ARCHIVED - NRC Researcher Marks 50th Anniversary of Service

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October 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

If NRC researcher emeritus Dr. Keith Ingold had his own collector card, as is the case with professional athletes, famous authors and even some Canadian artists, he would boast some tremendous statistics.

Dr. Ingold.

Career: 50 years as a researcher at the NRC.
Publications: 520 to date.
Impact: Ranked by Thompson ISI as a highly-cited researcher in the field of chemistry.
Research Interests: The chemistry of free radicals, of importance in industrial chemistry (making lubricants that don't break down and producing polymers such as polystyrene) and in human health (free radicals have been associated with cancer and cardiovascular diseases).
Major Awards: 33 major awards including the Order of Canada, the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Prize and the 1998 Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
Actions in The Name of Science: The first human to consume deuterated Vitamin E, deliberately altered using deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen used in nuclear reactors) to allow tracking in the blood stream.

Admirers gathered recently in Ottawa to reflect on Dr. Ingold's achievements and to launch the new Ingold Lecture Series to commemorate his accomplishments. Dr. Ingold himself kicked off the series.

Dr. Ingold began his career as a post-doctorate student at the NRC in what was then known as the Division of Chemistry. In basic terms, chemistry involves the study of the structure, composition and properties of matter and the reactions which they undergo. Although seemingly straightforward when reduced to such simple terms, the number of possibilities for changes, such as the creation of new molecules with new properties are virtually limitless. As an example, not only are there many different types of chemical reactions but these reactions themselves create intermediate products which go on to react with other products. Free radicals are one example of these intermediate products and, for the past 50 years, have been the focus of Dr. Ingold's research activities (see sidebar for definition of free radicals).

Free Radicals

Free radicals are a molecule or atom with an unpaired electron.


The absence of this electron means that free radicals "attack" neighbouring molecules or atoms to gain this missing electron, causing damage to the targeted molecule and inciting further reactions.


When properly controlled, however, free radicals can be a highly productive tool.


Plastic manufacturers (i.e. polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene) use free radical-driven chemical reactions to produce these materials.


When Dr. Ingold joined NRC, one of his first projects involved the study of oxidation processes in engine oils, a chemical reaction driven by free radicals. During oxidation, the lubricating properties of oil are quickly destroyed which, at the time, resulted in frequent changes of large amounts of oil. The fact that car engines burn hotter and can go for long periods of time before requiring an oil change is in part due to Dr. Ingold's research. Dr. Ingold explained that, at the time, no one had really pursued the challenge of understanding how free radicals work.

"Things were known, but in a kind of a general arm-waving way. But, even if you know something to be true, it doesn't really help you. I wanted to understand this in a more complete way. For example, to know which reactions were taking place, how fast they were and how one could slow down these reactions through the use of antioxidants," he noted. In addition to the use of antioxidants for industrial chemistry, Dr. Ingold is also associated with landmark studies that clearly demonstrated the potency of Vitamin E as an antioxidant for humans, a finding with possible health impacts.

The drive to fully define and quantify the mechanisms surrounding free radical chemistry are a defining mark of Dr. Ingold's research and career and are part of the reason why he is so highly-cited. These efforts have provided a kind of "how-to" guide for numerous other researchers involved in the study and manipulation of free radicals. "I look on my job as doing the thinking and carrying this thinking forward to the point where there are tools and methods that will make it easy for other researchers to perform meaningful experiments in pursuit of their own particular solutions," he explained.

Dr. Keith Ingold
Dr. Keith Ingold

Examples of this work include the development of a now widely-used free radical measurement technique involving an electron spin resonance spectrometer and the creation of the first clean chemical source of a superoxide radical anion, which is the major radical formed in humans.

Entering into his 50th year at NRC, Dr. Ingold sees no end to his thinking and "dreaming" about chemistry problems and possible solutions, efforts that will continue to see him making contributions and collaborating on projects within the NRC and with outside partners.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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