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Orillia resident inducted into Royal Society

By Kristen Smith, Special to QMI Agency

Orillia resident Grant Ferris was recently inducted as a fellow into the Royal Society of Canada. (KRISTEN SMITH/ORILLIA PACKET & TIMES)

Orillia resident Grant Ferris was recently inducted as a fellow into the Royal Society of Canada. (KRISTEN SMITH/ORILLIA PACKET & TIMES)

An Orillia man has received the highest national honour for his research.

Grant Ferris was inducted Nov. 17 as a fellow into the Royal Society of Canada. The society recognizes scholarly, research and artistic excellence.

The earth sciences professor at the University of Toronto was recognized for his “transformative work” in microbial geochemistry.

“It’s very interdisciplinary work that I do, kind of at the edge between microbiology and geochemistry,” said Ferris, who is called a pioneer of the discipline.

“I wouldn’t say I invented it, that’s for sure. There are lots of true pioneers who carved out the area,” said Ferris.

Ferris pointed to his PhD supervisor, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph, and his post-doctorate supervisor, a geochemist, as major influences in his direction of research.

“(Microbial geochemistry) really has taken off on its own over the last decade or so. In that context, I was definitely one of the earlier people working in the field,” Ferris said, noting he was also inspired by the work of Henry Ehrlich and William Ghiorse.

“What I’m really interested (in) is water quality,” said Ferris, whose research addresses both surface and groundwater.

He said micro-organisms play a major role in what is and isn’t in water — since they sometimes act as filters.

“Micro-organisms have a huge impact on water quality and that’s what we’re interested in… how they influence water chemistry and water quality,” said Ferris.

It’s a mark of distinction to be inducted, especially since fellows are elected by their peers in the Royal Society.

“It means that there are people out there... who hold your work in high regard,” said Ferris, who is honoured to join the 2,000 Canadian fellows.

Ferris noted in his 21-year teaching and research career, he is not the only person in his lab.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some absolutely amazing graduate students and post-doctorate fellows,” Ferris said, noting the group achieved the work together.

“It’s taken me interesting places too. I’ve been able to work in such cool spots as Iceland, for example, Rio Tinto in the south of Spain. I’ve had students in the high Arctic floating around the north Pacific Ocean with submersibles going down to deep-sea hydrothermal vents,” said Ferris, who added he doesn’t fare well on the open seas.

His work has examined how dissolved minerals stick on bacterial cells in natural systems, which is important in the context of pollutants and their movement.

“Through our research, we’ve been able to contribute to the development of models, mathematical models you can use to make predictions about the behaviour of… pollutants in the natural systems,” Ferris said, noting it helps answer questions about how far high-level nuclear waste will travel and how long it will take, so, in case of a spill, management decisions can be made.

Born in Toronto, Ferris lived in Orillia with his grandparents until he went to elementary school in King Township.

Ferris moved back to Orillia three years ago with his wife, Sylvia Ward.

Twitter: @journokristen

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