Brief history of the Ph.D. Programme in Chemistry at by oft14212


									 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
      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
      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.
     Nowadays, one might simply calculate the structures and their energies at some
moderately acceptable DFT level of approximation.
     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.
     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.

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