Groundwater pioneer wins LKY prize

Professor John Anthony Cherry was selected from more than 90 nominees from around the world for this year's Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.
Professor John Anthony Cherry was selected from more than 90 nominees from around the world for this year's Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

A Canadian pioneer in groundwater research has been awarded this year's prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Anthony Cherry won the prize for his contributions to the advancement of groundwater science, policies and technologies.

Launched in 2008, the award recognises individuals or organisations that have contributed to solving global water challenges through innovative technologies, policies or programmes.

Prof Cherry was selected from more than 90 nominees from around the world, and the result was announced yesterday by Mr Ng Joo Hee, chief executive of national water agency PUB.

Prof Cherry, who was visiting Singapore for the first time, said: "I've learnt the meaning of the name Kuan Yew is light bright. This is very fitting for the leader that has made Singapore shine."

When he began studying groundwater contamination some 50 years ago, he was among the first few to venture into the area.

Groundwater, which can be found in spaces between soil particles and fractured rock underground, makes up about 95 per cent of the planet's usable fresh water.

However, the water can be contaminated by agricultural practices or energy production such as shale fracking - the process of fracturing shale rock underground to release natural gas.

In the 1980s, Prof Cherry established the Borden Groundwater Field Research Facility in Canada, taking groundwater research out of the laboratory. He is currently Distinguished Emeritus Professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Among other contributions, his recommendations for cleanup and monitoring have been implemented in countries such as the United States, Brazil and China.

Prof Cherry, 74, will receive a cash prize of S$300,000, a certificate and a gold medallion for his efforts. On July 11, he will also deliver the Singapore Water Lecture.

The prize money will go towards making an electronic version of a textbook he published with a colleague in 1979, he said. Entitled Groundwater, it is still widely used by graduate students. He hopes to update it, and put it up for free online to be read as well as critiqued.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Groundwater pioneer wins LKY prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe