The passing of Professor Ron Cavell

08 January 2018

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Alberta is sad to announce the passing of Professor Ronald George Cavell on November 25, 2017.

Ron Cavell was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and grew up in Lachine, Quebec. He received his B.Sc. Honours Chemistry degree from McGill University in 1958 and his Ph.D. degree in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of British Columbia in 1962. He studied as a NATO postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University in the UK from 1962 to 1964, where he developed an interest in the chemistry of phosphorus. He subsequently joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Alberta in 1964 as an Assistant Professor, retiring as a Full Professor in 2004.

Ron's early research at U of A involved the synthetic chemistry of phosphorus, nitrogen and sulfur. The structure of the compounds and their solution behavior were investigated by sophisticated NMR spectroscopic studies, supported by computer simulations. Extending the scope of this research, the interactions of these compounds with transition metals were also investigated. For his systematic and imaginative work on the chemistry of fluorinated derivatives of phosphorus Ron was awarded the inaugural Alcan Lecture Award by the Chemical Institute of Canada in 1979. Early in his career Ron also became interested in the applications of photoelectron spectroscopy in order to obtain fundamental information about chemical bonding - an interest that continued throughout his career.

In 1985, Ron began working with synchrotron-generated radiation, which allowed scientists to see matter at a microscopic level. Since then, he has worked at seven synchrotron facilities worldwide. In 1989, he became a founding member of the Canadian Institute for Synchrotron Radiation, the organization that developed the Canadian Light Source (CLS) facility from concept through design and development to construction, serving as president of the Institute from 1999 to 2006. His influence was instrumental in bringing this "big science" facility to Saskatchewan. In 2002, he successfully petitioned the Government of Alberta for a contribution of $9.2 million towards the cost of the project, which guaranteed a matching investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The CLS Synchrotron Facility at the University of Saskatchewan continues to present a host of opportunities in research and practical applications for medical, natural resource, physical, biological, environmental, and materials sciences. For his vision, leadership and commitment to the CLS facility, Ron was awarded the "Saskatchewan Distinguished Service Award" by Premier Brad Wall in 2009.

In the latter part of his career (in addition to his extensive CLS involvement), Ron continued his synthetic studies in phosphorus chemistry, developing an interesting series of electron-rich bis(iminophosphorano)methandiide pincer ligands capable of complexing a wide range of metals throughout the Periodic Table. These phosphorus-stabilized carbene complexes, including rare examples of lanthanides and actinides with metal-carbon multiple bonds, featured fascinating structural motifs, and a number of these species exhibited interesting catalytic properties. The discovery of this new ligand system resulted in a renewed vigor in Ron's synthetic studies, cementing his legacy as a talented and imaginative researcher having wide-ranging interests.