Faces of Philanthropy: Manley Johnston

Manley Johnston extends a link of support spanning generations of scientists with creation of a funded professorship in chemistry.

Andrew Lyle - 11 January 2022

Support by chemist Manley Johnston ('64 BSc (Hons)), will fund the Manley and Marian Johnston Professorship in Chemistry, driving forward research in chemistry and support for the next generation of scientists.

Support by chemist Manley Johnston ('64 BSc (Hons)), will fund the Manley and Marian Johnston Professorship in Chemistry, driving forward research in chemistry and support for the next generation of scientists.

Retired chemist Manley Johnston (‘64 BSc (Hons)) is no stranger to the difference that mentorship can make in one’s career. From his graduate studies in the United States to a globe-spanning career in industry, Johnston credits part of his success to his mentors at the University of Alberta. Now, he is helping uphold and extend that legacy to the next generation by establishing the Manley and Marian Johnston Professorship in Chemistry.

“Looking back, one of the things that strikes me particularly about my experience at the University of Alberta was that it prepared me very well for the academic and industry challenges that I would face throughout my career,” said Johnston. “I’ve also had tremendous opportunities, and I’m glad to now have the opportunity to support the ongoing excellence of the Department of Chemistry today.”

A legacy of mentorship

Johnston reflects back on his undergraduate degree in the University of Alberta’s with fondness — particularly for the instructors of his class. While the honors chemistry class of 1964 was just 13 people, he shared how an all-star line-up of professors laid the seeds for him and many of his classmates to pursue very successful careers.

In his undergraduate studies, Johnston conducted research under Professor Robert Crawford and learned under Professor Reuben Sandin. He credits both with providing outstanding mentorship and fostering a spirit of independence when it came to research — skills that would serve him well in his career.

After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta in 1964, Johnston completed his PhD at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1968 before joining 3M, a multinational corporation that develops and produces a variety of products, from household items to scientific sector solutions.

“I joined 3M right out of graduate school. I was a bench chemist and I eventually went into management. My career eventually led me to Europe, where I spent three years in France and three in Belgium,” said Johnston.

Johnston would work with 3M for 35 years, over the course of his career becoming vice president of international technical operations for the prestigious company. Johnston retired in 2003, and has decided to support the institutions that helped him on his own academic journey.

“The University of Alberta is an excellent school, and the mentorship of my instructors absolutely supported me in my career,” said Johnston. “I wanted to be able to support the Department of Chemistry, to help contribute to that excellence, and help maintain that excellence for an extended period of time.”

Supporting the next generation

The Manley and Marian Johnston Professorship in Chemistry will support an assistant or associate professor, particularly those with a research focus in physical organic chemistry. The funding will support the researcher as they develop an innovative and robust research program. 

“There are so many rich possibilities facing the field of chemistry right now, and this professorship is able to cast a wide net to support tackling some pressing issues, including some related to our environment, which I am quite passionate about,” said Johnston.

And just as his own journey was supported by mentorship and flourished into a successful career, Johnston sees the professorship supporting the next generation as well.

“Just as students become professors, professors become mentors themselves, as research advisors,” said Johnston. “This professorship will aid one such researcher as they tackle important scientific problems and become a leader and mentor themselves.”

That link in the chain to the next generation of scientists is important to Johnston. It is a sentiment that he believes resonates with fellow alumni — and he shares his thoughts for others looking for ways to support the sciences.

“Through my background at the University of Alberta, I was prepared very well for my career. 

I’d like to encourage other people who have led successful careers that grew from their time at the University of Alberta to consider supporting the institution,” said Johnston. “This is one way that we can help support a tremendous academic organization and the scientists — and problem-solvers — of tomorrow.”

Inspired to help support research and future leaders in chemistry? We invite you to join our community of donors and support the Manley and Marian Johnston Professorship in Chemistry.