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Honorary degree citation - Howard Alper

By: Christopher Wilds, June 2007

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for me to present to you Dr. Howard Alper: Concordia alumnus, Officer of the Order of Canada, university administrator, chemistry professor and world-renowned scientist.

Howard Alper is a Montreal native who has opened new frontiers, while teaching the next generation of scientists. Excellence runs through his veins and his research and teaching have been recognized with multiple accolades, including the 2oo6 University of Ottawa Distinguished Professor Award.

Howard Alper is a committed academic who served as vice-president of research at the University of Ottawa from 1997 until 2006. He has earned renown for discoveries concerning polyesters, fibers, foams and pharmaceuticals. These discoveries have led to significant economic growth in numerous sectors of society.

Although Howard Alper is acclaimed as a chemist, his first passion remains poetry and music. At 16, he travelled to Manhattan to convince music publishers to consider his songs. His persistence paid off when one of his country- western songs, I Shake All Over, was recorded and played on radio stations across Canada and the U.S.

During his years at Concordia, or Sir George Williams University as the institution was called before he graduated with a Bachelor in Science in 1963, Howard Alper would publish several of his poems in student newspapers. He merged his scientific and artistic proclivities by taking chemistry and physics courses alongside writing and poetry classes.

Although he's a poet at heart, Howard Alper opted for a practical career as a chemist. He would go on to complete a PhD at McGill University in 1967, after convincing his graduate supervisor to allow him to study in organometallic chemistry, even though the new area was not yet taught by any faculty. During his time at McGill, the budding scientist would meet a fellow grad student named Anne who would become his wife and the mother of his twin daughters. The family would soon settle in New Jersey, where Howard Alper completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University.

His first teaching job was at the State University of New York at Binghamton. By 1975, he joined the University of Ottawa's Department of Chemistry where he would serve as department chair from 1982 to 1985 and again from 1988 to 1994. During his tenure he helped establish D'Iorio Hall, which features state-of-the-art chemistry and biology labs.

An international figure, Howard Alper collaborates extensively with researchers and presents at conferences worldwide. He is an ambassador of higher education who was recently named visiting executive with Canada's International Development Research Centre, where he helps forge links between scientists working in the developing world towards healthier, more equitable and prosperous societies.

He has played a significant role in policy creation and the advancement of science and technology. For instance, he was instrumental in forming the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering, which works in tandem with the Government of Canada to develop research.

Howard Alper is a man of boundless energy who's committed to his cause. He is Chair of the Council of Canadian Academies and has been president of the prestigious Royal Society of Canada and its Academy of Science. In 2004, he was elected Co-Chair of the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences, which helps build science programs in grade schools and foster new technology. In December 2006, he was elected to a three year term as Co-Chair of the Inter Academy Panel, which consists of Academies of Sciences from ninety countries. Is it any surprise that colleagues and friends often tease him that he's had himself cloned in order to plough through his extensive workload?

His list of awards is equally impressive. Highlights include being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999, a National Merit Award in 2001 and a Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2002.

In 2000 he won the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. He donated the proceeds of that award to establish the NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize awarded annually to an outstanding post- doctoral researcher.

It's clear that a strong creative spirit has propelled Howard Alper's career as a researcher, professor, administrator and innovator. He's done his alma mater proud by contributing greatly to the advancement of research and Canadian society. Yes, Howard Alper remains a poet at heart and it's that artistic nature that's enabled him to lend imagination and boldness to his research.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it my privilege and honour to present to you Howard Alper, O.C., so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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