Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nobel to NS-born Dal grad

It is fair to say that Canadian-born scientists have had fewer than expected Nobel Prizes in physics - only two.

Both, interestingly enough, were awarded to scientists born in tiny Nova Scotia.

The latest Nova Scotian Nobel winner, Arthur B MacDonald, was born in Sydney and got his B.Sc and M.Sc at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Dalhousie, which will be marking two hundred years of existence in 2018, is certain to prominently mention MacDonald's Nobel prize as among its achievements over the centuries.

Hopefully, it will also mention the Manhattan-based project of another Dalhousie graduate, Martin Henry Dawson, in its celebrations.

Dawson's pioneering research in revealing the unexpectedly sophisticated abilities of supposedly stupid 'unfit' microbes (HGT,Quorum Sensing etc) and his pioneering efforts to research treatments for the then much neglected chronically ill 'unfit' came together in this wartime project.

Dawson hoped to see wartime penicillin provided-for-all, even for the 'unfit', much against the wishes of the Allied scientific and political hierarchy to only use it for the 'fit'.

And he planned to do so by using 'unfit' microbes rather than 'fit' humans to make it, again very much against the wishes of the Allied hierarchy.

Dawson was dying himself all through this period from a fatal and chronic disease and was pushing his project basically all alone.

Metaphorically turning an ocean liner around, on a dime, is never easy - and the ocean liner that was the Allied war effort in WWII was probably the biggest ocean line of all time.

But this stubborn and brilliant scientist did just that : by 1944, the Allied high command was dancing to his tune when it came to both the production and distribution of wartime penicillin.

His combination of scientific smarts and high moral intent represented, I believe, the best of what Dalhousie traditionally hoped to instil into its graduates...

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