. “The province is saying something far-sighted, namely that it values the free inquiry essential to discovery. For that, Ontarians owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Winners of the 2014 Polanyi Prizes are:

Chemistry: Dr. Drew Bennett, University of Waterloo, takes the prize for research that has the potential to improve treatment for those with serious diseases such as cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections. Promising advances in nanoscale biotechnology are making new drugs and therapies possible, but a major hurdle is the ability to target specific cells. Bennett’s research uses computer simulations to produce “movies” of how individual molecules interact. The goal is to design new peptides that target and penetrate the membrane of diseased cells, and deliver specific drugs, to ultimately kill them.

Economic Science: Dr. Rahul Deb, University of Toronto, wins for research into whether it is possible to tell, using a relatively simple test, whether firms involved in a competitive bid for business with government or another regulated vendor are genuinely competing, or whether they are secretly colluding.

Literature: Dr. Andrea Charise, University of Toronto, Scarborough, is recognized for research into how the generational identity and intergenerational conflict seen in modern times was represented much earlier in literature.

Physiology/Medicine: Dr. Jennifer Brunet, University of Ottawa, takes the prize for research into the ways physical activity can not only have a positive effect on treatment of cancer and recovery, but can also prevent the deadly disease. Through her research, Brunet wants to demonstrate that physical activity is an effective therapy and can complement conventional medicine and should therefore be considered an integral part of medicine.

Physics: Dr. Eduardo Martin-Martinez, University of Waterloo, is recognized for quantum research theory into gravity. Einstein gave us an alternate theory of gravity in the early 1900s, and for years physicists have tried unsuccessfully to examine gravity in relation to quantum theory. Martin-Martinez’s goal is to use powerful tools from quantum information, science and technology to study quantum effects induced by gravity and to make new discoveries about spacetime. Potential applications include quantum computing technology and answers to how curvature and quantum theory affect the processing of information.