The History of Physics at RMC is “still” a work in progress…The long-term aim is to have a book published. For now we are fortunate to have obtained from Dr David Baird portions of his draft which covers the period up to 2001. Next week in e-Veritas we will cover Chapter six. (This is part three of what is now a four part series)

Members of the Department of Physics, 1980

Back Row: H.D. Wiederick, K. Randle, R. Kimber, S.L. McBride, P. Allen, R.R. Turkington, R. Drummond, L. Offord.

Middle Row: B.K. Mukherjee, P. Randal, D. Titus, A. Lachaîne, J. Maclachlan, J. Seaman (Department Secretary), B. Annand, J.W. Anderson, P. Fowler, D. Campbell.

Front Row: J.R. Gosselin, L.H. Lowther, N. Gauthier, R.F. Harris-Lowe, M.H. Edwards (Department Head), D.H. Rogers, L.S. Wright, A.J. Filmer.



A Newly-Bilingual Department: 1980 to 1995

The relatively brief period that is the subject of the present chapter followed twenty years that had been marked by relatively stable operation. In contrast, the following fifteen years offered a time of challenge and change for the department in several ways. First, the influx of new staff members to meet the demands of bilingual operation gave rise to substantial changes in research emphasis. Second, repeated re-evaluation of DND’s concept of the role for the Colleges resulted in several significant changes to the undergraduate programs.

Administrative Changes

Since the retirement of Sawyer in 1967, the position of Director of Studies and Principal had been held by Dr. J.R. Dacey, a chemist. He retired in 1978, and his place was taken by Dr. D.E. Tilley from the Collège Militaire Royal de St. Jean. Tilley had shown early success academically (Gold Medal at Lakefield College School) and equal distinction in the RCAF (the Desmond Clark Trophy for first-in-course in pilot training and two years of service as pilot in the RCAF). Entering McGill University after the war with a Faculty Scholarship for academic achievement as a returning veteran, Don Tilley received his degree in 1948 with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Physics. While still an undergraduate, he showed an early aptitude for research by spending summers working at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, where he designed magnets for the construction of the betatron accelerators. With Shell Oil Fellowships in 1948 and 1949 he then progressed to Ph.D. studies at McGill in experimental and theoretical nuclear physics, receiving his degree in 1951. Working in the field of neutron-deficient isotopes, his research in both experimental and theoretical areas resulted in the discovery of three new radioactive isotopes of xenon.

In the opening year of CMR in 1952, Tilley became a member of their Department of Physics. In this new Department of Physics Tilley initiated their research program by starting work on electrets. He published two theoretical papers in this area, and the electret research at CMR was then taken up by Martin Perlman who became a world authority in electrets. Tilley’s later research at CMR included collaboration on applications of Group Theory with Dr. R.T. Sharp of McGill University.

Tilley went on, also, to highly creative work in textbook writing. He was the author or co-author of six successful texts that stayed in print for many years in several languages, including the celebrated University Physics for Science and Engineering that was widely used internationally.

Tilley also became highly respected at CMR and elsewhere for his open, effective and highly popular style of administration. He was appointed, in turn, Head of the Department of Physics, Dean of Science, and in 1977-78, CMR’s first Dean of Collegiate Studies.

On Tilley’s appointment in 1978 as Principal at RMC, the Physics Department was delighted at the arrival of a fellow physicist in the Principal’s office. Regrettably, however, ill health forced his retirement in 1984, but the College’s loss was the Physics Department’s gain. As Professor Emeritus, Tilley continued to serve in the department after retirement, teaching courses in theoretical and nuclear physics, continuing his own creative research work, writing, and sharing his expertise in university and departmental administration.

One of the innovative changes in academic administration that was introduced by Tilley on his arrival at RMC concerned the appointment of Deans. As was mentioned in Chapter 4, the recommendations of the Baird Committee report to the Faculty Board in 1970 had been only partially implemented through the establishment of Faculty Board search committees for the appointment only of Heads of departments. The appointment of Deans remained the unilateral prerogative of the Principal, and Hutchison remained as Dean of Science. In 1980, however, Tilley instituted a complete review of all of the Deans’ positions, and introduced both the concept of fixed terms for Deans’ appointments and the requirement for faculty-based search committees. One consequence for the Physics Department of the extensive changes that resulted was Baird’s appointment as Dean of Science in 1980 for a five-year period. In accordance with the new practices, that appointment was subjected to faculty review in 1985 and renewed for a further five-year term.

Degree Programs and Military Requirements

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the physics department had enjoyed a period of stability and success in the undergraduate programs. The third and fourth year programs at RMC were well populated as a consequence of the good reputation of the physics programs at RMC and the restriction of the other two colleges, Royal Roads in BC and Collège Militaire Royal de St. Jean in Québec, to offering only the first two years of degree studies.

In the late 1970’s, however, a number of factors combined to offer fresh challenges to the RMC Physics Department. In the first major change, both Royal Roads and CMR were granted their own degree-granting charters. Since it was clearly unrealistic to duplicate full engineering facilities at these two colleges, their graduating classes were confined to degrees in arts and science. (Those students who intended to graduate in engineering continued to come to RMC for their third and fourth year studies.) This cut off almost completely the flow of students into the RMC Honours Mathematics and Physics program from these two colleges.

In addition, another change took place simultaneously that further exacerbated the loss of students from the science programs. This arose from a decision made in Ottawa in the late 1970’s. The Chief of Engineering and Maintenance had decided (quite correctly) that the Engineering Branches in DND were suffering from a serious shortage of technically qualified officers. His solution (the “Engineering Get-Well” program), however, was nothing short of draconian. He unilaterally ordained that entry into the engineering branches of the Canadian Forces would be available only to graduates in engineering. This edict ignored completely the fact that science graduates, particularly in mathematics and physics, were not entirely illiterate technically and were even capable, as many had already demonstrated, of proceeding to Master’s work in engineering. In fact, it was clearly apparent that graduates from many other under-graduate programs had been attaining high success in the engineering branches for many years. The present writer clearly remembers a lunch-time conversation in the early 1980’s with a visiting CELE (Communications and Electronic Engineering) Colonel from Ottawa. He had earned a distinguished reputation as the Project Manager for the first computerized message transmission system within DND, the Sampson system, that was an early precursor of e-mail systems. This was, in its day, an innovative and highly complex technical system, and I remember saying admiringly to the Colonel that he must have received a very sophisticated technical education. “Hell, no”, came his reply, “I graduated in Political Science”!

Since many of the RMC graduates proceeded into careers in the engineering branches (RMC was virtually the only source of officers for the engineering branches), the effect of the CEM edict on enrolment in science at RMC (including Science (Applied)) was disastrous. The resulting sharp dip in graduating numbers in the early 1980’s is clearly visible in the graph of the numbers of cadets graduating in Honours and General Mathematics and Physics.

Fortunately, in DND nothing lasts for ever, and it turned out that the next CEM had pursued a stellar career as an AERE officer on the basis of an honours degree in (of all things!) physics. The possibility that a physics or mathematics and physics graduate was capable of making a contribution in technology was now somewhat harder to deny, and, as a consequence of strenuous appeals from the new Dean of Science, the degree requirements for entry into the engineering branches were slightly broadened in 1982. Once again, graduates in Honours Mathematics and Physics did have access to the engineering branches, and undergraduate enrolment in HMP/GMP returned to its former levels.

The Science (Applied) program, too, had suffered from the same exclusive proscription, but failed to regain open access to the Engineering Branches, and despite the excellent technical reputations of many graduates of the program, never recovered the healthy enrolment of the 1960’s and ’70’s.

Changes in Staffing

In the 1980’s some longstanding members of the department retired. The first was Rogers in 1983 who exchanged physics for a year of sailing in the Caribbean and eventual participation in the bucolic delights of Bowen Island in BC. Thereafter, two of the longest serving members, Filmer and Hutchison, retired in 1986. New members of the department were Tom Racey, who arrived in 1983, and Erwin Batalla in 1986.

Racey was a graduate of the University of Waterloo and of Guelph University, and, following a B.Ed. degree at Queen’s University, spent two years as a high school teacher. Returning to Guelph to earn his Ph.D. in the field of biophysics, he then worked for a year with a computing company in software development. Batalla, a graduate originally of l’Université de Montréal, obtained his Ph.D. from McMaster University in the field of electronic properties of linear chain mercury compounds. After experience as a Post Doctoral Fellow, first at UBC in Bose condensation in hydrogen and then at McGill University studying amorphous metals, he arrived at RMC in 1986 to join the francophone staff.


In 1986 Edwards’ terms as Department Head ended and his place was taken by Rod Harris-Lowe.


Liquid helium


In the ’80’s and ’90’s research on the film flow properties of superfluid He4 continued in the painstaking hands of Harris-Lowe and Turkington. Continued refinement of the methods for measuring the helium film flow rate and the response time of the flow rate changes allowed further clarification of the role of vortex lines in determining the flow rates of the helium film.

As was described earlier, the Very Low Temperature Laboratory had been established in the 1970’s at Queen’s University as a joint activity of Queen’s University and RMC with the general guidance of the renowned expert in low temperature physics, John Daunt. The intention had been to attain the very low temperatures required to search for superfluid film flow in liquid He3. Success finally came in 1985 with the first observation of superfluid film flow in He3. Successive refinements of the experimental procedures made possible the first detailed comparison between the observations and the various models.


On joining the department, Gauthier and Rochon initially joined in existing research activities, and contributed significantly to Mukherjee and Wiederick’s work on the kinetics of the destruction of superconductivity by a current. They constructed a theory of the ac resistance of a superconducting wire in the intermediate state that, when combined with the intermediate state configuration of the Baird-Mukherjee model, resulted in good agreement with the observations.


In 1987, however, came the astonishing news that superconductivity in certain copper oxide compounds had been observed at temperatures as high as liquid nitrogen. Given the long-term research at RMC in superconductivity, it was natural that this would be a topic of interest. Building on the department’s expertise in currents in superconductors and on magnetic flux penetration using magneto-optic observation methods, it was also natural to pursue these topics in the new materials. Starting in 1989, therefore, Batalla (after a brief diversion to contribute to the discrediting of the so-called discovery of “cold fusion”), Wright, and their co-workers published the first pictures of magnetic flux penetrating a sample of YBa2Cu3O7 (the well-known high temperature superconducting material known as “123”). Their paper in the Canadian Journal of Physics showed how the value of the magnetic field that penetrated a bulk specimen was related to the critical current in a current-carrying specimen. This discovery enabled the estimation of critical currents in such materials, thereby eliminating the requirement to fabricate wires thin enough to allow the critical current to be measured directly. For this significant discovery their paper was awarded the CAP Prize for the best paper published in the Canadian Journal of Physics in 1989.

This innovative work was followed by continued refinement of the magneto-optic method for observing the magnetic flux penetrating a bulk specimen of high temperature superconducting material. Measurement of the various colours in the reflected light allowed Batalla and Wright to measure the actual value of the flux density and its spatial distribution in the penetrated regions of a single crystal specimen. Such measurements of the flux distribution enabled them to elucidate the mechanisms involved in flux penetration by, for example, correlating the pattern of flux penetration with visibly identifiable features on the specimen’s surface.


The first new area of research to appear in many years in the department was initiated in 1978 by Rochon, Gauthier, Lachaîne and Gosselin. The field of optics had become of great interest in technology, and therefore in defence, and as early as 1972 Harris-Lowe and Rogers had participated in the development of a program in electro-optic technology. After efforts were made in association with the defence laboratory at Valcartier to initiate research and a Master’s program in infra-red technology, the department’s first graduate student, Capt. D. Caddey, arrived. Unfortunately, the expenses involved in achieving a viable program proved to be too great for Valcartier’s resources, and the research program did not lead to a degree for Caddey. Nevertheless, undergraduate courses in optical technology were started and made available to students in physics and in electrical engineering.

Actual research in optics at RMC started in 1978 with studies on photoconductivity in strontium titanium oxide by Rochon, Gauthier and Gosselin, and CRAD funding for research in electro-optics was received by Rochon in 1980. The field of optics was a natural choice for Rochon whose Ph.D. topic had been photovoltaic effects in the semiconductor exciton spectrum and who had carried out post-doctoral studies at l’Université de Montréal on the optical properties of strontium titanate. Following the arrival of the new funding, therefore, Rochon, Lachaîne, Racey and others produced an extensive series of publications on various aspects of optics, including, for example, the details of diffraction processes and the optical properties of complicated organic molecules. The various aspects of the work in optics will be described in turn.

Photoacoustic spectrometry

In the early 1980’s Lachaîne returned to an earlier area of interest in spectroscopy (he had earned his Master’s degree at the University of Ottawa in nuclear spectroscopy) by starting up what was for RMC another completely new line of research. In cooperation with Roy Pottier from RMC’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, he obtained CRAD funding to set up a laboratory for photoacoustic spectrometry. This relatively new method of spectroscopic analysis (although it actually has its roots as far back as Alexander Graham Bell!) is based on the absorption of energy by an opaque surface. The heat generated by the absorption of a chopped radiation beam travels as a series of thermal pulses through a backing layer that supports the absorbing film. The thermal pulses then reach an underlying gas cell where they generate an acoustic signal that can be detected. The method can be used, therefore, as a spectrometer to study the spectrum of absorption by the absorbing layer or as a method for studying thermal diffusivity in the support layer.

After making some initial measurements in Kingston, Lachaîne spent a year on sabbatical leave at l’Institut de Physique Biologique at Strasbourg in France, a world centre in the field. Thereafter, back in Kingston, Lachaîne has made a series of measurements on organic molecules of practical importance. In the study of such complex materials, measurements from several types of spectrosopy are commonly combined to provide a more complete picture, and photoacoustic spectrometry constitutes an important component of such research. Starting in 1985, therefore, Lachaîne undertook a series of measurements to measure absorption and thermal diffusivity in a variety of organic compounds of technological significance. For example, in association again with Pottier he used this method in 1986 to identify a new absorption band in hematoporphyrin, an observation of substantial significance in a material whose use in cancer therapy depends on the absorption of light to activate those of its properties that are toxic to cancer cells (the medical treatment process known as Photodynamic Therapy).

Light scattering

The arrival of Racey in the department in 1983 introduced another new area of research. Racey’s Ph.D. work at the University of Guelph had involved a very interesting combination of physics with biology. He had used light scattering to study the swimming mode of individual algae cells. Sophisticated computer-based analysis of the scattered light allowed Racey to detect the precise details of the flagella movement used in the swimming, and so on arrival at RMC, Racey sought opportunities to test and refine the models he had used in the analysis of the scattered light. To achieve precise comparison between theory and observation he turned to systems simpler than algae and their flagellae. Racey, Rochon and Gauthier, therefore, undertook an extensive study of diffraction using such simple geometry as straight edges, slits and cylinders. Long a staple of undergraduate courses in optics, more detailed investigation revealed that the phenomena were not quite as simple as the students in the Second Year optics course had been told. These new results provided Racey with the opportunity not only to test the models he had used earlier, but also to identify the role played by such factors as surface roughness in the diffracting surfaces and, for the first time, the plane of polarization of the incident light. In the case of Rayleigh scattering from fine fibres, this new approach to the calculation of the scattering pattern provided for the first time a method of calculating the fibre diameter from the light scattering pattern.

This work on light scattering attracted the attention of the Defence Research laboratories at Valcartier and Ottawa whose scientists were interested in a requirement to distinguish, at a distance, between clouds of aerosols that could indicate hostile intent and clouds of ambient dust particles. Work done by Rochon for DREV/DREO demonstrated that light scattering could be used to distinguish between spherical aeorosol particles and randomly shaped dust particles. Apart from practical results, these experiments had one unexpected outcome. Rochon observed, for the first time, that light scattered from a disordered medium or a rough surface can form an image without the aid of any focussing device. This type of image formation is ascribed to coherent back scattering.

The ability of scattered light to reveal information about microscopic structures soon attracted the interest also of the biologists at Queen’s University, and led to collaborative work on a number of biological problems. In one case, for example, the properties of the lipids that form cell membranes were evaluated to improve understanding of the transport of drugs through cell walls. This had relevance, for example, to studies on kidney tissue, and the work was significant in refining the determination of drug dosages in kidney therapy. A similar practical outcome arose from studies of the clustering properties of heparin particles in the solutions used in anti-clotting therapy. Such coagulation during storage was significant in determining the shelf life of the materials, and Racey and Rochon’s work under a contract from the federal Department of Health and Welfare allowed the optimizing of the storage practices in an important therapeutic drug.

Such extension of traditional optics to fields far removed from the familiar range provides a convincing illustration of the broad utility of what we used to call “pure” physics.


In 1991, in association with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry at Queen’s University, Rochon and Gosselin initiated work in a new and rapidly expanding field, the optical properties of azoaromatic polymers. These materials had recently been discovered to show optically-induced dichroism and birefringence. The phenomena of dichroism and birefringence had been familiar since the 19th century when it was observed that certain crystals would split a beam of incident light into two components having different planes of polarization. In modern times the phenomenon has become much more significant from the technological point of view because of the potential use of certain organic materials for use in integrated optics. These materials would replace inorganic crystals such as LiNbO3 or GaAs for many applications in display systems, optically-produced and erasable image storage, optical modulation and filtering, optical waveguides, and holography. The organic materials promised to bring benefits arising from ease of fabrication and lower cost.. Starting in the early 1990’s, Rochon was able to observe that stable dichroism and birefiringence could be optically induced in polymers containing azoaromatic dye molecules and established a method for optically erasing a stored signal. An extensive series of work on the manufacture of such polymers and the observation of their properties then ensued.

One spectacular development, published in 1994 with Batalla and with Dr. A. Natansohn from the Department of Chemistry at Queen’s University, was the discovery, for the first time, that the surface of an azoaromatic polymer film can be optically altered to form a highly efficient and stable optical grating. The structure of such surfaces was confirmed by direct observation using atomic force microscopy. This surprising discovery proved to be a fertile source for continuing development.

Acoustic emission

The striking development of the field of non-destructive testing by acoustic emission was made possible, as described in the preceding chapter, by the development by McBride and Hutchison of their process for calibrating the sensors used. For this innovative work McBride and Hutchison in 1981 received a Civil Service Merit Award whose citation refers to their contribution to the “Canadian In-Flight Acoustic Emission Monitoring Program”. Work on acoustic emission in in-flight testing continued during the 1980’s. McBride and Hutchison refined their sophisticated detection and analysis methods to permit effective isolation of the signals that had their origin in growing cracks from the myriad of other noises created by the manoeuvres of an aircraft in flight. In McBride’s own words, they had confirmed the “feasibility of the unambiguous detection of crack growth and presence . . . during flight, provided that detailed calibration of the structure is carried out.” (Quoted from Acoustic Emission: Current Practice and Future Directions, edited by Sachse, Roget and Yamaguchi, 1989.)

Piezoelectric Materials

By 1986 the work of Mukherjee and his collaborators on the penetration of magnetic fields into Type-I superconductors had left few remaining questions. Mukherjee then turned his attention to a field of materials research that was of substantial significance for both industry and defence. The field was piezoelectric materials. From an early start in microphones, record players and sonar, the use of piezoelectric materials has developed to cover an enormous variety of current applications that ranges from mirrors for astronomical telescopes to car suspension systems. The common factor in all these varied applications was the capacity of the piezoelectric materials to respond to any situation requiring the detection and/or control of either forces or displacements in mechanical systems

Mukherjee and Wiederick’s chosen area was the characterization of the dielectric and piezoelectric properties of the technologically significant materials that are used as transducers for such underwater applications as sonar. Working on such materials as lead zirconate titanate, they quickly acquired an international reputation and in 1988 were invited to participate in the US Navy Review Meeting on Piezoelectricity. Thereafter, they worked with a wide range of national and international organizations concerned with ceramics and their applications. With the assistance of a Research Associate, Stuart Sherrit, they extended their innovative study of new materials to ceramic-polymer and ceramic-glass composites that offered the prospect of substantially improved mechanical characteristics for underwater use.

The most significant achievement of this period was the development during the 1990’s of new methods for the characterization of the piezoelectric properties of materials. The older methods that formed the basis for the IEEE standards were ineffective in determining the properties of lossy materials, and Mukherjee and Wiederick emphasised the importance of using complex coefficients to describe the dielectric, piezoelectric and elastic properties of piezoelectric materials, and they eveloped experimental methods to find these complex material constants.

Archaeological Physics

Following Baird’s retirement as Department Head in 1978 he spent a year of leave in 1979 – 80 on exchange with the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, England. The proximity to Oxford provided Baird with the opportunity to pursue a long-term interest in archaeology by undertaking research work in archaeological physics in Oxford University’s Laboratory for Archaeological Science and the History of Art. Using X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry, analysis of Bronze Age jet artefacts such as arrowheads, buckles, buttons, etc., from many parts of England made possible for the first time identification of the place of origin of the material. Access to this respected laboratory made it possible for Baird thereafter to visit Oxford periodically and make measurements on a wide variety of archaeological material. This continued involvement in archaeological physics allowed the creation of a popular elective course in archaeological science for physics students at RMC, and also resulted in invitations to give CAP Lectures on archaeological science in tours through Ontario in 1994 and British Columbia in 1995.

Physics education

Although several members of the department had from time to time published papers in the field of physics education, a major contribution came in the 1980’s when an extensive series of papers on physics education was published by various members of the department in the American Journal of Physics and other journals.

The most prolific of these authors was Gauthier who wrote extensively on various aspects of the teaching of electromagnetic theory, including such practical examples as magnetic braking, and of optics, relativity, nuclear physics, and quantum mechanics, while also, of course, contributing frequently to the theoretical aspects of research programs in the department.

In addition, Rochon, Gosselin, Lachaîne and Racey published work on undergraduate experimenting in dynamics and optics, while Edwards pursued his early interest in gymnastics by clarifying the mechanisms whereby human gymnasts and falling cats can apparently defy the laws concerning conservation of angular momentum.

Several members of the department had also from time to time contributed to science education, both locally and nationally, by such activities as curriculum construction with the Ontario Ministry of Education, the local School Board and other bodies, working with the CAP Division of Physics Education, and by serving as judges in local Science Fairs. The scope of these contributions to science education was substantially enlarged by Gauthier who took a leading role for many years in the organization of the national and international Physics Competitions for high school students. Finally, his recommendation to the Canadian Chemistry and Physics Olympiad, the organizing body of the examinations, that the provincially-managed Annual School CAP Prize Exam be converted into a common national examination was implemented in 1993. To recognize Gauthier’s long and dedicated service to physics education, he was awarded in 2001 the CAP Medal for Excellence in Teaching Physics at the University Level.


While the Honours and General Mathematics and Physics programs did survive the assaults of the late 1970’s, the decade of the 1980’s was marked more by student achievement in the Engineering Physics program. The following is a selection of the students during this period who distinguished themselves in the engineering Physics program.

Harold Kenny graduated in 1982. After military service he proceeded to graduate studies at the University of Calgary in in the field of radioastronomy, and finally joined the Department of Physics at RMC, becoming the first professional astronomer to join the department.

In 1986 Daryl Tremain also graduated from the Engineering Physics program. She was the first woman cadet to attain the rank of Cadet Wing Commander, although the system of sharing the position between two cadets in separate terms denied her the Sword of Honour. In 1988, however, Susan Whitley graduated from the Engineering Physics program as the second woman CWC and RMC’s first woman recipient of the Sword of Honour. She later switched fields and pursued a career in medicine.

John de Boer graduated in 1988. As a helicopter pilot, he was able later to convince his Career Manager to allow him to return to RMC as a graduate student and pursue research in low temperature physics. Under the supervision of Harris-Lowe he worked on film flow in liquid helium, obtained his Master’s degree in 1996. He then spent two years as a Lecturer in the Department of Physics and later returned to join the department’s professorial staff. Graduating also in 1988, Ray Stockermans returned later to pursue a Master’s degree working with Rochon on the optically-produced diffraction gratings in azoaromatic polymers. He obtained his Master’s degree in 1998 and remained to serve in the Department for four years as a Lecturer.

It was pleasant to record in 1990 the continuation of a family tradition with the graduation of Robin Holman from the Engineering Physics program when both his father and uncle had graduated in physics in 1965 and 1972 respectively (even though, regrettably, his grandfather had had to settle earlier for Mechanical Engineering!)

Graduate Studies

A major further step in the development of graduate studies at RMC came in 1989. The Graduate Studies Committee submitted a proposal to the Faculty Council for the awarding of Ph.D. degrees. The Faculty Council agreed, and Maj. Pollard was admitted to doctoral studies in materials science. Unfortunately, Pollard’s studies were never completed, but the precedent for doctoral studies had been established, and the way was clear for later doctoral candidates.

Space Science Comes to RMC

In the spring of 1988 an Air Force officer, Maj. P.W. Somers, arrived in the office of the Dean of Science to inform RMC that MGen Morton, Chief of Air Doctrine and Operations, had identified a need for Canada-based education in space-related technology. Although space technology had obviously been a subject of substantial public interest for many years, undergraduate education in space science was not a prominent part of Canadian academic activity. DND, nonetheless, had an ongoing requirement for trained officers to fill space-oriented postings both at NORAD HQ and in Ottawa, and the need at that time was being filled using a mixture of costly US-based education programs and on-job training. This ongoing requirement made highly desirable the rapid development of Canadian capability in space education.

A graduate of RMC in the Science (Applied) program in 1971, Maj. Somers started his military career as a pilot, and then graduated from the US Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio with the degree Master of Science in Space Operations, specializing in orbital mechanics. The topic of his thesis was earth-approaching asteroids. A senior NORAD posting followed at Colorado Springs (Chief, Satellite Engineering Branch, Space-Based Sensor Division of the Directorate of Missile Warning Systems in Air Force Space Command) where he was responsible for the management of a fleet of surveillance satellites in geosynchronous orbit. It was during this appointment that he made the visit to RMC that resulted in major and long-lasting changes to the programs offered by the Department of Physics. After spending a subsequent year in Ottawa as Staff Officer, Space Plans, he became available to act as expert advisor in the development of space-related programs of undergraduate study at RMC, and to play a leading role in their implementation.

In view of the great significance that space programs have had over many years for the Department of Physics and for the College as a whole, it is important that we preserve a detailed account of the formation, both in Ottawa and at RMC, of this completely new and significant field of study. The following description of DND’s progress towards a Canadian program in space science education has been provided by LCol Somers. The documented sources which are referred to numerically in Somers’ account are listed at the end of this chapter.

One of the objectives of the 1987 Department of National Defence Space Policy [1] was “to ensure that there is an adequate cadre of trained personnel to meet DND and CF space and space-related activity requirements. It will be necessary, therefore, to provide for participation of selected personnel for attendance at undergraduate and graduate courses at academic institutions offering specialization in space sciences, astrophysics and related courses”. The Deputy Commander-in-Chief (DCINC) North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), Canadian LGen McNaughton, identified many NORAD and US Space Command positions where Canadian Forces (CF) personnel could be usefully employed in space and missile warning jobs. Additional space-related positions elsewhere in the CF increased the total requirement to an estimated 50 – 80 for personnel with space systems expertise. An NDHQ ad hoc working group determined that such a requirement could be met with an annual production of 20 officers with an undergraduate degree in space studies. In 1987 the NDHQ Communications and Electronics Branch Advisor suggested a post graduate programme in space systems at RMC[2] to address space-related requirements for communications personnel.

In a 1988 letter [3] to NDHQ Assistant Deputy Minister (Personnel), DCINC NORAD proposed the preparation of a military college space education curriculum. Attached to this letter was a specific proposal by Major Phil Somers for a “Space Operations degree program to be offered by the Royal Military College (RMC)”. This proposal was sent by NDHQ to Dr. David Baird, RMC Dean of Science, for comment [4]. In a memo [5] to the Principal, Dr. Baird described the visit by Maj Somers during which the space education proposal was discussed at length, and indicated that he was “very favourably inclined to the proposal”. It was undoubtedly obvious to Dr. Baird that the proposed space education program would be very popular with science students. Dr. Baird’s work and support were critical to the initiation and development of space education at RMC.

The new space education program proposed by Somers included a number of existing courses in Third and Fourth Year, plus new courses in Space Environment, Remote Sensing, Orbital Mechanics, Spacecraft Dynamics, Astronomy, Space Systems and Space Operations. The proposal also included new research and laboratory facilities. It noted that to support the proposed program a considerable amount of material, including recently-developed satellite tracking software, would be made available to RMC. In addition, the proposal identified Maj. Somers as a well-qualified academic instructor based on his current space position in USAF Space Command, his postgraduate education in Space Operations with the USAF, and his personal interests and activities in space and astronomy.

In an internal RMC memo [6], the Principal of RMC expressed interest in a postgraduate space program and possibly the proposed undergraduate program, but pointed out a number of issues that would need to be addressed. The Dean of Science responded to the Principal [7] stating that a postgraduate program “would have a much greater chance of success”, but pointed out the desirability and advantages of an undergraduate program, provided that clear requirements were established and adequate resources were made available. In an October 1988 letter [8] to the Director General Recruiting, Education and Training, the Principal recommended that a committee be established to “examine the requirements” and “make recommendations” as to whether the program would be at the graduate or undergraduate level. After considerable internal deliberation within NDHQ among the many interested parties, a memo on 20 April 1989 [9] from Director Personnel Education and Development announced that interest and requirements had been expressed by the Branch Advisors for the various CF occupations. It also announced that a committee was being set up to examine the requirements in more detail and to determine the required resources. Dr. Baird and the now-promoted LCol Somers became members of that committee. The Summary of Decisions [10] of the first meeting on 15 May 1989 show that military occupation code (MOC) representatives were asked to provide specific percentages of their personnel requiring a Space Science degree. Specific issues were addressed that would be required for implementation of the program, including approval by the Canadian Military Colleges Academic Council, and personnel and materiel resource requirements.

Following the first committee meeting, the Chief Aerospace Doctrine and Operations, MGen Morton initiated the establishment of an NDHQ Statement of Capability Deficiency, the official requirements document for the proposed space education [11]. On 13 June 1989 the Dean of Science officially advised the Chairman, Syllabus Committee of the NDHQ proposal, and requested formal consideration of the proposal by the RMC Faculty Board [12]. Also on 13 June, the Commandant RMC responded to a DPED suggestion that an undergraduate program in Space Science be established on a trial basis, by confirming “the willingness and ability of RMC to undertake the setting up of the program” [13]. The Head, Department of Physics, Dr. Harris-Lowe announced that a departmental meeting would be held on 20 June to “discuss a proposal to institute a degree program in Space Science at RMC” [14]. At the second and final meeting of the Space Science Ad-Hoc Committee in Ottawa [15], the MOC representatives reported that there was a steady state requirement of “approximately 167 officers with a Space Science background”. It was estimated that an “annual production of about 50 officers would be needed to maintain that number”. Dr. Baird recommended that “to begin the program in Sep 89, LCol Somers should be posted to RMC very soon”. The committee concluded its work stating that the committee chair would “seek appropriate authority to implement the program in Sep 89”.

Subsequently, on 22 June the Chief Personnel Development formally asked RMC to initiate the Space Science program in the fall of 1989, subject to confirmation by Academic Council [16]. On 30 June, Dr. John Plant, Principal RMC replied that “The September 1989 start seems feasible if personnel requirements can be met and approval is given by Academic Council” [17]. Some discussion arose when on 30 June Dr. John Mothersill, Principal of Royal Roads Military College, suggested alternatives to the proposed program and expressed his concern “about the inordinate haste to implement this program” [18]. Also on 30 June, Dr. Jacques Castonguay, Principal of Collège Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean expressed his concern with the fast pace of developments [19]. He also pointed out that CMR would be a better place for such a program given the related scientific, industrial and academic establishments in the Montreal region.

In a memo [20] on 5 July to the Principal and the Chairman of the Faculty Board, the Head of the Department of Physics requested approval for the addition of three new courses, Astronomy, Space Systems and Spacecraft Dynamics for 1989, and approval-in-principle for four additional new courses for 1990. On 17 July CPD stated that “RMC is authorised to introduce two optional space science courses in the BSc Math-Physics Program for Sep 89” [21]. On 19 July, MGen Morton, CADO stated that he was “extremely gratified” with the start of the program [22]. He stated that “The introduction of space science provides an outstanding opportunity for the colleges to directly target emerging Canadian Forces educational requirements”. With the word ‘colleges’, MGen Morton recognised the importance of including RRMC and CMR, knowing the contributions they would provide to a comprehensive space education program for the CF for the large number of officers required. Very concrete evidence that the new Space Science program was becoming a reality was the Procurement Justification by the Head of the Department of Physics to RMC Procurement on 15 August [23]. It requested a COMPAQ 286e computer to run the orbital mechanics software required for Space Systems course starting in September. It is interesting to note that this computer ran DOS 4.0 and cost $4, 658.

As a final contribution to Ottawa’s planning for space education, LCol Somers had been tasked by DGRET [24] to conduct a study to define a Space Science plan which would meet the assessed needs of the CF to the year 2000. Among other things, the plan was to make firm recommendations on the location(s) for the conduct of the program, and the major resources required. LCol Somers travelled to CMR and RRMC in the fall of 1989 to discuss interest in and proposals for Space Science education with the Commandants, Principals and members of the staffs. LCol Somers proposed a meeting between RMC, CMR, RRMC and DPED which was held in Ottawa on 8 December 1989 [25]. The Principal of RMC issued a Report on Space Studies [26] in January 1990 which proposed a Space Science program to Faculty Board and Faculty Council, and provided the names and course descriptions of 16 courses in Third and Fourth Year. The Space Science Plan was submitted to NDHQ/CPD in January 1990, providing a framework for establishment of a Space Science program at all three military colleges, effectively tripling the number of students and drawing on the strengths of all three colleges.

While the activities in Ottawa that have been described in Somers’ narrative were underway, the preparation of detailed curricula for the proposed courses was being carried out by the academic faculty within RMC. The statement of need from CADO that is described in Somers’ narrative provided an analysis of the various requirements within DND, and offered suggestions for the material that should be covered in a space-oriented program. Since the need would be for a multi-disciplinary program that would combine a sound foundation in mathematics, physics and chemistry with appropriate components of engineering, it was the responsibility of the Division of Science to find a format for a new program that would be academically acceptable. The existing Science (Applied) and General Mathematics and Physics programs were obvious choices as models for the development of a new program. The Division of Science moved quickly, therefore, to construct a space-related option within the existing framework of the General Mathematics and Physics degree program. With the indispensable assistance of Somers, who had been on 1 August 1989 posted to RMC on loan from CADO to support the new program (and later appointed to a faculty position), a package of various mathematics and physics courses from the GMP range that were relevant to space studies was combined with three new half courses to constitute the space option.

In the new program that started on 6 September 1989 the first new space course, PHE354A Space Systems, was taught by Somers. Although a course in Astrophysics and Astronomy had already existed as an option in the Honours and General Mathematics and Physics programs, a new course in Astronomy was constructed to be suitable for the space option students. This new course, PHE350 Astronomy and Space Environment, was given in the fall term by Professor Vic Hughes as a Sessional Lecturer from Queen’s University, and in the second term by Professor Q. Moriarity-Schieven, also from Queen’s University. In the spring term Somers constructed a new course in Orbital Mechanics. To complete the space option within the General Mathematics and Physics program, more new courses were planned for the fall of 1990 and the spring of 1991. They included Spacecraft Dynamics and Remote Sensing to be given by the Department of Physics, and Image Processing Applications from the Department of Mathematics and Computing Science.

The first RMC Space Science class consisted of eight students who entered the program in 1989 and graduated in May 1991. One highlight of the first Space Systems course in the fall of 1989 was a class visit and lecture by Canada’s first astronaut, Marc Garneau (photo upper left), who provided an outstanding motivational incentive to the new students. Somers has observed that, on a more personal note, a member of the first class later married a member of the second class, although it has never been revealed if this joyous event was directly attributable to the new Space Science program.

A number of the graduates of the first few years of the Space Science program went on to space careers both in the Canadian Forces, and in industry. In 2009, for example, the Canadian Space Agency announced the names of two new Canadian Astronauts, one of whom, Jeremy Hansen (photo upper right), graduated from RMC in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Space Science (First Class Honours). As of 2010, the Space Science program has been a popular program at RMC for 20 years, and has been expanded to include both Masters and PhD space students.

The question of primacy in undergraduate space education is debated (Carleton University and the University of Toronto both make claims, and York University was starting its undergraduate degree in space at the same time as RMC), but there is no doubt that RMC was among the first in the country to offer an undergraduate option in space studies.

The device of offering space studies under the umbrella of the General Mathematics and Physics program was intended only as a stop-gap measure to meet the urgently-expressed needs of DND. The introduction of a completely new degree program required the authority of the Academic Council (which coordinated academic activities between the three military colleges) and the approval of the RMC Faculty Board. To construct a proposal for these bodies the Principal formed a committee chaired by the Dean of Science (Baird) and containing wide representation from the Divisions of Science and Engineering. The members were Dr. Y. Antar (Electrical Engineering), Dr. R. Harris-Lowe (Physics), Dr. B. Lewis (Chemistry and Chemical Engineering), Dr. J. Pike (Mechanical Engineering), Dr. S. Ranganathan (Mathematics and Computing Science) and Dr. P. Rochon (Physics). This interdisciplinary group started from scratch to design the best possible space program that the facilities of the College would allow. In addition, meetings were held at NDHQ at which the three colleges and various concerned agencies within DND discussed the formation of an overall policy for space education within DND.

In January 1990 a formal proposal for a wholly new, honours-level degree program in undergraduate space studies was presented to the Academic Council. On its acceptance by the Academic Council the program was implemented at all three colleges. The first class in the new program at RMC enrolled in 1990, and at Royal Roads and CMR in 1991.

This happy conclusion to such extensive planning in Ottawa and Kingston would not last long. As will be described in the next section, the endless desire for economy eliminated at RMC several of the most significant undergraduate programs in the physical sciences, and the new Space Science program was included. CMR retained the authorized Space Science program while Royal Roads wisely maintained their program under a new name, Earth Observation Science. The CMR Space Science and the Royal Roads Earth Observation Science programs, of course, also did not last long, being terminated when CMR and Royal Roads were closed in 1995. Space Science was at that point returned to RMC, where it now forms a prominent part of the current degree offerings.

In the brief and unsettled time in which the Space Science program was first implemented in Kingston, it was not possible for the RMC department to establish any substantial program of research to support it. Nevertheless, in 1992 Somers was able to negotiate the transfer to RMC of two de-commissioned telescopes from the Canadian Forces satellite tracking facility at St. Margaret’s, New Brunswick. One of the two substantial instruments, a 24 inch Cassegrain reflector telescope, was mounted in a new dome on the roof of the Sawyer Building and, although never fully operational, restored at least partially the astronomical capacity once supplied by Oliver and Cochrane’s observatory in 1885.

A number of new facilities, however, were built and developed at RMC. They ultimately included satellite tracking telescope systems, satellite communications, and cubesat development laboratories. The program has initiated considerable research in satellite tracking, remote sensing, image processing, astronomy, atmosphere and ionosphere analyses, orbital mechanics and spacecraft dynamics. These facilities, the associated research, and all the Space Science graduates, have enabled RMC to provide continuing valuable support to the Department of National Defence for the new DND satellite and space programs and for participation in NORAD.

Review of the Degree Programs

The loss of students from the Honours Mathematics and Physics program in 1980, even if only temporary, had made it vulnerable to proposals to improve the “efficiency” of the system by eliminating programs that catered to a small number of students. In 1991 the Honours Mathematics and Physics program was terminated after 30 years of illustrious existence and highly-achieving students. As a consequence of various reviews intended to bring flexibility into the system, the Honours Mathematics and Physics program was replaced initially by programs offering Major and Minor combinations in physics, mathematics and chemistry (although the Honours designation would later be restored).

In 1994 further pursuit of “efficiency” resulted in reduction in the number of engineering degree programs, and one of the eliminated programs was the Engineering Physics program. This program had been the first professional-level program in physics at RMC, being initiated several years before the introduction of the RMC degrees and the creation of the Honours Mathematics and Physics program. Over several decades it had attracted excellent students to make RMC their university of choice, and it had attracted many students into the study of physics. The graduates of the Engineering Physics program had served with distinction in many parts of military and civilian life, and since the program was composed almost entirely of courses that were already in existence within the Department of Physics and the various engineering departments, it was virtually a zero-cost program. The justification for cancelling it must remain a matter for speculative imagination.

RMC Becomes Canada’s Only Military College

In 1994, after years of uncertainty about the future of the whole military college system, DND announced the final decision. In the interests of economy, both Royal Roads Military College in Victoria and Collège Militaire Royal at St. Jean would cease functioning as independent degree-granting institutions. Royal Roads would close altogether, and CMR would remain open only for the purpose of providing the “Prep” year that preceded First Year university work. The Royal Military College in Kingston would remain as the only military college in Canada.

This termination of academic activities at Royal Roads and CMR obviously had a serious effect on the employment of the faculty members of these two institutions. Many had served their college for decades, but now they, along with younger colleagues, were left with little opportunity for other similar employment. Fortunately, several of the senior members of the RMC faculty were at or close to retirement age. In the Department of Physics four of them, Baird, Edwards, Harris-Lowe and Turkington took the decision to retire in 1995 to create vacancies for those displaced from the two closed colleges. Consequently, in the summer of 1995 the Department of Physics was joined by Dr. J.R. Buckley, Dr. R.F. Marsden, Dr. P.J. Schurer and Dr. M.W. Stacey from Royal Roads, and by Dr. R. Favreau from CMR.

This replacement of academic staff constituted a major change. In a department of 14 professorial positions, four longterm members left in one year, three more would follow within the next two years, and many new members of the department would arrive. This extensive turnover would result in major changes in the professional expertise within the department, and consequently, to departmental operation and research programs. These changes will be the subject of the next chapter.

List of references for Col. Somer’s. account of the formation of the Space Science Program

1) Department of National Defence Space Policy, NDHQ Ottawa, 13 July 1987.

2) Space Systems Engineering Training, 4500-1 (C&E Branch Advisor) NDHQ Ottawa, 4 December 1987.

3) Space Education Degree Course Royal Military College, Letter, DCINC?? NORAD, 30 March 88.

4) Urgent FAX to Dr. Baird, RMC Dean of Science from DPED/NDHQ, 28 April 1988.

5) Proposal Program of Studies in Space Science, Memo to the Principal, RMC Dean of Science, 3 May 1988.

6) Space Science Administration, Internal Memo from Principal RMC, 22 August 1988.

7) Space Science Education, Memo to Principal from Dean of Science, RMC, 3 October 1988.

8) Space Science Education, Memo to NDHQ/DGRET from Principal RMC, 31 October 1988.

9) Space Education at RMC, Internal Memo from NDHQ/DPED, 20 April 1989.

10) Summary of Decisions. Space Science Education, Ad Hoc Committee Meeting, NDHQ Ottawa, 15 May 89.

11) Space Education at RMC, Internal Memo from NDHQ/CADO, 8 June 1989.

12) Proposed Degree Programme in Space Studies, Memo to Chairman Syllabus Committee from RMC Dean of Science, 13 June 1989.

13) Space Science Program, Letter to NDHQ/DPED from Commandant RMC, 13 June 1989.

14) Space Science Program Proposal. Memo RMC Department of Physics, 15 June 1989.

15) Summary of Decisions. Space Science Education, Ad Hoc Committee Meeting, NDHQ Ottawa, 19 June 89

16) Space Education Program, Letter to RMC Kingston from NDHQ/CPD, 22 June 1989.

17) Space Studies, Letter to NDHQ/CPD from Principal RMC, 30 June 89.

18) Space Education Program, Letter to NDHQ/CPD from Principal Royal Roads Military College, 30 June 1989.

19) Space Education Program, Letter to NDHQ/CPD from Principal College militaire royal de Saint Jean, 30 June 1989.

20) General Mathematics and Physics Space Science Courses, Memo to RMC Faculty Board from Head Department of Physics 5 July 1989.

21) Introduction of Space Science Courses, Message to RMC Kingston from NDHQ/CPD, 17 July 1989.

22) Space Education, Letter to RMC Kingston, RRMC Esquimault, CMR Saint Jean from NDHQ/CADO, 19 July 89.

23) Procurement Justification, Memo to RMC Procurement from Head Department of Physics, 15 August 1989.

24) Space Science Education Plan, Message to RMC, RRMC and CCMR from NDHQ/DGRET, 02 October 1989.

25) Space Education Meeting, Message to RMC, RRMC and CMR from NDHQ/DGRET, 30 November 1989.

26) Report of the Principal’s Committee on Space Studies, Principal RMC, 29 January 1990.




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