Monday, 11 November 2013

The Rarest of the Rare

How many people are privileged enough to have done something that has changed the world for the better? Not many. Of those people, how many have done this many times? Now you are talking about the rarest of the rare.

For almost a quarter of a century, the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta has been home to a scientist extraordinaire: someone who has had a profound impact on all of us. On October 30 and 31, we celebrated the accomplishments of Dr. David Schindler for his groundbreaking research into something that most of us take for granted: water. Dr. Schindler is one of the very few researchers on this planet who through outstanding research, passion, and force of will has made our world a better place to live.

Dr. David Suzuki (left) and Dr. David Schindler answering questions at the Schindler tribute "Letting in the Light"
Water, you ask. What’s the big deal about water? Everything, if we want a clean supply for today and tomorrow. Schindler’s legacy includes:
  • He was the founding director of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in Ontario. This is truly “big science”. The ELA facility consists of a large swath of land that encompasses 58 lakes. Schindler is not interested in “toy” experiments. When he wants data, he wants real-world data. The results from ELA-based research (Schindler and many others) have had enormous impact on understanding the effect of civilization on the environment.
  • His research on algae blooms on the Great Lakes led to the banning of high-phosphate laundry detergents and the use of phosphorus by sewage treatment plants.
  • He was the first to tie together the effects of acid rain, climate warming and stratospheric ozone depletion on freshwater ecosystems. This led to the control of sulphur-oxide emissions throughout the world.
  • He documented how pesticides can cause long-term damage to our ecosystems.  The result has been a major shift in the use of and chemical composition of pesticides.
  • Most recently, he demonstrated the impact of the Alberta oil sands development on water quality and aquatic life.
He is not shy about making his research public, and using it to change national and international policy. He is a tireless advocate for protecting the quality of our water for future generations.

Dr. Schindler has been recognized nationally and internationally for his accomplishments. Of the over 100 awards he has received, let me mention two. First he won the 2001 NSERC Gold Medal for Science, the most prestigious scientific award in Canada. Second, he was the inaugural winner of the 1991 Stockholm Water Prize (1991), created to be the Nobel Prize of water-related research.

On June 30, Dr. Schindler officially stepped down as the Killam Memorial Chair at the University of Alberta. Fear not; he will not fade quietly into the background. He has several books and research papers on the go. His voice will not be silenced; he will continue to be outspoken in his passion for protecting our environment. Alberta, Canada, and the world are the beneficiaries of his energetic efforts.

Every person on this planet owes a debt of thanks to David Schindler. Here is my voice: thank you, David.
From left to right: Jonathan Schaeffer, David Schindler, David Suzuki, and Andrew Nikiforuk (popular author)

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