Mel Usselman

Mel Usselman

In Memorium

Professor Emeritus


Research Areas

History of Chemistry


B.Sc., M.A., UWO.; Ph.D., UWO.


  • Ontario Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award
  • UWO Pleva Teaching Award
  • OCUFA Award for Teaching Excellence
  • Alumni Western, Bank of Nova Scotia, University Students' Council Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, March 2005
  • USC Teaching Honour Roll for 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03 and 2003-04.
  • Liebig-Wöhler Friendship prize for research in the History of Chemistry, Wilhelm Lewicki Foundation and the German Chemical Society, Göttingen, Germany, June 3, 2004


The core of my research program is an extensive and detailed study of the chemistry and scientific career of William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828), culminating in a full scientific biography, which would be the first such work. Working from copies of Wollaston’s laboratory records and other contemporary documents, I have expanded my studies to include investigation of the interaction of science with technology, pure versus applied chemistry, late 18th-century medical practices and chemical entrepreneurship.

A central component of my research methodology is the experimental reconstruction of historic chemical discoveries. This technique has generated novel insights into Wollaston’s method for producing malleable platinum, Chenevix’s experiment’s on "artificial" palladium, the contributions of Dalton, Thomson, Wollaston, Berthollet and Bérard to the law of multiple combining proportions, and most recently, Liebig’s "kaliapparat" for the combustion analysis of organic compounds . The comparison of experimentally-obtained and published data has initiated a recent investigation of scientific creativity, and an analysis of the difference between scientific induction and self-deception.


  • “Dalton’s Disputed Nitric Oxide Experiments and the Origins of his Atomic Theory”, Melvyn C. Usselman, Derek G. Leaist, Katherine D. Watson, ChemPhysChem, 2008, 9, 106-110.

  • "Restaging Liebig: a Study in the Replication of Experiments”, Melvyn C. Usselman, Alan J. Rocke, Christina Reinhart, and Kelly Foulser, Annals of Science, 62, 1-55 (2005).

  • “Smithson Tennant: the innovative and eccentric eighth Professor of Chemistry”, Melvyn Usselman, The 1702 Chair of Chemistry at Cambridge: Transformation and Change, Mary D. Archer and Christopher D. Haley (eds), Cambridge U. P., Cambridge, Chap.5, 113-137, 2004.

  • “Liebig’s Alkaloid Analyses: the Uncertain Route from Elemental Content to Molecular Formulae”, M.C.Usselman, Ambix, 50, 71-89 (2003).

  • “William Hyde Wollaston’s Platinum Process: the bicentenary of the platinum industry”, M.C.Usselman, Chemistry in Britain, December 2001, 38-40.