Governor General's Gold Medal Winners

​Gold Medallists for 2019

On behalf of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, Dean Joshua Barker was pleased to present three of our students with a Governor General's Gold Medal: Dr. Phil De Luna, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Dr. Alexandre Pelletier, Department of Political Science, and Dr. Jielai Zhang, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

First awarded in 1873 by the Earl of Dufferin, the Governor General's Gold Medal has since become one of the most prestigious awards that a student at a Canadian educational institution may receive. It recognizes the highest academic standing at the graduate level. 

Dr. Phil De Luna

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Dr. Phil De Luna

Phil earned his PhD in Materials Science & Engineering working with Professor Ted Sargent. His doctoral research identified new electrocatalytic materials for the conversion of carbon dioxide into renewable fuels and feedstocks. By the time he successfully defended his thesis, he had published 30 papers in top-tier journals such as Nature, Science, and Nature Chemistry. He had also acquired valuable industry experience, completing prestigious research internships at the IBM Research Center in New York and Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley. Phil recently accepted the position of Program Director of the Energy Materials Challenge Program at the National Research Council Canada.

Dr. Alexandre Pelletier

Department of Political Science

Dr. Alexandre Pelletier

Alexandre obtained his PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 2018. Supervised by Professor Jacques Bertrand​, he focused on Indonesia in his doctoral research, taking a historical and contemporary approach to the question, Why is there variation in the violent mobilization of Islamic leaders? During his graduate studies, he was extremely prolific, publishing articles, essays, and book chapters in seven peer-reviewed publications by the time of his defence. Since 2013, Alexandre has also been involved in various research projects in Myanmar, funded by the United States Institute of Peace and the International Development Research Centre. He is currently a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University. 

Dr. Jielai Zhang

Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics

Dr. Jielai Zhang

During her PhD at the University of Toronto, Jielai helped build the Dragonfly Telephoto Array (the world's best telescope for low surface brightness observations of the Universe), leading the development of the Dragonfly's image processing software. The team, headed by Professors Roberto Abraham and Pieter van Dokkum, went on to discover a new class of galaxies called ultra-diffuse galaxies. Jielai also led studies of galaxy disks and dust in the Milky Way, co-supervised by Professor Peter Martin. Her facility with crossing disciplines such as engineering and astrophysics helped earn her a Schmidt Science Fellowship and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study medical imaging with Professor Alison Noble at the University of Oxford.

Gold Medallists for 2018

Dr. David McLagan

Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences

Dr. David McLagan

Completed under the co-supervision of Prof. Frank Wania and Prof. Carl Mitchell, David's PhD thesis involved the development, testing, and implementation of an inexpensive and highly accurate air sampling device for monitoring atmospheric mercury. Currently, David is working at Environment and Climate Change Canada in a short-term research contract. In the fall, he will be moving with his family to Germany to complete a NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Technical University of Braunschweig and the University of Vienna under the supervision of Prof. Harald Biester and Dr. Jan Wiederhold.

Dr. David Sandomierski

Faculty of Law

Dr. David Sandomierski

David's dissertation, completed under the supervision of Professor Jennifer Nedelsky, explored such important questions as, "Why is there such a gap between what professors claim to believe in, and how they communicate law to their students?" David's research provides an empirical foundation for an ambitious vision of legal education in which law schools can be more successful at cultivating critical, engaged citizens. On July 1, 2018, he will join the Faculty of Law at Western University as an assistant professor.

Dr. Mark Wade

Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, OISE

Dr. Mark Wade

Mark's doctoral research, completed under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, focused on the effects of social and biomedical stress on children's neurocognitive development, and how this stress can impact mental health over the first five years of life. Mark is currently a Banting Fellow at Harvard Medical School, where he is examining the long-term consequences of profound early neglect on the brain and behavioural development of children raised in Romanian orphanages. Read more about Mark.

Gold Medallists for 2017

Dr. Kathleen Fraser

Department of Computer Science

Dr. Kathellen Fraser

While completing her degree under the supervision of Graeme Hirst and Jed Meltzer, Katie made significant strides in a research area that is already having an impact on the world. She amassed 13 publications in journals, conferences, and workshops, and co-founded a company based on her thesis research called WinterLight Labs, which aims to help clinicians detect and monitor cognitive impairment. Today, WinterLight Labs is actively running pilot studies with three large Canadian healthcare and assisted-living providers. Katie is pursuing post-doctoral research at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Read more about Katie.

Dr. Brandon Sutherland

Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Dr. Brandon Sutherland

Brandon completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor Ted Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology. His research tackled challenges in the important field of photonic devices, exploring methods of making these devices from inexpensive and scalable materials. He has published his advances in top journals including Nature Materials, Nature Photonics, and ACS Photonics. His co-authored articles -- 18 at last count -- have been cited more than 1000 times. Since finishing his time in the Sargent group at the University of Toronto, Brandon has moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is one of the founding editors of a new energy research journal, Joule.

Dr. Johanna Thoma

Department of Philosophy

Dr. Johanna Thoma

Johanna's dissertation, completed under the supervision of Sergio Tenenbaum, tackled a central topic in philosophy known as decision theory, and offered what have been described as "groundbreaking contributions to debates on self-governance, rational requirements, and attitudes to risk." During her program, she also served as president of the Graduate Philosophy Students' Union. She is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics, a position she was offered a year before completing her PhD.

Gold Medallists for 2016

Dr. Brett Story

Department of Geography & Planning

Dr. Brett Story

Brett Story defended her dissertation in August 2015, under the supervision of Professor Deborah Cowen in the Department of Geography & Planning. Her dissertation, "Dis-placing the Prison: Carceral Space, Disposable Life, and Urban Struggle in Neoliberal America," explores the political geographies of mass incarceration in the United States.

Dr. Story’s contributions have appeared in top international journals, as book chapters, a working paper series and in a forthcoming co-edited book from McGill University Press. She produced an hour-long radio documentary on the politics of solitary confinement for the CBC as well as an award-winning feature-length documentary film.

Dr. Story has accepted a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship to support her research at the Center for Place, Culture. and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, under the supervision of Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Dr. Gail Teachman

Rehabilitation Sciences Institute

Dr. Gail TeachmanDr. Gail Teachman successfully defended her dissertation in February 2016, under the supervision of Professors Barbara Gibson and Colin Macarthur in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute and with the guidance of committee member Professor Peggy McDonough from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Dr. Teachman’s ground-breaking interdisciplinary research demonstrated the often hidden forms of exclusion experienced by non-speaking disabled children and the unintended moral harms that are perpetrated through well-intentioned "inclusive" interventions. Her research results promise to transform how inclusion is understood and enacted in relation to childhood disability.

As a doctoral student, Dr. Teachman contributed 52 publications including 12 peer-reviewed articles. She has held eight peer-reviewed grants (four as the Principal Investigator), including a national grant as principal investigator to fund her PhD study. Under the supervision of Dr. Franco Carnevale and Dr. Mary Ellen MacDonald, Dr. Teachman is continuing her research with disabled youth and their families through a CIHR-funded postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University.

Dr. Jianhua Zhao

Department of Medical Biophysics

Dr. Jianhua ZhaoDr. Zhao defended his doctoral research in January 2016, under the supervision of Professor John Rubinstein in the Department of Medical Biophysics. His landmark thesis describes the use of electron cryomicroscopy to study the structure and function of macromolecular complexes involved in human health, in particular the V-type ATPase that is responsible for controlling the pH of different compartments within cells by pumping H+ ions across cell membranes.

Dr. Zhao has been principal author on three articles in the Journal of Structural Biology and Nature, as well as two review articles. He is the second author on an additi​​​onal manuscript in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. His manuscript in Nature was mentioned in a feature article describing advances in cryo-EM, and he has delivered two invited seminars at the American Chemical Society annual conference and the Bioenergetics Gordon Research Conference.

Dr. Zhao has taken up a CIHR Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship under the guidance of Professors Yifan Cheng and David Julius at the University of California, San Francisco.

Gold Medallists for 2015

Dr. Timothy Harrison

Department of English

Dr. Timothy Harrison

Dr. Harrison defended his dissertation Forms of Sentience in Early Modernity in June 2014 under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth Harvey in the Department of English. His ground-breaking interdisciplinary research brings together book history, literary analysis, and the intellectual history of early modern science to examine how early modern writers used language to explore and express what it means to be alive. Dr. Harrison accepted a coveted tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of English at the University of Chicago, where he moved five days after defending his dissertation.

Dr. George Monir Ibrahim

Institute of Medical Science

Dr. George Monir IbrahimDr. Ibrahim completed his dissertation Functional Connectivity of Oscillatory Neural Networks in Children with Medically-Intractable Localization-Related Epilepsy in June 2014 under the supervision of Dr. Carter Snead and Dr. James Rutka within the Institute of Medical Science. Dr. Ibrahim is a Senior Resident in the Neurosurgery Program at the University of Toronto. His research into "miswired" neuronal circuitry in children with severe epilepsy promises to transform how epilepsy is thought about in terms of its causes and treatments. His work has yielded 57 published or accepted peer-reviewed publications—38 first-authored—in journals such as Brain, PloS One, Cortex, and Human Brain Mapping.

Dr. David Zhitomirsky

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Dr. David ZhitomirskyDr. Zhitomirsky completed his doctoral dissertation Engineering of Doping and Transport for Enhanced Colloidal Quantum Dot Photovoltaics​ in November 2014 under the supervision of Professor Ted Sargent in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Zhitomirsky's research has resulted in numerous publications in leading chemistry journals and provided significant contributions to the fields of nanomaterials and photovoltaics, including first-author works in Nature Communications, Nano Letters, ACS Nano, and Advanced Materials in the last few years. He has received more than 950 citations.

Gold Medallists for 2014

Dr. John Paul Cervas Catungal

Department of Geography​​​​

Dr. John CatungalIn December 2013, under the supervision of Professors Deborah Leslie and Matthew Farish in the Department of Geography, Dr. Catungal completed his doctoral dissertation For Us, By Us: Political Geographies of Race, Sexuality and Health in the Work of Ethno-specific AIDS Service Organizations in Global-multicultural Toronto.

Described by his external thesis examiner as an “original, moving piece of scholarship,” Dr. Catungal’s dissertation makes important contributions—not only to a theoretical understanding of intersectionality and difference—but to policy communities and social service agencies concerned to make their programming sensitive to the needs of racially diverse queer communities.

Dr. Catungal has an extensive publication record, with refereed journal publications in top international journals as well as an edited book. A piece of his dissertation recently appeared in the open-access ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, in a special issue on sexualities which Dr. Catungal co-edited.

In January 2014, Dr. Catungal commenced a two-year concurrent SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship and Killam Honourary Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice and Department of Geography. ​​He is currently pursuing a new research project on the political figure of the straight ally and his/her place in contemporary queer politics.

Dr. Stephen Mack

Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology

Dr. Stephen Mack

Dr. Mack completed his doctoral dissertation, The Genetic and Epigenetic Basis of Posterior Fossa Ependymoma, in April 2014 under the supervision of Professor Michael Taylor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology.

Quoting his nominators, “…his research has set a new standard for quality and impact in the area of translational medicine, and his findings have already been integrated into North American and European clinical trials. And “….with unprecedented “bench-to-bedside” turnaround time—his laboratory work has been translated into the real-time treatment of an ependymoma patient in a Toronto hospital.”

During his doctoral program, Dr. Mack published 18 papers, including two comprehensive first-author reviews, and a number of original co-authored articles in top-tier journals such as Cancer Cell and Nature.

Dr. Mack will be moving to Cleveland where he has accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic/Lerner Research Institute, one of the top medical research centres in the US. His work will examine tumour cell heterogeneity and hierarchies in glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumour in adults.

Dr. Gab​riel Ménard​

Department of Chemist​ry

Dr. Gabriel MénardDr. Ménard completed his dissertation, Small Molecule Activation and Transformation Using Aluminum-based Frustrated Lewis Pairs, in February 2013 under the supervision of Professor Douglas Stephan in the Department of Chemistry.

As noted by one of Dr Ménard’s nominators, “His research…has provided new insights on the future development of chemistry...and will considerably stimulate further fruitful investigations within Professor Stephan’s group as well as within other research groups worldwide.

Dr. Ménard’s graduate work has yielded 11 papers, 6 of which have been published in the premier journals in Chemistry: the Journal of the American Chemical Society and the Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Currently, Dr. Ménard is focusing on Polynuclear Metal Complexes for Multielectron Reactions at Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology under an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship. He looks forward to securing an academic position in the near future.

Gold Medallists for 2013

Dr. Michael G. Helander

Department of Materials Science and Engineering​

Dr. Helander completed his doctoral dissertation "Electrode/Organics Interfaces in Organic Optelectronics" in August 2012 under the supervision of Professor Zheng‐Hong Lu. He made several outstanding scholastic achievements in the area of organic optoelectronics while at U of T. Dr. Helander invented a material with an unprecedented high work function that makes possible record high efficiencies for organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). He also played an important role in discovering a universal energy‐level alignment principle at electrode‐molecule interfaces and developed an effective method to unlock the full potential of OLEDs on flexible plastic. Dr. Helander is the Chief Technology Officer of OTI ​Lumionics, a spin‐off company he co‐founded with several of his colleagues to commercialize his research.

Dr. Stephen Anthony Pelle

Centre for Medieval Studies

Dr. Pelle completed his doctoral dissertation "Continuity and Renewal in English Homiletic Eschatology, ca. 1150–1200" in September 2012 under the supervision of Prof. Andy Orchard. His dissertation contributes significantly to the understanding of how the Norman Conquest affected broader patterns of literary production in England. This required close command not only of Old and Middle English but of Medieval Latin, excellent paleographical and codicological skills, and familiarity with a wide range of Biblical and Patristic sources in several languages. Dr. Pelle taught Ecclesiastical Latin at St. Joseph's Seminary (for the Archdiocese of New York) and, more recently, at Immaculate Conception Seminary (for the Diocese of Rockville Centre [Long Island]). In September 2013, Dr. Pelle returns to Toronto as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Dr. Taylor William Schmitz

Department of Psychology​

Dr. Schmitz completed his doctoral dissertation "Attentional Filtering in Young and Older Adulthood" in September 2012 under the supervision of Professor Eve De Rosa. His research in cognitive neuroscience, focusing on the effects of aging on attention, used magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate that because older adults are seeing more of the world than younger adults, they are less able to filter out irrelevant information.

Dr. Schmitz is a Career Development Postdoctoral Fellow at the Medical Research Council's Cognitive Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. He focuses his research on the brain mechanisms that allow humans to selectively encode and retrieve perceptual memories and the impact of aging on these mechanisms.

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