Pushing the frontiers of knowledge: The 2017 Killam Prize

Once a year the Canada Council Killam Prize is bestowed on five of Canada's top academics in five different fields. Paul Kennedy interviews this year's winners and finds out what inspires them to break new ground. Passion, drive and creativity fuel Canada's intellectual heavyweights, no matter the field.
Left to right: John Borrows, W. Ford Doolittle, Thomas Hurka, Dr. Julio Montaner, and Molly Shoichet. (Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall, © OSGG, 2017)

Once a year the Canada Council Killam Prize is bestowed on five of Canada's top academics in five different fields. Paul Kennedy interviews this year's winners and finds out what inspires them to break new ground. Passion, drive and creativity fuel Canada's intellectual heavyweights, no matter the field. **This episode originally aired June 8, 2017.


They are inspired by a thirst for knowledge, a desire to make the world a better place, and uncontainable enthusiasm for discovery. Dr. Julio Montaner's work helped change and save the lives of millions living with HIV/AIDS. Molecular biologist W. Ford Doolittle gave the tree of life theory 'a good shake.' Philosopher Tom Hurka pushes for a deeper understanding of the 'good life'. Engineer Molly Shoichet's pioneering work offers the medical world new, and better, ways to deliver drugs and stem cells to the body. And Anishinabe legal scholar John Borrows is changing the way we understand law.

The 2017 Killam Prize Recipients (in order of appearance in the program):

John Borrows
"The adversarial legal system tends to drive people apart, whereas with the Indigenous traditions, you're often looking for reconciliation and ways people can be restored to their relationships."  — John Borrows

John Borrows (Social Sciences) — John Borrows holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous law at the University of Victoria where he teaches constitutional, Indigenous, and environmental law. He is Anishinaabe and a member of the Chippewas of the Nawash First Nation in Ontario, where he grew up on the family farm east of the reserve. Over the decades, his work had a major influence on the broader recognition of Indigenous legal systems and legal rights within Canada.

Molly Shoichet
"Everyday I get to work with brilliant people — the students in the lab, the collaborators — we get to work together to solve really big problems in medicine. It's a fantastic opportunity to make a difference." — Molly Shoichet

Molly Shoichet (Engineering) — Molly Shoichet holds the Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, Chemistry and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. Her innovations in designing hydrogels promise to have a major impact on cancer research, spinal cord rehabilitation, and restoring lost vision.

Thomas Hurka
 "A good life involves more than just getting what you want or pleasure. It involves things like knowledge and understanding. Things like achievement — really making a difference in the world, and moral virtue, being a good person." — Thomas Hurka

Thomas Hurka (Humanities) — Thomas Hurka is the distinguished chair in philosophical studies at the University of Toronto. His main area research is moral and political philosophy, zeroing in on normative ethical theory. He is interested in understanding what makes a 'good life.' Knowledge, achievement and friendship play strong roles in that understanding. 

W. Ford Doolittle
"We're often not self critical enough in science. We tend to get on bandwagons and everyone sets off to prove what everyone believes instead of saying 'wait a minute maybe there's another way to look at the data.'" — W. Ford Doolittle

W. Ford Doolittle (Natural Sciences) — W. Ford Doolittle is professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Dalhousie University. He's also been awarded the Herzberg Gold Medal for science and engineering, which is Canada's highest honour. His work in molecular genetics includes the study of lateral gene transfer, a key driver of microbial evolution and the proposition of an alternative "web of life" theory. He jokes that his revived enthusiasm for philosophy means that he's now 'practicing philosophy without a license.'

Dr. Julio Montaner
"We were able to prove that treatment could actually lead to an AIDS-free generation -- not just free of AIDS, but free of HIV transmission." — Dr. Julio Montaner

Dr. Julio Montaner (Health Sciences) — Dr. Julio Montaner is the Director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Originally from Argentina, he immigrated to Canada more than 30 years ago and his innovations in HIV/AIDS treatment helped save millions of lives. He is a strong advocate of 'treatment as prevention' as well as safe injection sites and needle exchange programs. 

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**This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic.


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