PhD student awarded NSERC prize

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By Communications Staff
Monday, February 14, 2011
University of Western Ontario PhD student Haley Sapers has been awarded the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Andre Hamer Postgraduate Prize.
 
Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC, announced the winners of Canada's top natural sciences and engineering prizes awarded by NSERC today (Feb. 14).

Sapers will be featured on CBC’s “All in a Day” show tonight (Feb. 14). The radio show can be heard from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Ottawa and Kingston areas.

"Our government is committed to developing, attracting and retaining the world's best researchers here in Canada," says Clement. "We are proud to support NSERC as we honour our country's top natural scientists and engineers, and highlight the many ways in which their work is improving the lives of Canadians and people around the world."

"Canadian scientists and engineers are conducting some of the most ambitious, creative and successful research programs in the world," says Fortier. "These award winners represent the full spectrum of our country's research talent, from students just embarking on their careers to seasoned researchers making internationally recognized discoveries."

The prizes will be formally presented during an evening ceremony hosted by Governor General David Johnston. Recipients of NSERC's Synergy Awards for Innovation, which were announced last fall, will also be recognized at the ceremony.

Meteorites tend to be associated with the destruction they can unleash on a planet. But research by Sapers, a Geology/Planetary Sciences graduate student, is revealing more about their surprising role in helping various organisms blossom, possibly even in the earliest days of life on Earth.

Her work, being completed with the help of a 2010 NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize, builds on the theory that microbes can literally eat glass to survive. This in turn has implications for the theory that early life arose from submarine hydrothermal systems—areas of warm water where microbial life could thrive. Recent research suggests that meteorite impacts may have produced energy that fueled hydrothermal systems, providing oases for biological organisms.

Sapers’ research will explore these theories more deeply. She will study samples from the Ries impact crater in Germany, a 15-million year old formation that contains glass altered by a hydrothermal system that formed as a result of the impact. The glass features a “tubular alteration texture.” In other submarine natural glass, this texture is a telltale sign of biological activity.

Sapers will study the chemical, morphological and mineralogical characteristics of the tubular alteration from the Ries Crater glass. This will help to determine if the textures have a biological origin—evidence never before found in an impact crater.

Her work has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of the beneficial effects of meteorite impacts. Not only will this have implications for understanding the early forms of life on Earth, it could also provide insights that help determine the possibility of life on other planets such as Mars.

More details can be found here. Click on Sapers’ name for more details and to view video clips.

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