Reuben Benjamin Sandin, whose active association with the University spanned an incredible 75 years, passed away in Edmonton on the last day of February 1991.
Sandin was born in Minnesota in 1897, and shortly afterwards his family moved to a homestead in the Usona district of central Alberta. He completed high school in Wetaskiwin and went on to the University in 1913. An extremely shy student, he was inspired to a career in chemistry when he was made to feel at ease by his first chemistry professor.
The April 1916 graduation issue of Gateway makes reference to Sandin's self-effacement (‘He was so shy that it took us two years to discover his hidden qualities.’) and his brilliance. In the grandiloquent phrasing of which its editors were so fond, the publication reports that ‘...he is indeed the senior of the seniors, for he floats at the top of the class like a foam cap on a billow.’
The Gateway item finishes, with the observation, ‘He is one man in whom the 'ego' is completely subservient.’ This would remain true for the remainder of his life. When Sandin had the opportunity to receive an honorary degree from the University he was greatly moved, but he turned it down. When the Chemistry Department inaugurated the Reuben Benjamin Sandin Lecture Series, he asked that the name be changed (it wasn't), and he repeated the request almost every time he had occasion to correspond about the Lectures.
Sandin earned his BA degree in chemistry with high distinction and then completed his master's degree at the U of A in 1919, winning the Governor General's Gold Medal. He went on to the University of Chicago, where he was awarded his PhD in 1924 and won renown and the coveted Sigma Psi key of the honorary scientific fraternity.
A pioneer in the field of positive halogenorganic chemistry, Sandin was well known and respected throughout his profession, even though he never travelled to professional society meetings. His reputation was spread by his incisive publications (he published his last paper, which appeared in the prestigious Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, at age 84) and through his influence on students who went on to graduate schools throughout North America. Before his retirement in 1965, more than 200 of his students had taken the PhD degree in chemistry.
‘He did his research well and his teaching superbly,’ says Robert Crawford, '52 BSc, '54 MSc. A former chair of the Chemistry Department and now an associate dean with the University's Faculty of Science, Crawford earned his master's degree under Sandin's direction and later knew the outstanding chemistry professor as a teaching colleague. ‘He was a giant with his classes,’ says Crawford.
So popular were Sandin's lectures that when a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship took him to Harvard University for a sabbatical leave in 1939-40, his absence was keenly felt by students who had looked forward to his legendary Chemistry 42 (later 250) lectures and felt themselves to be missing a high-point of the University experience.
During his career, Sandin won many honors — he was the first Canadian to win the Outstanding College Chemistry Teacher Award sponsored by the Manufacturing Chemists' Association, Washington, D.C.; in 1958 he was elected a fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada; he received a special citation in organic chemistry from the CIC in 1960; and he won its inaugural Chemical Education Award in 1962 — but he never felt comfortable when he was receiving attention. ‘Put the spotlight on the student, not on yourself,’ was the theme of his address on the occasion of his receiving the CIC Education Award.
A commemorative service for the legendary chemistry professor who unfailingly put the spotlight on his students was held on campus on 5 April. It was attended by many former colleagues and students, one who made the trip from Montreal just to be there. They spoke about ‘Rube’ with the genuine affection that is contained in Bob Crawford's remark eulogizing his former teacher and friend: ‘This is someone who is very special, a benevolent individual who is part of the history of this institution in a very distinct way.’
An undergraduate scholarship in Dr. Sandin's honor has been established. Donations to the RB Sandin Scholarship Fund can be sent to the Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2G2.