William H. Gauvin

Born: March 30, 1913 | Paris, FR
Died: June 6, 1994 | Beaconsfield, CA

William H. Gauvin 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.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0099
No. of pages: 64
Minutes: 126

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
11 July 1991
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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-Québec 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.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1941 McGill University BSE Chemical Engineering
1942 McGill University MS Chemical Engineering
1945 McGill University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

McGill University

1942 to 1945
Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering
1947 to 1961
Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
1961 to 1971
Research Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering
Senior Research Associate, Department of Chemical Engineering

F. W. Horner Ltd.

1945 to 1947
Plant Superintendent

Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada

1951 to 1957
1957 to 1961
Head, Chemical Engineering Division

Noranda Research Center

1961 to 1970
Research Manager
1982 to 1983

Noranda Mines Ltd.

1970 to 1982
Director, Research and Development

National Research Council of Canada-Policy and Planning

1970 to 1971

Hydro-Quebec Research Institute

1983 to 1990
Scientific Advisor to Director

William H. Gauvin Technologies, Inc.



Year(s) Award

L. H. Weldon Medal, Canadian Pulp and Paper Association

1960 to 1961

Chemical Institute of Canada Awards


R. S. Jane Award, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering


Senior Moulton Medal, Institution of Chemical Engineers of Great Britain


Palladium Medal, Chemical Institute of Canada


Médaille Archambault, ACFAS


D Eng, Honoris Causa, Waterloo University


Membre d'Honneur de la Société de Chimie Industrielle de France


Best Paper Award, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering


Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, Academy of Science


Alcan Award, Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy


Distinguished Lecturer Award, Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy


Fellow, American Institute of Chemical Engineers


Companion of Order of Canada


Gold Medal, Société d'Encouragement pour la Recherche et l'Invention, France


Honorary Fellow, Institution of Chemical Engineers, United Kingdom


Honorary Fellow, Chemical Institute of Canada


Chemical Institute of Canada Award for best paper published in the Canadian Journal for Chemical Engineering 


Montreal Medal, Chemical Institute of Canada


D Sc, Honoris Causa, McGill University


Jules Stackiewicz Award in Heat Transfer, Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering


D Sc, Honoris Causa, Queen's University


Prix Marie-Victorin (Prix des Sciences du Québec)


Medal of the Canadian Research Management Association


Thomas W. Eadie Medal, Royal Society of Canada


D Sc, Honoris Causa, McMaster University


Julian C. Smith Medal, Engineering Institute of Canada


Founding Member, Canadian Academy of Engineering


Foreign Member, National Academy of Engineering of the United States


The Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Prize in Engineering


Award for Innovation in Drying, Versailles, France (Sixth International Drying Symposium)


Inaugural Lecturer, First Eugenie Lamothe Symposium, McGill University

Table of Contents

Family, Childhood and Early Education

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

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

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

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

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-Québec and Industrial Materials Research Institute.

McGill Activities and Review of Education

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

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

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

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

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

Plasma Processes

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

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

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.


About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been 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 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 CHF’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. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.