Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
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Past Winner
2016 NSERC NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

NSERC John C. Polanyi Award

Department of Earth Sciences

University of Toronto

Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar and colleagues grabbed headlines around the world with their discovery of ancient waters bubbling out of rock fractures in mines more than two kilometres underground in Timmins, Ontario, and South Africa. Their analysis of this billion-year-old water showed it contained biologically useful chemicals and much more hydrogen gas than previously thought—conditions similar to those found near deep sea vents, which host thriving microbial ecosystems.

Sherwood Lollar has surmised that similar deep chemical processes may exist on Mars, where NASA has already found rocks of comparable age and geology.

This research shifts our conception of how old groundwater can be and expands our understanding of energy-producing chemical reactions that sustain deep microbial life. The findings could prove useful for a future Mars expedition and deepens our understanding of the geochemical processes at play in waste disposal and groundwater clean-up.


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