NSERC recognizes outstanding chemistry and chemical engineering research

This year’s winners of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada prizes include some remarkable researchers in the chemical sciences and engineering. NSERC announced last week its annual awards to Canadian scientists and engineers, plus industry partners.

Prof. Molly Shoichet. Photo credit: NSERC

Molly Shoichet, MCIC, took home Canada’s most prestigious science prize, the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, worth up to $1 million. Shoichet, a University of Toronto Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, developed hydrogels that mimic human tissues, allowing researchers to grow cells in three-dimensional environments. It was a crucial breakthrough that has led to insights never before possible.

“Scientists could already grow cells on two dimensional plates, but these strategies are inherently limited,” states NSERC’s news release. “Humans are three dimensional beings, after all, and in order to mimic the way cells grow in us, a three-dimensional system is required.”

Shoichet, who served as Ontario’s first chief scientist, has developed significant applications for hydrogels in regenerative medicine and pharmaceutical testing. For example, her lab proved the gels promote stem cell transplant survival – key to restoring vision, repairing the brain after a stroke, and repairing injured spinal cords.

Prof. Jon Abbatt. Photo credit: NSERC

Meanwhile, the Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering went to a network of researchers for their contributions to climate research in Canada’s Arctic. The prize recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines who came together to produce a record of excellent achievements in the natural sciences and engineering in the last six years.

The prize-winning researchers hail from the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, Université de Laval, The University of British Columbia, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Together, they make up NETCARE—the Network on Climate and Aerosols. Its goal is to understand how tiny aerosol particles are formed and travel through the atmosphere, and the effects they have on climate. The team distills massive amounts of field data and observations to improve climate models that predict environmental changes that are likely to take place in the Arctic over the coming decades. These predictions help policy-makers prepare for and, hopefully, mitigate the worst of the effects of climate change in the Arctic. Congratulations to the NETCARE team, including Principal Investigator Jon Abbatt and CIC members, Allan Bertram, Greg Evans, Charles Jia, and Ann-Lise Norman.

Prof. Aiping Yu. Photo credit: NSERC

NSERC also named University of Waterloo Chemical Engineering Professor Aiping Yu as one of six recipients of the 2020 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships for highly promising researchers.

Yu’s work focusses on carbon nanomaterials, particularly carbon nanotubes and graphene, to make longer-lasting, smaller, faster-charging batteries and supercapacitors. Her goal is to create a world-leading carbon nanotechnology centre at Waterloo.