Academia

Attended KCSS • 1971–1976

Inducted October 2013

Grant

Ferris

See Induction Video

Curious multi-disciplined scientist

”If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”  – From the correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton.

I have been privileged to stand on the shoulders of many giants, especially all of my former teachers and classmates at KCSS. Each and every one of them let me see further down the uneven road of life. For this I will be thankful to the end of my days.

Moving on from KCSS was bittersweet with the unfamiliar prospect of university on the horizon. I ended-up at the University of Guelph and managed to emerge in 1980 with a B.Sc. in microbiology. The next step was graduate school to work with T.J. Beveridge, a world renowned electron microscopist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada .

After completing my doctorate in 1985, I was awarded a scholarship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States to study at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. I returned to Canada on a fellowship from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council to join the Department of Geology at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University). Here, I was honoured to work with W.S. Fyfe and R.G.E. Murray, both of them Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada and members of the Order of Canada.

When my fellowship ended in 1988, I moved west to Calgary to work in the private sector on pipeline corrosion, enhanced oil recovery and cleaning-up refinery wastes. Several years later I transitioned back to the university world in 1991 to become a Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto.

Blessed with extraordinarily talented graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the research activities of my laboratory expanded over time to explore some of the most remote and inaccessible environments on Earth. Study sites have ranged from the high altitude of the Atacama desert in Chile to the abyssal depths of the North Pacific Ocean; hydrothermal fields in Yellowstone National Park to geysers in Iceland and New Zealand; underground nuclear waste disposal facilities in Sweden to ephemeral saline alkaline lakes in British Columbia; blood red waters of the Rio Tinto in Spain to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic.

Perhaps the most important thing for me is mentoring young people coming out of high school, throughout undergraduate studies, and on into graduate school. In this regard, I am extremely proud of what has been achieved. Former students of mine are now professors at universities around the world, and hold senior management positions with leading international companies.

Along the way, I have served as an editor for several world-renown scientific journals, as well as a member of research grant selection panels in Canada, the United States of America, United Kingdom, and European Union. I have held executive positions with the American Society for Microbiology and International Society for Environmental Biogeochemistry. I was the only non-American on the Space Studies Board of the National Academy of Science (U.S.A) committee on Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions, and a founding member of the Astrobiology Working Group of the Canadian Space Agency.

A major honour for me was election to the Royal Society of Canada in 2012 to join a small group of distinguished Canadians. I never anticipated this, to walk in the footsteps of my very own highly esteemed scientific mentors. I was awed and humbled by this recognition.

The journey continues and the road forward remains uneven, but the trail behind goes straight back to that point in time where I stood on the shoulders of giants at KCSS.

Semper progediens!

Written October 2013

 

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