Passings: Renaissance scientist Huw Owen Pritchard

Distinguished Research Professor at York University’s Faculty of Science, Huw Owen Pritchard, died peacefully on Aug. 9 at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. A long-serving member of the Department of Chemistry, he began his career at York in 1965 and retired in 1998.

Huw Owen Pritchard
Huw Owen Pritchard

Prof. Pritchard was an original member and former Chair of the department, and supervised the first PhD in chemistry, although it was in the physics graduate program. His main research interest was in Experimental and Theoretical Reaction Kinetics.

His colleagues remember him as “one of a kind, a renaissance scientist” and a “highly productive and well-respected researcher.” He was also one of the first four Distinguished Research Professors (1983) at York.

“Personally, I remember his lab for two things. The diesel engine he was trying to run on benzyl peroxide, and his experiments on the isomerization of methyl isocyanide,” said Don Hastie, associate dean of faculty.

René Fournier, Chair of the Department of Chemistry, said, “He could talk with personal knowledge about a wide range of topics, including about the beginnings of electronic digital scientific computing in Manchester in the early 1950s, the first MO calculations on aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as the theories of valence, electronegativity, and unimolecular reactions.”

His knowledge also extended to the effect of blackbody radiation on vibrational relaxation, numerical instability and chaos in molecular simulations, diesel fuel ignition, and the first computers connected to the internet at York.

Huw Owen Pritchard teaching a class early in his career

“He took part in, witnessed, or researched, those things himself,” said Fournier. “When I joined in 1996, his research program had what was then a rare, maybe unique, combination of gas phase kinetics experiments, electronic structure calculations and molecular dynamics simulations.”

The paper, Eliminating Symmetry Problems in Electronegativity Equalization and Correcting Self-Interaction Errors in Conceptual DFT, in the Journal of Computational Chemistry by László von Szentpály is dedicated to Prof. Pritchard “the pioneer of the charge dependent electronegativity concept.”

Before his time at York, Prof. Pritchard studied in Michael Polanyi’s Chemistry Department in 1945 at Manchester University, receiving his PhD in 1951. The same year, he became an assistant lecturer in chemistry, and in 1954, he became a lecturer.

Born July 23, 1928 in Bangor, Wales, Prof. Pritchard was married to Margaret (Maggie) for 63 years, and the father to Karen (Sal) and David (Madeleine).

A private cremation took place. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Toronto General Hospital.