ChemistryWestern Science

Paul de Mayo Lectureship

Paul de Mayo was a dedicated teacher-scholar at Western for 35 years. After his death in 1994, contributions for a fund to commemorate his life and work came from around the world, reflecting the high respect, admiration, and affection of his former collaborators and colleagues. This fund now honors one of Western's top graduate students each year.

About Paul de Mayo

Paul de MayoPaul de Mayo, Professor of Chemistry and Emeritus Professor, was born in London, England in 1924. He studied for the external London B.Sc. (1944) at the University College of the Southwest of England in Exeter, and subsequently earned a part time M.Sc. (in 1952) at Birkbeck College, London, where he also took his PhD (1954) under the supervision of D.H.R. (later Sir Derek) Barton. As an assistant lecturer and later as lecturer, Paul accompanied Barton in his moves from Birkbeck to Glasgow (1955) and to Imperial College, London (1957). During a year (1958 - 1959) as a postdoctoral fellow with R.B. Woodward at Harvard, he was recruited by Fred Pattison, the incoming Head of the Department of Chemistry, as part of a plan to establish a vigorous program of research in Chemistry at Western.

Thus began Paul's association of more than 35 years with Western. He rapidly established himself with an active program of research in organic chemistry, initially in both structural and synthetic aspects of natural products, in flash thermolysis, and in photochemistry, the last providing an abiding and evolving interest throughout his whole career. His research activities were summarized in more than 250 contributions. Notable among his efforts are the discovery of the photoinduced addition of an enolized diketone to an alkene (known as the De Mayo Reaction), and the first synthesis (by flash thermolysis) of a simple pentalene derivative. His work was recognized by a number of awards, including the Merck, Sharp and Dohme Lecture Award (1966) of the Chemical Institute of Canada, the Chemical Institute of Canada Medal (1982, the highest award of the C.I.C.), the first E.W.R Steacie Award in Photochemistry (1985) and the E.W.R. Steacie Award in Chemistry (1992). In 1971 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, and in 1975 a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Paul set very high standards for himself and expected them in others. He was very much a presence in the department but never sought official positions such as chairman or dean; he preferred to be an éminence grise using 'the oblique approach' (his term) of convincing people by private conversation. To work with Paul was, for most people, a memorable experience. He could be in turn charming or difficult, but in either mode was a force to be reckoned with. He also had an original and quirky sense of humour with a distinct taste for the private joke. For example, in a paper on the first synthesis of thiobenzaldehyde and thioacrolein he wrote 'The calculated (25) spectrum of 7 [thioacrolein] includes maxima at 265 and 570 nm5. . . .' Footnote 5 reads (in full), 'The CNEBI approach yields similar results.' CNEBI was not explained nor could it have been expected to be common knowledge; it stood for Complete Neglect of Everything But Intuition.

Paul was a dedicated teacher. In addition to his more conventional teaching duties, he originated and, for many years, ran Problem Seminars - a course with the explicit purpose of promoting critical thinking. Paul directed the work of >40 graduate students and >70 postdoctoral co-workers from many parts of the world. At the news of his death (on July 26, 1994) contributions for a fund to commemorate his life and work came from around the world, reflecting the high respect, admiration, and affection of his former collaborators and colleagues.

It is particularly appropriate that this award, which celebrates high merit in graduate work, should commemorate the name of Paul de Mayo, who worked so hard to establish the conditions in this department which make such excellence possible.

Past de Mayo Lecturers