2016 John Charles Polanyi Prize Winners

Dr. John Antoniadis

Dr. John Antoniadis, Dunlap Fellow in the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, takes the Polanyi Prize in Physics.

John AntoniadisNeutron stars are the densest objects in the universe. With masses larger than that of the sun but radii not greater than an average metropolitan city, their structure and composition presents a major challenge for contemporary nuclear physics.

Antoniadis’ research centres on a multi-wavelength observational experiments trying to increase significantly the number of precision neutron-star mass measurements, and also provide some of the data necessary for a precision measurement of a neutron-star radius.

This work may lead to a much better understanding of fundamental physics under extreme conditions, including the properties of ultra-dense matter, the interplay between strong-field gravity and nuclear physics at high energies and the gravitational radiation of close binary stars.


Dr. Cesar Sosa-Padilla

Dr. Cesar Sosa-Padilla, Assistant Professor in McMaster University’s Department of Economics, receives the Polanyi Prize in Economic Science. 

Cesar Sosa-PadillaThe recent European debt crisis has created many problems, including the so-called diabolic loop – where European banks hold too much of their national debt, while sovereign countries face a risk of having to bail-out the banks, thereby increasing the riskiness of their debt and further affecting the bank’s balance sheets.

In response, a proposal was circulated recommending the creation of European safe assets (called European Safe Bonds) that banks can hold without being exposed to sovereign risk to help break this loop.

Sosa-Padilla’s research will use a traditional model of sovereign debt and default to prepare a quantitative evaluation of the proposal and discuss the best way to implement it.

He will also study the effect of world interest rate uncertainty (e.g. uncertainty about the future of the U.S. monetary policy) on a small open economy. Sosa-Padilla’s preliminary research results indicate higher uncertainty leads to more frequent defaults and to substantially lower welfare, validating policy makers’ widespread concerns.


Dr. Kyle Biggar

Dr. Kyle Biggar, Assistant Professor in Carleton University’s Institute of Biochemistry, wins the Polanyi Prize in Physiology/Medicine.

Kyle BiggarBreast cancer will affect one in nine Canadian women during their lifetime, and despite significant progress in the treatment of the most common cancer in women, resistance to chemotherapeutic agents remains a consistent obstacle in terms of treatment success.

Essentially, low oxygen supply within the tumour core is known to play a significant role in cancer progression and aggressiveness, while also being implicated in cancer resistance to chemotherapy.

To gain greater insight into how low oxygen contributes to tumour progression and chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer, Biggar examines a newly identified regulatory mechanism of cellular signaling and protein function – reversible lysine methylation.

His research is positioned to not only empower our fundamental understanding of low oxygen stress response, protein methylation, and function, but will also discover how the greater network of lysine methylated proteins contributes to and coordinates the response to a central player in cancer progression and chemotherapeutic resistance – oxygen limitation.


Dr. Stephen Newman

Dr. Stephen Newman takes the Polanyi Prize in Chemistry. Newman is an Assistant Professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences.

Stephen NewmanModern society is dependent on chemical matter – from the drugs in our pharmacies, to the agrochemicals that allow us to feed the planet, to the screens in our TVs. However, the environment inevitably pays a price for us to access these modern luxuries. Newman’s research seeks to make all chemical industries more sustainable through the discovery of fundamentally new chemical reactions and processes that generate less waste and/or utilize renewable raw materials.

Catalysts allow chemical reactions to occur that are otherwise challenging or impossible by reducing the energy barrier that must be overcome to transform raw materials into valuable products. These reactions, however, can be complex, often requiring hundreds or thousands of test cases to be examined before identifying the ideal set of conditions for performing the catalytic transformation. Through the use of the University of Ottawa’s cutting-edge screening platforms, Newman’s research will more efficiently explore valuable catalytic reactions that can be applied to the development of new pharmaceuticals.

After discovering new chemical transformations, Newman uses unique continuous manufacturing strategies (common to the chemical industry) to rapidly translate the knowledge from academia to large scale, commercial use with minimal cost and waste generation.

His research will help develop a more efficient production technique for products such as pharmaceuticals, materials, biological probes, and bulk chemicals in a manner that has minimal impact on the environment.


Dr. Daniel Wright

Dr. Daniel Wright, Assistant Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of English, wins the Polanyi Prize in Literature.

Daniel WrightIn his book, ‘Shaping Out the Future’, Wright looks at Victorian poets and novelists who – discouraged by the lack of influence that their literary works had on the political scene – instead used a multifaceted approach to help cultivate creativity as a political practice. He argues that Victorian poets and novelists cope with the lack of influence that literary art had on politics by encouraging the cultivation of creativity through their work.

Wright’s research looks at the concept of “creativity” as a “way of happening,” rooted in the present, but directed toward an undetermined political future. “Political creativity,” on the other hand, is seen as an absorption in the present moment by which the future is made multiple in its possibilities, radically open-ended and therefore radically malleable.

Wright aims to connect the field of Victorian political literature to our own historical moment through the work of W. H. Auden at mid-century and the rich field of British psychoanalytic theory that surrounded Auden at that time. He also traces a complex Victorian literary history of “political creativity” in the works of novelists and poets such as Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walter Pater, Thomas Hardy, and Joseph Conrad.

He shows that Victorian theorists, novelists, and poets were developing powerful models of creativity as a political practice that valued open-endedness over the finality of prescriptive argument, and embodied absorption in the present over vigilant projection into the future.