New Search

William H. Gauvin

  • Born: March 30, 1913, Paris, France
  • Died: June 6, 1994

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0099
Interview Date: July 11, 1991
Location: Montréal, Quebec
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 64
Minutes: 150

  Abstract of Interview

William Gauvin begins with background information about his childhood experiences in Europe, his formative education, and his emigration during the Depression to join his family in Canada. He describes his education at McGill University, which culminated in both wartime work on RDX as well as several early electrochemistry papers. He next recounts his employment with Frank W. Horner Ltd. and the initiation and development of his lifelong spray drying work. Gauvin relates his recruitment to the Pulp and Paper Research Institute, his move to Noranda, and his associations with Hydro-Qu&eaacute;bec and other industrial research centers. While recounting the circumstances behind each of these professional "turning points," he discusses the evolution of the chemical engineering department at McGill and the involvement of his graduate students at these research centers. Throughout the interview, he emphasizes the often difficult balance between research and management views on R&D, and between technical feasibility and economic feasibility of new technologies. Gauvin reviews his contributions to science policy, industry-academe cooperation, and government support for R&D. He concludes the interview with a consideration of chemical engineering in Canada today, and of the highlights of his own career in the field.


1941 B. Eng., Chemical Engineering, McGill University
1942 M. Eng., Chemical Engineering, McGill University
1945 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, McGill University

  Professional Experience

McGill University

1942 - 1945 Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering

McGill University

1947 - 1961 Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering

McGill University

1961 - 1971 Research Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering

McGill University

1971 Senior Research Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering

F. W. Horner Ltd.

1945 - 1947 Plant Superintendent

Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada, Montréal

1951 - 1957 Consultant

Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada, Montréal

1957 - 1961 Head, Chemical Engineering Division

Noranda Research Center

1961 - 1970 Research Manager

National Research Council of Canada-Policy and Planning

1970 - 1971 Délégué-Général

Noranda Research Center

1982 - 1983 Director, Advanced Technology

William H. Gauvin Technologies, Inc.

1983 President

Hydro-Québec Research Institute

1983 - 1990 Scientific Advisor to Director


1960 - 1961 L. H. Weldon Medal, Canadian Pulp and Paper Association
1963 Chemical Institute of Canada Awards (for best papers published in the Canadian Journal for Chemical Engineering)
1964 R. S. Jane Award, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
1966 Senior Moulton Medal, Institution of Chemical Engineers of Great Britain
1966 Palladium Medal, Chemical Institute of Canada
1967 Médaille Archambault, ACFAS
1968 D. Eng., honoris causa, Waterloo University
1968 Membre d'Honneur de la Société de Chimie Industrielle de France
1969 Best Paper Award, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
1970 Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, Academy of Science
1972 Alcan Award, Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
1973 Distinguished Lecturer Award, Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
1975 Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers
1979 Companion of Order of Canada
1981 Gold Medal, Société d'Encouragement pour la Recherche et l'Invention, France
1982 Honorary Fellow, Institution of Chemical Engineers, United Kingdom
1982 Honorary Fellow, Chemical Institute of Canada
1983 Chemical Institute of Canada Award (for best paper published in the Canadian Journal for Chemical Engineering)
1983 Montreal Medal, Chemical Institute of Canada
1984 D. Sc., honoris causa, McGill University
1984 Jules Stackiewicz Award in Heat Transfer, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
1984 D. Sc., honoris causa, Queen's University
1985 Prix Marie-Victorin (Prix des Sciences du Québec)
1986 Medal of the Canadian Research Management Association
1986 Thomas W. Eadie Medal, Royal Society of Canada
1986 D. Sc., honoris causa, McMaster University
1986 Julian C. Smith Medal, Engineering Institute of Canada
1987 Founding Member, Canadian Academy of Engineering
1988 Foreign Member, National Academy of Engineering of the United States
1988 The Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Prize in Engineering
1989 Award for Innovation in Drying, Versailles, France (Sixth International Drying Symposium)

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family, Childhood and Early Education 1

Background of name William. World War I experiences. Move to England and Belgium. Grandfather in Brussels. Attends gymnasium; rigorous mathematical curriculum. Return to Paris and emigration to Canada. Proposal to bank to save father's company. Influence of Self-help.

Undergraduate and Graduate Education, and Early Professional Career 7

Asked to work on RDX rather than enlist. Ph.D. thesis. Father's business. Context of employment by Frank W. Horner Ltd. Impetus for lifelong spray drying work. Negotiates associate professor position, without salary, at McGill, with the proviso that work on spray drying applications continue. Concurrent work at Pulp and Paper Research Institute.

Noranda Research Center and McGill University 11

Offer from Noranda to create new research center from scratch. Noranda's reluctance about simultaneous McGill position. Joe Stovel. Gauvin's McGill undergraduate courses and graduate work. The atomized suspension technique (AST) process and introduction to plasmas. Evolution of McGill's chemical engineering department. Murray Douglas. Friendships with graduate students.

Pulp and Paper Research Institute 15

Development and influence on his life of spray drying work. Fluidization of bark and anecdote about recruitment to Pulp and Paper Research Institute. Lincoln R. Thiesmeyer. Develops AST to treat waste pulp liquors. Motivations behind move to Noranda.

Noranda Research Center 19

Noranda's Toronto research committee and agenda as position begins. Develops technique to assess R&D contribution to the company. Expansion of research projects. Patents plasma reactor design with Kubanek. Retirement. Contracts with Hydro-Quebec and Industrial Materials Research Institute.

McGill Activities and Review of Education 22

McGill administration and current financial problems. Reasons for dual theses and Ph.D. in physical chemistry. Establishment of chemical engineering program at McGill. Carl Winkler. Work on electrochemical deposition of copper and industrial interest in the work.

Spray Drying and Miscellaneous Remarks 27

Initial spray drying design and subsequent study of significant design factors. Len Torobin and particle dynamics. Computers. Une passion: la SCIENCE. Inaugeral Lamothe Lecture. Purpose of oral history; Beckman Center interviews with chemical engineers. Spray dryer design; subsequent use by Horner.

Views and Influence on Government Support for Industry R&D 35

Oriented freedom in R&D. Paper on benefits to the government of industrial R&D support. Response to the paper. Promotes actions concertées. Involvement in quasi-governmental organizations. Appointed Délégué Général of National Research Council; difficulties of the job, and emphasis on fundamental research and motivation of people.

Science Council Report on Northern Development 40

Heads team on expedition to study industry of the North. Report recommendations. Example of the Lapps. Concerns of the northern peoples. Travelling for Noranda.

Noranda and R&D Difficulties 45

Initial connection with Noranda; Noranda since 1961. Titanium work and Noranda budget. Technical versus economic feasibility. Molybdenum project.

Plasma Processes 47

Davy McKee and other companies using plasma technology. Reasons for slow commercialization of this technology. Peat process and hindrances to application. Plasma torches. Toxic waste disposal and plasma technology.

Chemical Engineering in Canada 50

Current status of chemical engineering in Canada. Demographics of undergraduate student population at McGill. Reasons for high enrollment at University of Toronto. Graduate student population at McGill. Promotion of university-industry projects, and a current example.

Review of Career and Concluding Remarks 53

High point of career. Greatest satisfaction of career. Concluding comments on unusually strong industrial involvement coupled with concurrent thesis direction. Industry-academe cooperation intrinsically important to chemical engineering.

Notes 58

Index 60

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@

Annual Report

Annual Report
Take a look back at a year of preservation, research, and outreach in CHF’s annual report to supporters.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible tax-deductible gift online.