Killam Prize recognizes career achievement of two long-standing CIFAR fellows

News Quantum Materials 03.04.2012

The Canada Council for the Arts announced today that CIFAR Fellows Louis Taillefer at Université de Sherbrooke and Geoffrey Hinton at University of Toronto are both winners of the 2012 Killam Prize in the categories of Natural Sciences and Engineering, respectively.

The Killam Prize, one of Canada’s most distinguished research awards, is given annually to Canadian scholars for their outstanding career achievements. This year’s prize recognizes Dr. Taillefer for his internationally renowned research on quantum materials and superconductors and Dr. Hinton for his work in the field of machine learning which opened up new ground for artificial intelligence researchers around the world.

“It is a testament to the extraordinary calibre of CIFAR’s network that two of this year’s five Killam recipients are CIFAR Fellows,” says Chaviva Hošek, President and CEO of CIFAR. “Louis and Geoff provide outstanding leadership to their respective CIFAR programs. Their contributions are vitally important to advancing research and innovation in Canada.”

Dr. Taillefer, one of the most cited scientists in the field of superconductors worldwide, is striving to find a superconductor that would work at room temperature. A resistant-free transmission at normal temperatures using a superconductor would revolutionize our use of energy. In 2007, he led a team of researchers, including several CIFAR members, to a major breakthrough by observing “quantum oscillations” in a copper-oxide superconductor. Quantum oscillations are the clearest signature of electrons in a metal. The discovery provided direct insight into the nature of electron behaviour in these materials and caused a paradigm shift in the field, bringing researchers one step closer to solving the mystery of high-temperature superconductivity.

“The news of the Killam prize was a great surprise to me,” says Dr. Taillefer, Director of CIFAR’s Quantum Materials program and the Canada Research Chair in Quantum Materials at Université de Sherbrooke. “I consider it a tremendous honour. In reflecting back over my career, I see how pivotal was the 2007 discovery of quantum oscillations in a copper-oxide superconductor. The 2007 discovery would not have happened if not for the collaborations that I have had through CIFAR over the past 20 years,” adds Dr. Taillefer. “I am extremely grateful to my CIFAR colleagues who have worked with me to deepen our understanding of superconductors.”

Dr. Hinton, the Director of CIFAR’s program in Learning in Machines & Brains (formerly known as Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception) has developed several of the most successful Machine Learning algorithms, which have had, among other things, a direct impact on how we use the internet today. His algorithms have had a strong influence on psychology and neuroscience. They are now being used for a huge variety of applications including searching and recommending products on the web, interpreting images, improving the yield of chemical plants and recognizing speech.

“This Killam award is really a wonderful recognition of the work of my whole research group and the institutions that fund it,” says Dr. Hinton. “Canada supports new knowledge creation much more efficiently than any other country I know. Agencies like the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council provide money to use for basic, curiosity-driven research and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research ensures we have frequent and valuable interactions with leading researchers around the world.”

Dr. Hinton and Dr. Taillefer join six other CIFAR researchers who have been awarded the Killam Prize since its inception in 1981. Every year, the Killam Program at the Canada Council for the Arts awards five prizes, valued at $100,000, to outstanding Canadian scholars working in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering. The awards are made possible through the Killam Trusts by a bequest of Mrs. Dorothy J. Killam. Recipients are chosen by a committee of 15 eminent Canadian scholars appointed by the Canada Council.
This year’s award ceremony will take place at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Tuesday 15 May 2012.

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