Kaplan winners solve problems
Written By: Richard Cairney and Quinn A.C. Nicholson
2003-03-05Dr. David Marples and Dr. John Vederas have both spent countless hours in libraries and laboratories around the world, trying to shed light on their fields of study. Tuesday afternoon, both professors found themselves in the spotlight.
Marples, a professor of history, and Vederas, a professor of bio-organic chemistry, have been named winners of the 2003 University of Alberta Gordin J. Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research, the U of A's most prestigious research prize. Named for the U of A's first vice-president of research, two Kaplan awards are presented annually--one for excellence in the sciences or engineering, and one for excellence in the general area of humanities, social sciences, law, education, or fine arts. Both professors gave speeches and were celebrated yesterday at the annual Kaplan awards ceremony at the U of A Timms Centre.
A specialist in Eastern European studies, Marples rose to prominence by studying the many aspects of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. His current research focus is the mysterious murders of thousands of people during the mid to late 1930s. Their graves were discovered in the Kuropaty forest in Belarus.
The research has taken Marples to the Belarus national archives in Minsk, where he is only the third foreigner to be granted access to study. From interviews and reviewing documents, Marples believes the Soviet secret police murdered the peasants, though the official version of the story as recited by officials in Belarus says Nazi Germans are to blame.
Marples continues to work to uncover irrefutable facts. His academic record suggests he will succeed. He has authored eight books and has been published extensively in academic journals and in the mainstream media. In 1998 he received the Shevchenko Medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Winnipeg, the highest award that the Congress can bestow upon an individual for community service. In 1999 he received the Research prize for full professors in the Faculty of Arts.
On the science side of the 2003 Kaplan awards, Vederas, like Marples, has garnered international acclaim with his research, which is partly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. His work on how proteins function has led to an array of promising new products, processes, and drugs. Applications developed from his research range from cholesterol-lowering drugs and natural food preservatives to medicines for combating viral infections and preventing premature births.
In his 25-year career at the U of A, Vederas has earned the Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the University Cup for Research and Teaching, and several national awards for his contributions to organic chemistry.
Vederas is quick to credit those around him for his success. "I don't work in a vacuum," he said, acknowledging the 12 graduate and five postdoctoral fellows with whom he currently collaborates. He points out that he also could not do the peptide antibiotics work without Drs. Michael Stiles and Lynn McMullen in the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics.
Currently serving as president of the Canadian Society for Chemistry, Vederas is an international collaborator who strongly believes in a multidisciplinary approach to both teaching and research.
"Part of the joy of solving problems is discovering a new tool to use. My collaborators do the laboratory work, and my students teach themselves. My job is to provide them with enthusiasm and direction," he said.
This article originally appeared in Express News.