Compute Canada User Victoria Kaspi is First Woman to Win Canada’s Top Science Award


Compute Canada would like to congratulate Dr. Victoria Kaspi, McGill University astrophysicist and Compute Canada User, on her recent award of the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s top science prize.

Dr. Kaspi, director of the McGill Space Institute, is the first woman to receive the prestigious award in its 25-year history. This is a reminder of the overwhelming gender imbalance that persists at the highest levels of Canadian academia.

“I think this is a very important moment,” said Mario Pinto, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, which administers the prize. “It signals to girls and young women that science is exciting and it’s possible to achieve the highest honour.”

A dearth of female professors in science faculties across Canada helps explain why it has taken so long for a woman to win the Herzberg gold medal. Women account for only 14 per cent of the scientists who receive funding from the research council at the full professor level, and only 9 per cent when the life sciences are excluded.

Dr. Kaspi specializes in the study of neutron stars, unimaginably dense and rapidly spinning stellar cores that are created when massive stars go supernova. Because they are subjected to intense gravitational and magnetic fields, they make excellent natural laboratories for studying the laws of physics under extreme conditions.

The bursts are powerful flashes of radio energy that only last for milliseconds and are generally thought to be located far outside our own galaxy. They are a cosmic mystery in search of a solution, which Dr. Kaspi said is “like being handed a present.”

Kaspi’s research has had “major impacts in the field of astrophysics,” NSERC says. Her achievements include:

  • Discovering the fastest-spinning pulsar known, one that rotates at 716 times per second.
  • Using observations of a binary pulsar — two pulsars orbiting each other — to do a new, extreme test Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
  • Finding only the second magnetar in our galaxy — a rare, bizarre type of star with a colossal magnetic field. Observations of the magnetar’s strange behaviour garnered a lot of attention and debate after they were published in the journal Nature in 2013.


Read the full news release by NSERC here:

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