"Brief history of the Ph.D. Programme in Chemistry at"
Brief history of the Ph.D. Programme in Chemistry at York This account is in the nature of an oral history, written from memory without the beneﬁt of notes, forty years after the fact; it covers roughly the period 1965–1973, although some dates may be a bit fuzzy. The original complement of the new Chemistry Department on this campus in 1965 was Bob Lundell, who had been on Faculty since 1961 at the Glendon campus, Harold Schiﬀ (Dean of Science cum Chairman of Chemistry) and John Goodings, both from McGill, and me from Manchester. We newcomers also brought with us a goodly selection of post-doctoral assistants and (in-course) graduate students who would eventually complete their Ph.D. degrees in either McGill or Manchester. The inﬂux also included a functioning mass-spectrometer facility from McGill along with Ben Khouw who, in addition to his other duties, ran it until his retirement about a decade ago. By accident or by design, we were all physical chemists. A year (or so) later, Harold Schiﬀ asked me to stand in for him at a meeting in Toronto of all of the Chemistry Chairmen in Ontario. The main agenda was a discussion of the high-school curricula, particularly in mathematics and physics, and to a lesser extent chemistry and biology. Being largely ignorant on these matters, I just remained a spectator. This group was meeting twice a year, and a couple of meetings later, after I had oﬃcially become Chairman, we were made aware of misgivings at the Provincial Government level that to run doctoral programmes in all subjects across the whole of Ontario was becoming far too expensive. They wished to come to a more rational solution, and as the Chemistry Chairmen were the best organised group in the Province, Chemistry would be chosen as a vehicle through which to develop the new policy. According to the more experienced in the group, our Chairman Bobby McIntosh (Queen’s), Don LeRoy, soon to be succeeded by Adrian Brook (Toronto), Dick Tomlinson (McMaster), and Howard Clark (Western), the game was to ﬁnd a formula whereby the big-four (Toronto, McMaster, Western and Queen’s) would continue to award Ph.D. degrees and the rest of us would be limited to Master’s programmes – and to do it with a veneer of democracy. Following a long discussion of the pros and cons of this idea we resolved, unanimously, to oppose it. Shortly, there was a meeting with an advisor to the Ministry at Queen’s Park, Mel Preston, in which exactly this proposal was laid out as a starting point, whereupon our Chairman, Adrian Brook, turned to me with a grin and said “Well, Huw, what do you think of that?” and I was left to be point man for “the rest”. In response to the stranding of very experienced Ph.D. supervisors in all the new universities, many recently recruited from overseas, it was proposed that they could supervise students in nearby institutions, e.g. Gerald Aspinall in Trent at Queen’s, all of us in York at U of T – and I commented that for Ken Walker in Lakehead, the nearest Ph.D. programme was in Duluth, Minnesota, only a 400-mile round trip to see his students! Soon, a formal evaluation process was begun under the auspices of what was called ACAP (Advisory Committee on Academic Policy), so data were collected, collated, and submitted, but I reckoned that whatever macro-indicators they used, we would come in equal fourth. By then, we were in a very fortunate position: York was growing by leaps and bounds and the Chemistry Department along with it; we were working originally to a plan by which we would achieve a Departmental complement of 30 by 1973; however, due to a change in Provincial funding policies half way through this time frame, we eventually only achieved two-thirds of this number by that time. There were two vital parts to this plan: one was to resolve the initial gross imbalance of the Department in favour of physical chemistry so that our Ordinary and Honours degrees would receive accreditation, resulting in the recruitment of (in alphabetical order) Bob Allan, Gerald Aspinall, Doug Butler, Clive Holloway, Alan Hopkinson, Ed Lee-Ruﬀ, Barry Lever, Cliﬀ Leznoﬀ, Dennis Stynes, Ian Walker, and the assimilation of Colin McArthur from the General Education Programme. The other was to build as rapidly as possible a research presence, founded on the expertise of the original four physical chemists and the synergy with the original four molecular spectroscopists in the Physics Department, and to do so under the shadow of the University of Toronto which already had the most powerful physical chemistry research group in the Country; here, we searched for both good teachers and powerful researchers, to include over time (again in alphabetical order) Diet Bohme, Tucker Carrington, Steve Filseth, Don Hastie, Geoﬀ Hunter, Morris Katz, Brian Ridley, Karle Welge, Bob Young, and with the assimilation of Brian Cragg from General Education and Chester Sadowski from Atkinson College. Moreover, we had momentum: not only did a handful of students graduate in McGill and in Manchester, but we began in 1965 with an embryonic Ph.D. programme in “Experimental Space Science” shared between the Physics and Chemistry Departments, and in which we had already graduated two students (one from Physics and one from Chemistry) in 1967 and, by 1970, we chemists had a number of students enrolled, several approaching completion. This unusual programme resided within CRESS (Centre for Research in Experimental Space Science – more recently Earth and Space Science) whose Director was Ralph Nicholls, also founding Chairman of Physics. For him, the word “Space” could be interpreted very liberally, to the extent that I was able to supervise students studying bizarre things like the hydrogen peroxide–iodate oscillator, complexes of halogens with isocyanides, or the thermal decomposition of di-tert-butyl peroxide through the critical point of a solvent; the important words were “Science”, “Research”, and “Experimental”, the value to us being that just about any student with aptitude in physical chemistry, broadly interpreted, could be accommodated within the programme. Also, we had superb workshops and workshop staﬀ, mechanical, electronic, and glass-blowing. We had our own small science library, starting in 1965 with a few journals going back to 1960, but being ﬁlled in as rapidly as possible by aquisition of Annalen, Berichte, Beilstein, J.C.S., J.A.C.S., J.Chem.Phys., J.Phys.Chem., Proc.Roy.Soc., Phys.Rev., Faraday, etc., either back to their ﬁrst issue, or else into the preceding Century; and what we didn’t have, the staﬀ of the Steacie Library did their best to get it for us as quickly as possible, usually as photocopy from NRC, or else hardcopy via Inter-Library Loan. With computing, we had a bit more of a struggle [Appendix 1]. Originally, decks of cards were trekked down with the inter-library loan materials to the U of T to be run on their IBM 7094 computer. Job turn-around was one day, if you were lucky, but mostly two or three; trivial programming errors were clearly most debilitating, as were job failures due to card-punch or card-reader malfunction. Within a couple of years, the University aquired its own IBM 360-50 machine, making job turn-around an order of magnitude faster, but its conﬁguration was more suited to administrative than to scientiﬁc computing. In fact, even in the mid-1970s, the list of priorities for computing was headed by Payroll, then Government Reporting, with Research Computing sixth out of seven items. So, as administrative computing grew, and bigger and faster machines were installed, we ﬂoated along on the coat-tails. A signiﬁcant weakness was a paucity of graduate courses – but in those early days, we were all on so many committees trying to build a Department and helping to build a University, there were only so many courses that a small handful of people could give. We relied heavily on CRESS as, at that time, most of our students were physical chemists for whom Ralph Nicholls’ course on atomic and molecular spectroscopy was a natural1 and, from 1968 on, when we began to mount 4th Year Honours courses, they also doubled as graduate courses. One of the earliest of these was a physical chemistry course given by Morris Katz which we named, appropriately we thought, Applied Chemistry given his eminence in what is now known as Environmental Chemistry and his long service on International Joint Commissions dealing with cross-border pollution. Approval for this course was denied from Queen’s Park, with the threat that if we enrolled any students in it, we would not only be denied “Brownie Points” (Basic Income Units) for them, but would be penalised by the additional loss of an equivalent amount of income support. The assertion was that in mounting this course, we were trying to bring in Engineering by the back door, contrary to a recent decision not to fund another School of Engineering in Ontario, and in which York had expressed a nascent interest; ﬁrst priority, however, was (President) Murray Ross’ campaign for a new Medical School, and for which Doris Nicholls in Biology had managed the academic sections of the Proposal. The allegedly oﬀending course eventually went ahead following representations from Harold Schiﬀ and (Vice-President) Jim Gillies. The ACAP process dragged on beyond my tenure as Chairman, to be replaced in 1972 by Gerald Aspinall who had been ﬁghting his own battle for Trent up until then. The “assessment” turned out more-or-less as I had hoped: three departments, Toronto, McMaster, Western, out in front and a second tier of three, Ottawa, Queen’s and York, virtually equivalent – not the originally desired outcome. The ﬁnal report, late in 1973, recommended that we continue to oﬀer a Ph.D. degree in Physical Chemistry and in Analytical Chemistry but only a Master’s degree in all other areas; the second sub-topic was the result not only of strength since 1965 in mass spectrometry, but also due to growth over time in atmospheric analytical expertise. Some excuse for these restrictions was a doctrinaire assumption that a viable Ph.D. programme should comprise at least 25–30 faculty and 50 graduate students: we had about 20 faculty at that time, but were still well below 50 students. However, we were not out of the woods: the main Report alluded to 1 See also item 2 in of this web-page set of documents. our speciﬁc weaknesses, and the licence was conditional upon subsequent reappraisal, coupled with an injunction to intensify eﬀorts to cross-appoint faculty members between institutions. This concept of “distance supervision” was a recurring issue throughout these deliberations. I presume that it stemmed from the way supervision of graduate students commonly occurred in Arts Departments, where the student and supervisor might meet once a month to discuss progress, whereas we in Science hardly ever go a day without such contact – I never did unless it was absolutely unavoidable. The diﬃculties in such arrangements were formidable: I spent much time while I was still Chairman trying to arrange for an M.Sc. student from Trent to transfer to a York Ph.D. under his same supervisor. We had plenty of room in those days to accommodate him and his equipment, but it couldn’t be moved here because it was part of their Departmental facility, and what we had here was not suitable for the project. Knowing this, I decided we had better understand how it might work before the mess was imposed on us, so I wrote to Adrian Brook asking for me to be appointed to their Graduate Programme and thereby create a template by which all our other Faculty might supervise students working towards a Toronto Ph.D. degree, and likewise between other pairs of Universities. Could they ﬁnd space for my students and their vacuum systems, &c.? Could our students use their IR, UV, etc., facilities, or would their samples have to be run here? What about the equipment we had shipped down there that was shared by my post-docs? And so on, and so on,...... I received a two sentence reply saying that I had raised some interesting questions followed by a much longer letter a month later, declining my request because it was hypothetical. Nevertheless, by now it was quite clear that it would be impossible for them to accommodate a dozen-or-so of our Ph.D. students in any meaningful way, and if it were to be suggested, it would be equally a non-starter for them as for us.2 Returning to the decision that we would be allowed to continue on to Ph.D. in only physical and analytical areas, the establishment of arbitrary divisions within what is really a continuum from chemical physics to biochemistry was meaningless and it was not clear how it might be enforced. So we simply carried on quietly, not making any waves, in the hope that it would all go away. A potential early test case was a student of Doug Butler’s who was working on a series of 2 By some accident, these letters have survived, and are reproduced in Appendix 2. Diels-Alder reactions with varying degrees of steric hindrance in the products, for which we evolved a back-up strategy: should there be any objection, the student would use one or other of my high-precision calorimeters to obtain the reaction heats (essentially a two or three month turn-key project), and correlate with the observed rates and/or product yields3 – to be followed by a determined ﬁght against any denial. The strategy was never needed, and I doubt whether the student ever knew about it, so we eased quietly into a normal mode of operation; it took about a decade instead of being relatively plain sailing over the ﬁrst three or four years as we had originally imagined. Would that the many hours spent (not only by me but by others in the Department, and in the Science and Graduate Faculty oﬃces too) shadow boxing with administrators and bureaucrats, could have been spent in the laboratory doing something useful.4 It also goes without saying that the enthusiastic support and encouragement from Ralph Nicholls and other members of CRESS in Physics were invaluable. Two other factors were pertinent to the development of this graduate programme: (1) connections with Biology; (2) problems over space. (1) The original vision was that there would be two joint programmes, CRESS between Chemistry and Physics, and an equivalent one between Chemistry and Biology; thus, Chemistry would be at the centre of a Physics–Biology continuum.5 There would also be individual programmes in Physics, Chemistry and Biology to accommodate topics that would not ﬁt well into these interdisciplinary groups. The early appointment of Bob Allan in Chemistry, and my replacement as Chairman by Gerald Aspinall showed Chemistry’s original commitment to this principle, as well as the appointment of Bob Haynes, origially a physicist, as Chairman in Biology. Circa 1970, Biology went ahead with the establishment of its own Ph.D. 3 Nowadays, one might simply calculate the structures and their energies at some moderately acceptable DFT level of approximation. 4 A more sympathetic “bird’s-eye” sketch of this imbroglio is available in Growth and Governance of Canadian Universities by H. C. Clark, UBC Press, 2003, pp 58–60. 5 Or even an Engineering-Physics-Chemistry-Biology-Medicine continuum; I had hoped that this continuum would have encompassed mathematics too, but the original Department of Mathematics was created as a traditional Arts-Faculty entity, and the ﬂedgling Department of Computer Science, despite hiring an accomplished former CRESS/Manchester student quite early on, was dominated by people disinterested in numerically intensive computing. programme with the strong support from this Department. During the assessment process, in a group with one of the Assessors (an ecologist who had a computer programme modelling the Vancouver Basin), someone asked what happened as you extended the calculation into the future, to which he replied “It blows up in 1973”. I simply commented that was because they weren’t conserving all the variables in the calculation with suﬃcient precision – a commonly occurring feature in kinetic rate calculations, leading to spurious (Lyapounov) divergences, the proverbial “hockey stick” (or butterﬂy) eﬀect. In his report, this Assessor commented that the Chairman of Chemistry was most unsympathetic to the proposed Ph.D. programme! A little oﬀ the mark considering that I left Manchester on the point of starting a collaboration on viruses with a medic at the Royal Inﬁrmary, and once here I wrote proposals on the huge diﬀerence in odour thresholds between organic cyanides and isocyanides, and how cyclopropane (with which I had worked for over 15 years) acted as an anaesthetic. However, the Steacie era when “blue skies” research stood some chance of support was over and I had to get money the way I knew best, driving me in orthogonal directions. Add to that, the ﬁrst Biology Ph.D. student was processed through our Ph.D. programme, beginning around 1969, supervised by Doris Nicholls. Now, we have evolved to a situation where the Department has a strong biological element, but less through formal arrangements with Biology, rather that the balance of funding in Chemistry itself has moved in that direction. In no small measure, it was the insight of two of the early physical chemists, John Goodings and Diet Bohme, who saw that capitalising upon our original strength in mass spectrometry could open the door to achieving this objective. Just now, we appear to be on the threshold of the creation of a new joint research centre between Biology and Chemistry. 2) In 1965, this campus began with four buildings, Physical Plant, Founders’ College, the Steacie Library, and the Farquharson Science Building which housed Physics, Chemistry, Biology, their workshops, the post oﬃce, and the telephone exchange. Until the Farquharson building was ready in late August, we were all holed up at Glendon waiting to begin classes straight after Labour Day; its formal opening, by Linus Pauling, was held the following Spring with trees planted and sod laid to hide the mud two days before the ceremony. Early in 1968, the physicists and and some chemists (inorganic and physical) moved to the new Petrie Science Building about 100 yards away. Already in progress was the design of the new “1970 Chemistry Building” which was to be connected to the Petrie building on all ﬂoors, where the multi-storey car park now stands; Bob Lundell and John Goodings had spent endless hours making sure that it would all work as planned. Then, one Monday night when the Board of Govenors’ agenda included the approval of its construction, there was a rumour (or leak?) that the Government was about to change the way it funded universities, and the decision was put oﬀ to the next meeting. Sure enough, a new funding formula was announced, with Basic Income Units on a scale of 1 to 6 depending upon student type, and a crude space formula based on square feet per student. This formula reﬂected more-or-less what existed in the established universities, but not in those that were growing rapidly where lecture theatres, library facilities, and buildings like the gymnasium and/or ice rink were being built to accommodate the anticipated enrolment, so that we were assessed to have 30-40% excess capacity; Guelph also suﬀered badly because the greenhouses for their agricultural programmes were included in the formula. The model of the 1970 Building, which had been on display for some time in the Steacie Library foyer disappeared, and the hopes for the new building receded into memory. Moreover, around this time, the gloom was compounded by persistent rumours that the Holiday Inn would purchase the whole campus and turn it into an international conference and sports-competition centre. Thus began a period of about 25 years in which the Department was split between two non-adjacent buildings, and two spells in which the Chairman had his oﬃce and lab in one with the Departmental Secretary in the other. Normal day-to-day interactions were seriously inhibited, not only amongst faculty members but also amongst graduate students, many of whom had degrees from other institutions and did not share the beneﬁt of knowing others who had been members of the same undergraduate class. This situation was partly resolved by the construction of a new building shared between Chemistry and Computer Science in 1994, with the result that oﬃces and laboratories of all members of the Department are now spread over three conjoined buildings. Reﬁtting of the space recently vacated by Computer Science for chemistry use should begin to repair the fragmentation due to the cancellation of the 1970 Chemistry Building. Huw Pritchard, January, 2009.