Alumni

Professor Andrew HakinĀ (Chemistry PhD, 1987)

Andy Hakin image

What have you gone on to do since graduating from the University of Leicester?

Following the completion of a BSc (Hons) Chemistry degree at the University of Leicester in 1984, I pursued a PhD in Chemistry (awarded in 1987) in the same department under the supervision of Dr. Michael J. Blandamer. The research conducted in the preparation of my thesis, 'Kinetics of Aqueous Solutions', provided me with a deep understanding of chemical thermodynamics and, more specifically, the thermodynamics of aqueous solutions. In November of 1987, I married University of Leicester alumna Linda Cook (BA Economics and Economic History, 1985) and moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where I commenced work at the University of Alberta as a post-doctoral fellow, under the supervision of Professor Loren G. Hepler. In the summer of 1989, I joined the University of Lethbridge (located in southern Alberta) as a tenure track Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry. I established a nationally-funded research program in the area of solution thermodynamics in which I specialized in the volumetric and thermochemical properties of aqueous systems. In 1994, I was awarded tenure and promoted to Associate Professor, and in 2000 I received the University of Lethbridge Distinguished Teacher Award. In 2003 I was promoted to the rank of Professor.

As a nationally funded researcher (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), I was particularly interested in the techniques of calorimetry and densitometry and was successful in designing and building a densimeter (an instrument that measures the densities of fluids) that could operate with high precision at elevated temperatures and pressures. I used this instrument to look at the temperature and pressure dependencies of the volumetric properties of aqueous systems of biological importance. This included some of the first reported measurements for aqueous amino acid systems. My research program benefitted immeasurably from the contributions of the many undergraduate summer research assistants who worked in my laboratory, the graduate students I supervised, and the many research collaborators. In my years as an active researcher, I authored or co-authored 58 peer-reviewed journal articles as well as several book chapters, gave numerous conference presentations across the world, and in 2003 was honoured to receive the Stig Sunner Memorial Award. The International Calorimetry Conference awarded the latter in recognition of research and other contributions to the field of thermochemistry by an individual aged 40 or less.

I served as Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at the University of Lethbridge for four years, beginning in 1999, on numerous university and faculty association committees, and became President of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association in 2001. In 2005, I moved into university administration as the Associate Vice-President (Academic) before accepting an appointment as the University Provost and Vice-President (Academic) in 2007. There are many things I am proud of in my tenure as Provost and VPA, including the creation of a School of Liberal Education, progress with the indigenization of the university and the completion of a $280 million science building. In July 2020, after 31 years at the University of Lethbridge, I moved to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, in eastern Canada, to become the 19th President and Vice-Chancellor of St. Francis Xavier University.

As a prominent chemistry alumnus, what are the biggest challenges for the profession in the modern day?

The world of chemistry has experienced an explosion in the amount of new knowledge that is published and disseminated each year. Keeping up with what is known, and what can be trusted, has become highly challenging. Increasingly, some of the most interesting questions to be answered lie at the intersections of allied fields like biochemistry, physics, and mathematics. Therefore, to make progress in chemistry, it is highly advantageous to bring an understanding of such subjects to the table. In other words, the complexity of today's biggest questions requires analyses through many different lenses, and the strength of a researcher can often be measured in terms of the number of approaches and lenses they can focus on a problem. In this sense, the strength of a science education can be significantly enhanced by the many skills one can learn through exposure to a liberal education.

Good communication skills remain at a premium, as are abilities to translate the complexity of scientific outcomes and data into vocabulary and descriptions from which society can more easily benefit. The latter point, in my opinion, is of paramount importance to the future of science. There is no shortage of new knowledge, but knowledge translation needs to keep pace.

Do you have a favourite memory of the chemistry department or your tutor from your time at The University of Leicester?

Dr. Michael J. Blandamer served as my Senior Undergraduate Project Supervisor, and the work that was conducted on that project led to my first co-authorship on a publication*. It was this work on the kinetics of reactions in microemulsion systems that gave me my first real taste of research in the area of physical chemistry, and encouraged me to pursue a SERC funded PhD under Professor Blandamer's supervision. Mike was a very generous man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of thermodynamics. He was always willing to share his thoughts and ideas. I have never met his equal in terms of his abilities to navigate the mathematically and equation structured world of thermodynamics, and it was his skill as a supervisor that put me on a path to a career in academia.

Mike's lab, which I shared with then PhD candidate Barbara Clark, was always a hive of activity in terms of projects to work on and ideas to consider. Proudly displayed on the wall of his lab were posters advertising the Calgary Stampede (an annual rodeo event held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada). Mike had spent time at the University of Calgary with Professor Ross Robertson and had developed a soft spot for the Alberta way of life. This must have rubbed off on me. Thanks to Mike, on the completion of my PhD I accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, in the laboratory of Professor Loren G. Hepler. I will always be grateful to Mike for his mentorship and support, and for constantly demonstrating to me what it means to be a good colleague through the many collaborations he fostered. Mike made a huge difference to my life, for which I will always be grateful. I am proud of the 17 publications to which I made contributions as an undergraduate and as a PhD student under his supervision.

*Kinetics of Reaction between Hydroxide Ions and Iron (II) Complexes in Two Microemulsions - M.J. Blandamer, J. Burgess, B. Clark, A.W. Hakin, M.W. Hyett, S. Spencer, and N. Taylor, J. Chem. Soc., Faraday Trans. I, 2357-2363, 81, (1985).

What advice and tips do you have for students and recent graduates who would like to enter a similar work role to you?

Throughout my career as an academic, I have attempted to follow the path shown to me by those who had the most significant impact on my life; Professor Michael (Mike) Blandamer and Professor Loren Hepler. Be generous with your ideas and try to make a difference with all that you do. Treat everyone around you in the manner that you like to be treated, with kindness and respect and never forget to listen, as there will always be something to learn. In terms of advice to students, I would say get involved, get to know your professors and supervisors beyond the classroom experience and remember never to stop asking questions. Find the answers to good questions that help move all of us forward. Be inquisitive.

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