Barbara Sherwood Lollar receives the Royal Society of Canada's Willet G. Miller Medal

September 17, 2020 by Chris Sasaki

Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a renowned geochemist and University Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences with a cross-appointment to the Department of Chemistry, has received the prestigious 2020 Willet G. Miller Medal from the Royal Society of Canada.

The award — named in honour of the distinguished geologist and an Ontario mining industry pioneer — is given every two years for outstanding research in any branch of the earth sciences. The list of past recipients includes the University of Toronto’s John Tuzo Wilson, a pioneer of the theory of plate tectonics.

“I am so grateful to the Royal Society of Canada for this award,” says Sherwood Lollar. “In a time of COVID-19, climate change and the increasing urgency to tackle the challenges of our relationship to this planet with equity and justice, research in earth sciences occupies a central role through its investigation of the land, water, soil and atmosphere we all share.”

Sherwood Lollar has conducted groundbreaking research into the geochemistry of ancient waters and geochemical life processes occurring kilometres beneath the planet’s surface. This includes the discovery of billion-year-old water deep within the Canadian Precambrian Shield.

She also conducts research in groundwater quality and remediation. Her work identifying the source and tracking the movement of contaminants in groundwater helps guide environmental policy.

“The span of Professor Sherwood Lollar’s research is remarkable,” says Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, “reaching as it does from deep within the Earth to the planet Mars and encompassing questions about the rocks beneath us to life itself. In receiving yet another honour for her work, she continues to bring recognition to earth sciences, the Faculty and the University.”

Drawing on her expertise in the geochemistry of life, Sherwood Lollar served as chair of the committee that produced An Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe for the US National Academy of Sciences. Commissioned by NASA, the report contains a strategy for understanding and searching for life both on Earth and throughout the universe — including her perspective that the search for life on a planet like Mars should extend deep beneath the surface.

Sherwood Lollar is a Canada Research Chair in Isotopes of the Earth and Environment. She is also co-director of the Earth 4D Subsurface Science and Exploration program of CIFAR, the Canadian-based global research organization.

She adds the Miller Award to a long list of honours. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), the Royal Society of Canada and the American Geophysical Union, and a Companion of the Order of Canada. She has received the Geochemical Society’s C.C. Patterson Award, the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award, the Geological Association of Canada’s Logan Medal, the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal, the Killam Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, and many others.

The award will be presented to Sherwood Lollar on November 27 as part of the Royal Society’s week-long Celebration of Excellence and Engagement.