Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher, a member of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ont., recently received the Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The council presents the prize yearly “to an outstanding recipient of an NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship who best exemplifies interdisciplinary research.” The presentation was made at Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s Governor General in Ottawa, Ont., on February 7, 2017.
Bonsma-Fisher, 25, is a doctoral student in physics at the University of Toronto (U of T). She was one of two Brassard prize winners, an award worth $10,000 to the recipient, and among 20 named recipients of various NSERC-prizes presented that day to scientists in different stages of their careers.
“I was very nervous beforehand,” said Bonsma-Fisher. “I knew that there were going to be impressive scientists there and also famous politicians . . . [but] all the scientists were happy to talk to me, which is great because as a PhD student I’m in awe of their accomplishments, and they’re giving me a gift by talking to me.”
In addition to the award ceremony, the day included a roundtable conversation with Canada’s Minister of Science, MP Kirsty Duncan, and an unexpected visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Award winners had an opportunity to showcase their research, which “was like a science fair for parliamentarians,” said Bonsma-Fisher.
Bonsma-Fisher’s work as part of Sidhartha Goyal’s research group at U of T involves studying the microbiome—the microscopic community within humans—to learn what it means to be healthy. That’s what allowed her as physicist to be a candidate for this interdisciplinary award. She said she appreciates “being in a biology environment with the tools of physics.”
Bonsma-Fisher began her PhD work this January and is in the first of three years as a Vanier scholar, a $50,000 per year scholarship program from NSERC. She is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and of Smithville Christian High School, where her teachers are very proud of her accomplishments. “It’s wonderful to see ambassadors of Christ who are able to bring not only excellence in their work but a well-rounded Christian perspective in how they work,” said Will Lammers, her Grade 12 Physics teacher.