National award solidifies chemistry department's place among elite in Canada

Stephen Loeb is clearly reticent about tooting his own horn, but as far as friends and colleagues are concerned, it’s high time the chemistry professor was recognized for a career of consistently producing cutting edge research and cranking out top quality graduate students from his lab.

A professor and Canada Research Chair in Supramolecular and Inorganic Chemistry who joined UWindsor in 1990, Dr. Loeb recently learned the Canadian Society for Chemistry awarded him the highly coveted Rio Tinto Alcan Award for distinguished contributions to the field of inorganic chemistry or electrochemistry.

“He’s clearly among Canada’s elite in chemistry, and because of his low-key nature this has been a long time coming,” said Doug Stephan, a past recipient of the award and former UWindsor professor who nominated him for the award. “He’s been quietly publishing stellar material but not making a lot of noise about it.”

Loeb becomes the third UWindsor professor to win the award. Dr. Stephan, who now works at the University of Toronto, won it in 2001 while he was still here. Dennis Tuck, who died in 2003, won the award in 1988. The 2007 winner of the award from Queen's University, Suning Wang actually got her start at UWindsor, working here from 1990 to 1996.

The only other universities to win three times are the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. Considering it’s for lifetime achievement and that the Queen's winner spent an appreciable amount of time here, UWindsor should be viewed as leading the field with three-and-a-half wins, according to Phil Dutton, head of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Adding extra shine to the accomplishment is the fact that chemistry departments at those other schools are twice the size of UWindsor’s, Dr. Dutton added.

“We’ve known anecdotally for years that we were strong, especially in inorganic chemistry, but this is a real measure of success,” Dutton said. “Our labs are as good as any in Canada. We provide a really good working environment and as a team, our department works really well together.”

For his part, Loeb was taking the accomplishment in stride.

“I think we’ve established a tradition here in inorganic chemistry, and I kind of feel like I’m following in the footsteps of giants,” he said, noting that Tuck and professor emeritus Bruce McGarvey were particular sources of inspiration.

Born in the United Kingdom, Loeb moved to Canada as a boy and grew up in Oakville. He earned his degrees at the University of Western Ontario, where he went to graduate school with Stephan, who eventually recruited him to Windsor. He said the department has always been strong one, well supported by the university and funding agencies such as NSERC and CFI.

“It’s always been a research department right from the word ‘go’ back in the 70s and it’s been that way ever since,” said Loeb, whose research over the last decade has been largely focused on installing molecular machines and switches into solid state materials.

Loeb said there are other up-and-coming researchers in his department who are likely candidates to win the award in the future, but was quick to attribute the current accomplishment to the hard work of his graduate students, many who have gone on to successful careers in industry and academia, he said.

That didn’t come as any surprise to Stephan, who said he has a student currently working in his own lab who got his start in Loeb’s.

“This kid is just amazing and a lot of that has to do with how he was trained,” Stephan said.

Loeb will present his award lecture in Calgary at the 95th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition held in Calgary, May 26 to 30.