Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

2019 Issue 3

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The Chemistry medal

The Chemistry medal

[photo of Polina Novoseltseva, 2019 Chemistry medallist]

SCIENCE, at first under the name of Natural Philosophy, was taught at Queen’s from its opening in 1842. The first Professor was James Williamson, a graduate of Edinburgh. Chemistry was not included till 1854, when the founding of a Faculty of Medicine made it necessary. It began as a lecture subject on “The non-metallic elements and their compounds.”

In 1858 Dr. George Lawson, a very distinguished scientist of Edinburgh, was made Professor of Chemistry [in the Faculty of Medicine] and Natural History [in the Faculty of Arts]. His salary was $1700 while other full-time professors got only $1500. He energetically earned the difference. At the end of the first session he had a medallist in Chemistry. No student at Queen’s had ever before been given a medal. Moreover, this medal was of “aluminum,” a newly developed rare and precious metal costing $17 an ounce.

Excerpted from “Chemistry at Queen’s” by Dr. W.E. McNeill, Vice-Principal Emeritus, published in the Queen’s Review, Issue 9, 1949. You can read the full article here.


Every year at convocation, one top student from each department receives a departmental medal. In Chemistry, this year’s recipient was Polina Novoseltseva, seen here with her proud mom, Olga, and holding her medal.

As an undergrad, Polina Novoseltseva worked in the lab of Dr. Cathy Crudden (see page 19). Working on the materials side of chemistry, she successfully built two gold clusters with novel wingtip groups (one with an N atom, the other with an O atom.) Ms. Novoseltseva is continuing her studies at Queen’s as a grad student: she is now working in the lab of Dr. Suning Wang, where the research offers a blend of material and synthesis chemistry.

Ralph Whitney, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, has been compiling a timeline of all the Chemistry medallists. Dr. Whitney notes that chemistry at Queen’s wasn’t offered to students in the Faculty of Arts until the 1860s. And it wasn’t until the 1870s that a degree program in chemistry and natural science became available in Arts. Through digitized student calendars at the Queen’s University Archives, Dr. Whitney tracked down the name of the first Chemistry medallist, R.J. Foster of Kingston, an 1859 graduate in Medicine. What became of Dr. Foster’s aluminum medal is a mystery.

Two of the medals have found their way back to Chernoff Hall, home of Queen’s Chemistry. The 1935 medal of Norah McGinnis was donated to the department in 2014 by Nick Duesbery, Artsci’87. Allan Symons donated his 1965 Engineering Chemistry medal. Next time you’re on campus, check out the display case in Chernoff Hall, which holds these medals as well as a timeline of Chemistry medallists at Queen’s. (We’ve also posted a list of the recipients here.)

Other medals have been donated to the Queen’s Archives, such as the 1896 medal of Robert Hiscock,(MA 1896, MD 1900), and the 1909 medal of John A. McRae, (later a professor of Chemistry at Queen’s) In 1945, a promising young chemistry student named Alfred Bader received the prized Chemistry medal. And while he cherished the recognition from his alma mater, there was just one problem. The name engraved on it was not Alfred, but Albert. Many years later, Queen’s had the medal fixed for him.

[photo of Alfred Bader's chemistry medal]

[cover image of the Queen's Alumni Review issue 3, 2019, showing art conservator Heidi Sobol with a painting by Rembrandt]