It was a telltale smell that led Barbara Sherwood Lollar to the discovery of a lifetime. “Not skunky, but musty,” said the University of Toronto geochemist, describing the sulphur-tinged aroma she perceived wafting through a section of the Kidd Creek Mine near Timmins, Ont., in 2009.
By following her nose in the dark, she eventually found the spot that confirmed her suspicions. It was water, and not just ordinary water. As detailed analyses would later reveal, it was essentially the oldest known water in the world, sitting isolated beneath the Canadian Shield for more than a billion years.
The quest to understand that water and its origins has become a cornerstone of Dr. Sherwood Lollar’s work, but it is only one part of a scientific career that spans three decades and ranges from studies of environmental contamination to the search for life on Mars.
Now, Dr. Sherwood Lollar’s work has won her the Herzberg gold medal, Canada’s top prize for non-medical research. Bestowed annually by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the prize guarantees $1-million in research funding over the next five years.
Dr. Sherwood Lollar is only the second woman to win the award in its 28-year history. She will be honoured along with other prizewinners at a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday.
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