Great grads: the man who waited 20 years for his PhD


Above: William Morrow by the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

Each time York convocation rolls around, it prompts us to reflect on what our graduates mean to the University and to the wider community. York is proud of its forward-looking spirit and the synergy it enjoys with the world beyond the campus. And it’s proud of the pioneering spirit evinced by its students, past and present.

Today we bring you a story of a particular graduate, a man receiving his PhD after years of working at York as a research associate and then setting up a highly successful company.

Approximately 6,400 students will graduate during York’s spring convocation ceremonies, which began on June 13 and continue until June 21.




By Cathy Carlyle

It isn’t often that a person stepping up on stage to receive a PhD at a York University convocation ceremony is already an extremely successful businessman – and has forged strong links to the University over many years.

Such a person is about to receive his doctorate at the Faculty of Graduate Studies ceremony during York’s Spring Convocation: William Morrow. And he’s been waiting for this day for over 20 years.

Above: Light-source system built by Resonance Ltd. and flown in 2002 by NASA

Well-known by colleagues in York’s Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science (CRESS), Morrow will receive his doctorate today at the 2:30pm ceremony.

Mind you, Morrow hasn’t been idle for those two decades. Hardly! For nearly 10 years he worked in CRESS as a research associate. It was there that he had the germ of an idea, one that was incubated through the centre and realized fully in 1989.

The idea? It was to start a highly specialized space electro-optics company to make products for cutting-edge research. And that’s just what happened.

Morrow’s company, Resonance Ltd., is an extremely successful, innovative electro-optics business located in Barrie, Ontario, and to this day maintains a strong link with York University.

Resonance has obtained some key technology patents over the years, which has translated into fuel for the Canadian economy. It has also been the key to the formation of another Canadian company – L2B Environmental Inc. (a manufacturer of a virus-killing ultraviolet air purification system marketed through Direct Energy) — and has close relationships with a number of corporations in the United States .


Left: Vacuum ultraviolet calibration lamp built by Resonance. Similar lamps have been on several Hubble Space Telescope missions.

Think of the company as a beacon in businesses requiring unique light sources. It also develops remote sensors and detector technology for the aerospace industry and scientific and environmental markets.

“For 23 years there has been a sustained, outstandingly productive and synergistic collaboration between Resonance and CRESS, in particular, the centre’s director emeritus, Professor Ralph Nicholls,” said Morrow.

In a similar vein, Nicholls calls Morrow’s company “an archetype of long term academic-industry, innovative collaboration”.

Right: US Geophysics Service photo of Resonance-made COSPEC remote sensor at an active volcano 

The whole project began when Morrow and Nicholls collaborated on developing a number of new spectroradiometers – remote sensing instruments to measure minute atmospheric contaminants near major highways, from smokestacks, from controlled forest fires, from gas leaks in pipelines and from volcanoes.

“The worldwide success of Resonance couldn’t have happened without this incubation in CRESS,” said Morrow, “and the continued, strong collaboration in what we call ‘spectroscopy in the real world’ ever since.”

Morrow’s hand-picked staff of 10 are NASA-certified leaders in their field, exemplified by their participation in the Hubble Rescue Mission in 1994.

Left: Vulcan remote sensors positioned on the side of a van by the active volcano, Kilauea, in Hawaii

“During that mission, we played a critical calibration role in refurbishing the Hubble Space Telescope with improved optics for the Wide Field and Planetary Camera II,” explained a proud Morrow. For its role, the company received a group award from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We also played a support role in 1997 as a provider of an ultraviolet calibration system for the Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. Those two projects brought more than $1.5 million into the Canadian economy and certified Resonance as a niche player in the global aerospace market.”

And Resonance continues to play a leading role in the world effort to monitor and study global warming. Morrow and his staff use specialized equipment first developed at York for measuring trace molecules in the lower atmosphere.

Roots go deep

Resonance’s roots stretch deep at York, back to when Morrow worked with Nicholls on the development of a unique family of digital gas correlation spectroradiometers.

These pioneering instruments attracted the attention of NASA in the mid-1980s and led to CRESS’s and Resonance’s long collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center in the measurement of lower-atmosphere contaminants from space-based platforms.

Morrow is justified in wanting to tout Resonance’s success story. But he is always quick to include York in his tale. He will be one proud man as he steps up to receive his doctorate. And York will be one proud University to bestow it.

Some of Resonance’s other major projects:

  • In partnership with L2B Environmental Systems Inc. – developing methods to enhance the effects of UV radiation for the destruction of airborne virus, bacteria and toxic black mould particles, such as SARS (coronavirus) and influenza;
  • Gravity Probe B Mission of Stanford University, 1999 – testing the effects of gravity on surrounding space, as predicted by Albert Einstein in his Theory of Relativity;
  • Canadian Robotic Systems on the International Space Station –manufacturing light sources;
  • North Carolina State University, NASA Langley Research Center and Brookhaven National Laboratory – developing a miniaturized point and remote sensor for measuring ambient carbon monoxide. This project led to the development of an ultra-compact remote sensor slated for groundbreaking work on a high-altitude, multi-mission aircraft.

York University’s spring convocation ceremonies are streamed over the Internet, giving family and friends who cannot attend a “virtual” front row seat. The live Webcasts and archives can be accessed by visiting