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Irena Creed and Ajay Dalai (PhD'90) have been recognized by the Royal Society of Canada. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)

Royal Society of Canada honours renowned USask researchers Creed, Dalai

Two internationally renowned University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers have been recognized by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) with prestigious awards that rank among the country’s highest honours for academics.

Irena Creedprofessor in the School of Environment and Sustainability and associate vice-president research, is only the second woman to receive RSC’s Bancroft Award since the awards were initiated in 1968 to honour outstanding contributions to earth sciences. 

Ajay Dalai (PhD'90)USask Canada Research Chair of Bio-energy and Environmentally Friendly Chemical Processing and distinguished professor in chemical and biological engineering, was awarded RSC’s Miroslaw Romanowski Medal for outstanding contributions to environmental science. 

“Through their vast expertise and innovative approaches, these two research leaders are making ground-breaking contributions on the global stage to mitigating climate change impacts on water security and developing new clean energy solutions,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad (BSPE'80, BEd'81).  

“Their tremendous accomplishments in these signature areas of USask research are advancing crucial new science, technology and public policy for Canada and the world.” 

Transforming understanding of watersheds

Creed, whose research integrates hydrology, biogeochemistry, and ecology, is internationally recognized for providing a deeper understanding of global climate change and pollution effects on watershed functions and services they providesuch as water purification and reducing the risk of harmful algae blooms. 

Creed has transformed scientific understanding of how nutrients move from watersheds to surface water, how wetlands can be nutrient sources for producing greenhouse gases, and how watersheds affect water chemistry to trigger production of algae blooms and toxic cyanobacteria in inland lakes.  

She was the first to link water flow pathways with the flushing of nitrates—a finding that now underpins global modelling of water quality. 

Creed has translated her science into policy and practiceboth within Canada and internationally in Europe, Asia, and Africaand has led an international group of 25 world-class scientists to establish a framework related to forests and water for the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

I’m so humbled even to be considered among such a remarkable group of scientists who are giants in the field,” Creed said about receiving the Bancroft Award. “It’s an interesting commentary about how the field of earth sciences is evolving to be more inclusive of different disciplines that it allowrecognition of me to receive this award. 

The prestigious Bancroft Award recognizes publication, instruction, and research in the earth sciences that have contributed to public understanding and appreciation of the subject. The diploma is offered every two years if there is a suitable candidate. Creed is the first USask recipient of the Bancroft Award. 

Advancing biodiesel, syngas production

Dalai is an internationally renowned chemical engineer whose leading-edge research on renewable energy, heavy oil and gas processing, and environmentally safe remediation of wastewater and waste gas streams has made a major impact on producing biofuels and synthetic gas. 

His research over the past two decades on biofuel production is at the international forefront in this area. His advances rangfrom creating a solid catalyst that provides an environmentally friendly and water-conserving alternative to the current industrial process of making biodiesel, to using water in a high-heat, high-pressure reactor to convert low-cost biomass, such as used cooking oil, and agricultural and forestry waste into hydrogen and syngas. Another significant contribution is Dalai’s development of a chemical catalyst that transforms carbon dioxide and methane into syngas. 

Dalai has published nearly 500 research papers which have been cited 24,500 times, and has been granted 10 patents for the chemical processes and catalyst. Over the past 25 years, he has been awarded more than $36 million in funding from national granting agencies such as NSERC and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, as well as from industry. 

I’m very grateful for this honour,” said Dalai. “Actually, this award shouldn’t be a personal credit, but a recognition for the entire team that works in the lab, and the work that has been generated over the past 20 years by more than 150 people. 

The distinguished Miroslaw Romanowski Medal is awarded for significant contributions to the resolution of scientific aspects of environmental problems or for important improvements to the quality of an ecosystem brought about by scientific means. The medal and $3,000 are awarded annually if a suitable candidate is found. An annual lecture series for the award recipient is also associated to the medal.  

The last USask researcher to be awarded this medal was John Pomeroy (BSc'83, PhD'88), Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, in 2019. 

Article originally published https://news.usask.ca.

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