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NSERC names winners of Canada’s top science and engineering prizes for new researchers


Ottawa, ON March 31, 2003 The winner of the annual NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize, along with the four winners of the NSERC prizes for top doctoral research in science or engineering, were announced today by Allan Rock, Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Dr Rey Pagtakhan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, and Dr Tom Brzustowski, President of NSERC,

The winners are:

– Dr Ryan Gregory (University of Guelph)won the 2003 NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize;
– Dr David Bryce (Dalhousie University)won a 2003 NSERC Doctoral Prize
– Dr Erik Demaine (University of Waterloo)won a 2003 NSERC Doctoral Prize
– Dr Martin Dvorak (Simon Fraser University)won a 2003 NSERC Doctoral Prize
– Dr David Vocadlo (University of British Columbia)won a 2003 NSERC Doctoral Prize.

“Today’s awards recognize some of the best and brightest minds in the country,” says Minister Rock. “Supporting successful Canadian researchers will help us achieve our goals of making Canada a world-leader in research and development.”

With a series of articles in major international science journals, Dr Ryan Gregory is in the vanguard of evolutionary studies into why there is such a large variation in the amounts of DNA in different animals. He wants to understand what this “genome diversity” means for animal body form, metabolism and development.

As part of his PhD research, he compiled the world’s largest database of animal genome sizes. Using a new computerized image analysis technique, he made first time measurements of the genomes of about 400 invertebrates, ranging from insects to spiders to earthworms. His online collection (www.genomesize.com) includes about 3,000 animals and has become a critical resource for scientists worldwide. Contact Dr Gregory at (212) 313-7629, rgregory@genomesize.com. For a full-length feature on his work, go to www.nserc.ca/news/2003/p020307_b1.htm.

Dr David Bryce’s doctoral research established him as a modern explorer of the periodic table. Using nuclear magnetic resonance, he characterized for the first time some of the three-dimensional interactions specific to elements such as boron, chlorine and chromium. Contact Dr Bryce at (301) 496-2848, dbryce@dal.ca. For a full- length feature on his work, go to www.nserc.ca/news/2003/p020307_b2.htm.

Dr Erik Demaine was home schooled by his father from age seven, toppled Dalhousie University’s age barrier by being admitted at 12, and now at 21 is the youngest professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The University of Waterloo graduate’s doctoral thesis solved the Carpenter’s Rule Problem. Understanding the possibilities and limits of folding and unfolding in general is important to a wide range of applications, from sheet metal fabrication to airbag storage and bioinformatics, where the math is used to understand, and perhaps predict, how proteins fold. The Carpenter’s Rule Problem also applies directly to the design of robotic arms used in industry. Contact Dr Demaine at (617) 253-6871, edemaine@mit.edu. For a full-length feature on his work, go to www.nserc.ca/news/2003/p020307_b2.htm.

Dr Martin Dvorak went out for the cyber equivalent of a Sunday drive and set a world speed record. In 2001, he achieved a speed of 305 gigahertz, at the time the fastest bipolar transistor ever created in any semiconductor material. Dr Dvorak refined the lithographic techniques for fabricating the chips, developed high-speed test methods to verify the transistors’ performances, and worked through three generations of process technologies to create a simple fabrication process. Contact Dr Dvorak at (707) 569-9324, dvorak@ieee.org. For a full-length feature on his work, go to www.nserc.ca/news/2003/p020307_b3.htm.

Dr David Vocadlo’s doctoral work substantially clarified the general catalytic mechanism for a key group of enzymes called glycosidases. In the course of his research, he also helped rewrite a classic paper from the 1960s in which the first description of the three-dimensional structure of an enzyme appeared. The enzyme function, accepted for years, was wrong. Contact Dr Vocadlo at (510) 643-2223, vocadlo@uclink.berkeley.edu. For a full-length feature on his work, go to www.nserc.ca/news/2003/p020307_b4.htm.

Last week, NSERC announced the six 2003 NSERC Steacie Fellows: Dr Gary Saunders (University of New Brunswick); Dr Victoria Kaspi (McGill University); Dr Zongchao Jia (Queen’s University); Dr Molly Shoichet (University of Toronto); Dr Kim Vicente (University of Toronto); and Dr Michel Gingras (University of Waterloo).

The NSERC Steacie Fellowships, Doctoral Prizes and Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize will be presented in Ottawa at the end of the year.