Prize history

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History of the Steacie Prize

The Steacie Prize is named to honour the memory of Edgar William Richard Steacie, a physical chemist and former President of the National Research Council of Canada. It is supported from the income of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund which was established in 1963 through contributions from several hundred friends, associates and former colleagues of Dr. Steacie.

In his position as President of the National Research Council of Canada, Dr. Steacie did much to encourage young people in whom he had a special interest and for whose research he tried to arrange optimum circumstances. The Steacie Prize is therefore awarded to a younger person 40 years of age or less who has made notable contributions to research in Canada. The average age of recipients of the Steacie Prize has been 38 years.

E.W.R. Steacie (1900-1962)
"The Man and His Position"

At his death in August 1962, Dr. Steacie was the accepted leader of Canadian science, a distinction that he had attained because of his offficial position as President of the National Research Council, his outstanding research accomplishments, his sure feel for scientific values, and his strong personality. In Dr. Steacie, official position and personal ability were happily matched; it seemed almost that the wide responsibilities of the National Research Council had been designed with such a man in view. Although at his death his reputation and his influence extended well beyond the Canadian scene, it is for the inspiration and direction that he gave to science in Canada that Dr. Steacie will best be remembered.

Dr. Steacie was born in Montreal on Christmas Day in 1900 and received his early education there. Following a year at the Royal Military College in Kingston, he studied chemical engineering at McGill University and received the B.Sc. degree in 1923. He then enrolled in the graduate school to work in physical chemistry and, coming under the influence of Professor Otto Maass, he quickly became absorbed in basic research. Having achieved his Ph.D. in 1926, he continued as a lecturer at McGill and, shortly after, started the research in chemical kinetics which became his lifelong major scientific interest. During 1934-35, Dr. Steacie took a leave of absence from McGill to spend a year in Europe. During this period, he worked with Professor K.F. Bonnhoeffer in Frankfurt and with Professor A.J. Allmand at King's College, London. Returning to McGill, he remained there as Associate Professor of Chemistry until 1939 when he joined the National Research Council as Director of the Division of Chemistry.

For a period during the war, Dr. Steacie was second-in-command to Sir John Cockcroft at the British-Canadian Atomic Energy Project in Montreal, in addition to being Director of NRC's Chemistry Division. After the war, he resumed his research and quickly established his laboratory as one of the leading centres in the world for the study of chemical kinetics. It was at this time that he devised the imaginative program of NRC postdoctorate fellowships which contributed so greatly to the vitality of the NRC laboratories.

In 1950, Dr. Steacie became Vice-President (Scientific) of the National Research Council and, in 1952, its President. During the decade that followed, he demonstrated his conviction that one of the greatest contributions the National Research Council could make to research in Canada at that time was to aid the universities in building up their graduate schools. This would ensure that Canada would have the scientific climate and technical outlook that are the distinguishing features of advanced technical societies. His role as President of the National Research Council also brought increasing involvement in the international aspects of science and culminated, in 1961, in his election as President of the International Council of Scientific Unions.

In the course of his career, Dr. Steacie received numerous honours, including honorary degrees from many universities in Canada and abroad. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, a Foreign Member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and an Honorary Fellow of The Chemical Society, of the Polish Chemical Society and of the Belgian Chemical Society. He also served terms as President of the Royal Society of Canada, of the Chemical Institute of Canada and of the Faraday Society.

The Scientist

As a scientist, Dr. Steacie interacted with many brilliant contemporaries, including C.N. Hinshelwood, H. Eyring, M. Polanyi, W.A. Noyes and F. Paneth, whose theoretical concepts and experimental results had led to new understanding of the nature of chemical reactions. The recognition of the importance of atoms and free radicals as intermediates acted as a catalyst for the rapid development of research in the identification and preparation of new compounds by both thermal and photochemical means. In the mid-1930's, the theoretical treatments of F.O. Rice and K.F. Herzfeld of the role of free radicals in the thermal decomposition of organic compounds provided a base for the study of many reactions of importance to science and industry. Dr. Steacie's early work was aimed at verifying and perfecting these and other theories concerning the interpretation of overall reaction mechanisms, and of the kinetics of the elementary reaction steps of which they consist.

From thermal decomposition reactions, Dr. Steacie turned to the study of photochemical and photosensitized reactions, in order to determine their kinetic parameters and to clarify their mechanisms. Much of the primary work on reactions photosensitized by atoms of mercury, cadmium and zinc was carried out in his laboratory. His observations on the difference in reactivity of singlet and triplet excited states and his related work on the principle of spin conservation contributed substantially to the development of modern photochemistry.

In addition to his fundamental research, Dr. Steacie undertook to collect and to analyse critically all of the available data on elementary chemical reactions. His activity in this field culminated in 1946 in the first edition of his book "Atomic and Free Radical Reactions". This book, which was subsequently revised and enlarged in 1954, had a profound influence on developments in the field of chemical kinetics.

The Memorial Fund

The E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fund is an independent public foundation which is administered by the Trustees.

Each year the Trustees appoint a Selection Panel of distinguished scientists and engineers that is representative of the natural sciences and engineering and whose role it is to choose the recipient of the Steacie Prize. Nominations are received by the Secretary of the Fund who arranges for them to be reviewed by experts in any part of the world. The reports are supplied to the Selection Panel to assist it in choosing the recipient of the Prize.



"The E.W.R. Steacie Prize was an unexpected, but delightful, surprise for doing what I enjoy best doing... scientific research. It gave me the confidence (and courage) at a young age to forge the career I have today, and it helped open doors along the way."

Dr. Beveridge - University of Guelph,1984