ChemistryWestern Science

Prof. Usselman's Book on Wollaston Published

We are pleased to announce that Professor Emeritus Mel Usselman’s book “Pure Intelligence: the Life of William Hyde Wollaston” has been published by the University of Chicago Press to critical acclaim. Mel’s study is the first definitive, full-length biography of this important British innovator in science.

Wollaston was a polymath who made significant contributions to chemistry (he discovered elements Pd and Rh), powder metallurgy, and other many other areas of science including botany, mechanics, electrochemistry, astronomy, crystallography, physiology, optics, and scientific instrumentation. Along with his colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young, he was widely recognized during his life as one of Britain’s leading scientific practitioners in the first part of the nineteenth century; however, his contributions had fallen into obscurity without an historical account of his science and his achievements. Mel’s book will now change that.

Pure Intelligence is the culmination of many years of Mel’s careful, painstaking analysis of Wollaston’s notebooks and reconstruction experiments followed by several years of writing, re-writing , re-writing, re-writing, editing and proofing.  Such an achievement comes from unbridled enthusiasm for the subject, patience and personal perseverance. We are extremely happy to see Mel’s efforts and hard work come to fruition. Please join us in warmly congratulating Mel for this lifetime achievement. We sincerely hope we can raise our glass to him in the near future and express our congratulations in person.

The book will be available for purchase on May 5th from both University of Chicago Press and Amazon’s websites.

Addendum added March 24, 2015.  Message from the Chair:


With deepest sadness, I am writing to let you know that Professor Emeritus Mel Usselman passed away peacefully this morning [March 23, 2015]. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family members, Trixie, Jaspar, Charlotte, David and, in spirit, his son Richard.

Mel graduated with an Honors BSc in Chemistry in 1968 and then did his PhD under the supervision of the late Paul deMayo which he completed in 1973 at Western. During his PhD, Mel became interested in the history of science. He completed an MA in History in 1975 also at Western. After completing his MA, he held a joint appointment between the Departments of Chemistry and the History of Medicine & Science until 1981 before rejoining the Department fully as an Associate Professor of Chemistry. He was promoted to full professor in 2005. He retired in 2013.

Mel was the consummate colleague and excelled at everything he did. For teaching, he was one of those rare individuals who consistently provided "the best student experience at a research-intensive university" even before Western coined that phrase. His excellence in teaching was recognized at the university, provincial, and national levels. Mel’s research was focused on historical topics in Chemistry.  His research is highly regarded within his discipline and he has received accolades including the Liebig-Woehler Friendship Prize for research in the History of Chemistry from the Wilhelm Lewicki Foundation and the German Chemical Society. He has just published his life’s work: “Pure Intelligence: the Life of William Hyde Wollaston” to critical acclaim.

Perhaps what Mel will be remembered for by most of us is how he willingly and graciously provided many hours of wise counsel to junior and senior colleagues alike over the years. He was known as the voice of reason in the department and the university.

Mel was an extraordinary teacher, a dedicated researcher, a great colleague and a true friend. We will miss him greatly.