2020 Department News

Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (NSERC) awarded to Ben Pearce.

Ben K.D. Pearce, who will defend his Ph.D. thesis this August in the Department of Physics with a specialization in Astrobiology through the Origins Institute, has won a prestigious 2021-22 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (NSERC). He will be taking his award to the Johns Hopkins University this September, to further his research on the topic “From Early Earth Atmosphere to the Origin of RNA in Warm Little Ponds”. His graduate work is supervised by Dr. Ralph Pudritz, with whom he completed an undergrad CREATE summer research award, his 4th year Honours’ thesis (while based at UBC), and both. graduate degrees. Ben’s focus has been on theoretical studies on processes by which the building blocks of RNA are brought to the Earth by meteorites or built by chemical processes that begin in Earth’s early atmosphere. These studies set up the preconditions for RNA synthesis in the wet/dry cycling processes that occur in warm little ponds. As a student in the OI’s Collaborative Grad Program in Astrobiology, he gained valuable experimental skills that will support his proposed theoretical and experimental research at Johns Hopkins. Ben has won many prestigious awards for his work including two NSERC grad scholarships, and the 2017 Cozzarrelli Prize for the best paper in Mathematical and Physical Sciences in the Publications of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He was the lead author of the collaborative team on that paper with members of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, all while still an M.Sc. student. Ben has given numerous invited talks at major international conferences (eg. NASA’s Astrobiology Science Conference 2019) and universities (UBC colloquium, 2021). Most recently, he won the award for the best student talk at the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society held this May. Throughout his career at McMaster Ben has served on a wide range of departmental, OI, and university activities and has given many planetarium shows. He is also keen member of the department’s softball team and enjoys hiking. We wish him great success in this exciting new phase of his career.
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McMaster University - Faculty of Science | Physics & Astronomy