Five professors honoured by Royal Society of Canada

September 16, 2010


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"It's really cool!"

That's Richard Harris' immediate reaction when asked how he feels about being one of three McMaster professors - Bruce Gaulin and Paul O'Byrne are the other two - to be named as Fellows in the Royal Society of Canada.

Harris composes himself and adopts a more professorial tone. Even in the excitement of such an honour there is humble and fulsome praise for helpful colleagues and a supportive
workplace.

"I've been at Mac for most of my working life [since 1988]," says Harris, whose academic work involves urban history and suburbanization. "So I think this award says a lot about how supportive an environment McMaster has been, and continues to be."

Gaulin, a professor in physics & astronomy and director of the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research, concurs.

"It reflects the contributions of many wonderful students, collaborators and colleagues and how much I've benefitted from McMaster," says Gaulin, who earned his PhD from McMaster. "In addition to being a great honour, being named a Fellow provides an opportunity to work with new colleagues within the RSC to better understand issues relating to Canada's science policy and planning, a subject that really interests me."

Gaulin is an internationally recognized expert in the field of neutron scattering and in 2003 was awarded $15-million by the CFI to lead a project to build and locate the only Canadian neutron beamline instrument at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

As a world-leading asthma expert, the Dublin-born Paul O'Byrne is internationally recognized for his seminal contributions into understanding the causes and treatment of asthma, including the first studies of the central role of airway inflammation. His studies have influenced treatment guidelines worldwide for the more than three-hundred million people worldwide who suffer from asthma.

O'Byrne is professor and chair of the Department of Medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and director of the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at St. Joseph's Hospital.

"I am delighted and honored by my election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada," he says. "The work that has been recognized by the Royal Society has all been conducted at
McMaster University and St. Joseph's Hospital and could not have been done without the outstanding colleagues with whom I work, and the supportive environment of these institutions. I am enormously grateful for both."

In addition to the RSC Fellows, two physics & astronomy professors - Kari Dalnoki-Veress and Doug Welch - also received prestigious awards from the Society.

Dalnoki-Veress received the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics. The Society cited Dalnoki-Veress as "a dedicated young scientist with a genius for simple but profound investigation. In an era dominated by large funding initiatives and complex instrumentation, Dalnoki-Veress is an inspired scientist and research supervisor who can find deep insight from brilliant direct experiments."

"Occasionally one is fortunate enough to get nominated for these things and then you forget about it 'on purpose' so this was a total surprise," says Dalnoki-Veress. "To be recognized for the work you love to do by your colleagues is humbling. I have been given tremendous support from my colleagues and the University as well as the chance to flourish. But the truth is, this award is not about me. I have amazing students working with me, and the award is recognizes what my students and I have accomplished as a team."

Welch received the McNeil Medal for his outreach work in communicating astronomy to the general public via numerous and varied science outreach activities, including podcasting about astronomy, and creating an art exhibition on supernovae. He is also a go-to person for the media whenever a story breaks about happenings across the solar system, because they not only know they can count on him to be a wonderful interview, but because they know he genuinely loves to talk about the science of stars.

"The award is a great honour," said Welch who enjoys introducing the sky to everyone he meets. "There are so many people who have mentored me and shared my journey that I realize this is an award for them, too."

Founded in 1882, the Royal Society is the country's oldest and most prestigious scholarly organization. Fellows come from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, and are singled out for achieving excellence in their fields.

Harris, Gaulin, O'Byrne will be inducted and Dalnoki-Veress and Welch will receive their awards on November 27 at the Society's Induction and Awards Ceremony in Ottawa.

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