The prestigious Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering was recently awarded to an earth sciences professor at the University of Toronto, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, for her outstanding work on the discovery of the billion-year-old water and related work in planetary science; the search for life beyond Earth in particular.

Lollar's work on Earth surface in mines on the Canadian Shield and around the world, determining the chemistry of water found in it could be used to study water in other planetary bodies.

"One of the major themes of planetary science is that we use the Earth to understand processes that might be going on on other planets," Sherwood Lollar said. "And so the work we do ... has direct relevance for what we do when we go out to search for processes on other planets."

Last 2016, Lollar along with her team found what was believed to be the oldest water on Earth, estimated to be two billion years old, and the discovery itself earned her NSERC's John C. Polanyi Award.

Lollar and her team is currently trying to find out how life could thrive in conditions that don't require sunlight, in fact, in particular, they want to know "What are they living off of?" They've discovered that some form of life didn't need the process of photosynthesis to live and instead live-off from water-rock reactions.

She is currently concentrating on cool areas such as Canadian Shield, which doesn't experience shifting plates that tend to generate heat around hydrothermal vents, yet there is still chemistry taking place in the water that's under the rock.

In her words, "Anywhere where you've got gradients, between hot and cold - even if it's between cold and colder - you still have the potential for chemistry to be taking place. And this causes us to open our thinking a bit, to think outside the box about the nature of what can sustain habitability."

Astrobiologists and astrophysicists could benefit from Lollar's work in searching for life in cooler places in our solar system such as Mars and Jupiter's moon, Europa and Enceladus.

When interviewed upon her reception of the medal, she expressed how honored she is to receive the Herzberg Award and that she is looking forward to furthering her studies on the search for life beyond our planet. "We use the word humbling, but it really is the only word to describe [it]," she said.