Researcher Supported by the NWMO Wins Prestigious Prize

This image shows Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar at the awards ceremony. Also pictured are Prof. Victoria Kaspi, winner of this year’s Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; and Dr. B. Mario Pinto, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar (far right) at the awards ceremony on Parliament Hill. Also pictured (from left to right) are Prof. Victoria Kaspi, winner of this year’s Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; and Dr. B. Mario Pinto, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

  • Photo courtesy of NSERC.
Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, an internationally renowned isotope geochemist whose work has been supported by the NWMO, is the winner of the 2016 John C. Polanyi Prize. 

The prize, created in honour of the Nobel Prize winning chemist, is awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). It is awarded to an individual or team whose work has led to a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering. The research leading to the advance must have been funded at least partially by a grant from the NSERC.

Dr. Sherwood Lollar is a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Earth Sciences, and she was singled out for her research on the geochemistry of ancient waters found deep below the Earth’s surface. 

This work is of particular interest to geoscientists who study conditions in deep geological repositories. It shows that water deep within the Earth can be isolated for millions to billions of years. 

Her work also has implications for other areas of science. For example, the findings could be useful for a future Mars expedition, where NASA has already found rocks of comparable age and geology to those studied by Dr. Sherwood Lollar.

Two of Dr. Sherwood Lollar’s former PhD students, Drs. Jennifer McKelvie and Sarah Hirschorn, are now geoscientists at the NWMO. 

“I’m so very excited that the excellence of Dr. Sherwood Lollar’s research has been recognized by the NSERC’s Polanyi Prize,” explains Dr. McKelvie. “And as a NWMO employee, I’m delighted that the research we’re helping fund is not only making a direct contribution to repository safety, but that it’s also helping to advance Canadian science in general.”

The work Dr. Sherwood Lollar conducts on our behalf is jointly funded with the NSERC. This work started in 2009, and consists of analyzing underground rock and groundwater samples from the Grimsel Underground Research Laboratory in Switzerland. 

The goal of this work is to characterize the microorganisms they contain. This characterization helps enhance safety by allowing geoscientists to determine whether a site has microorganisms that might adversely affect the performance of a repository over time.