UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 16 | October
Charles A. McDowell: first-rate all the way
Charles McDowell, former head of the Chemistry Dept. died last
month. One of UBC's most prestigious research prizes, the Charles
A. McDowell Award for Excellence in Research, is named in his honour.
by Prof. Michael C.L. Gerry
With the passing of C.A. McDowell, UBC lost one of the
giants of its history. Charles McDowell was head of the Chemistry
Dept. from 1955 until 1981.
When he arrived the department was small, with about a dozen faculty,
and was housed in one building, the oldest on the campus. Research
was only a minor part of the enterprise.
His vision, and his greatest achievement, were to create a vital,
modern department, first class in both teaching and research. He
realized in particular that the greatness of a university is set
by its research achievements.
He was the right man at the right time. Through his initiative,
four new wings were built. Two were for undergraduate teaching,
and two were for research.
He hired people -- lots of them -- and was especially good at it.
In terms of faculty numbers, UBC had at one time one of the largest
chemistry departments in North America.
A dozen of the faculty he hired have become fellows of the Royal
Society of Canada.
He realized, too, that to meet his vision the department had to
have first-rate support facilities, with first-rate staff.
He created some of the best support facilities of any Chemistry
department anywhere. They remain to this day, and are a major factor
in recruiting outstanding new faculty.
His own research was in physical chemistry, including many branches
of it: gas phase chemical kinetics, mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic
resonance, electron spin resonance and photoelectron spectroscopy.
He received many honours, the highest of which was the Order of
During his last two years as head he became very ill with Guillain-Barré
syndrome which left him in a wheelchair.
Through both courage and determination he returned to UBC as University
Professor, and resumed his research career, which he continued until
shortly before his death. For this, and for his achievements, he
will long be remembered.
Chemistry Prof. Michael Gerry was a friend and long-time colleague
of Charles McDowell.