Date of Birth: 26th Apr 1931
CANDIDIASIS: an infection of one of several fungi, commonly called “thrush” or “yeast infection”. Depending on the fungus involved, Candidiasis can be manifested in different ways, from superficial discomforts involving irritation and redness, to life-threatening infections of the throat or blood.
FUNGUS (plural fungi): an organism that resembles a plant and grows on living or dead organic matter. Mushrooms and yeasts are fungi. Some fungi cause diseases in humans and animals.
NATURAL PRODUCTS CHEMISTRY: the study of substances produced by chemical reactions inside of plants and animals, which may be used by humans
ORGANIC CHEMISTRY: the study of chemical substances with molecules that are made up mostly of carbon atoms
SEA SPONGE: a sea animal that resembles a plant. The household items that we call sponges were once made from these animals.
Professor Chan had an impressive academic career. He completed his first degree in two years, and in 1957, he became the first UCWI student to complete a doctorate at the university.
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 2
Professor Emeritus Wilfred Chan was a founder of the Natural Products Chemistry programme at The University of the West Indies (UWI). He was the first scientist in Trinidad and Tobago to do research on natural products extracted from marine organisms. He taught at UWI in Jamaica and Trinidad for over 40 years and also briefly in Canada and Venezuela.
Wilfred Chan was born in New Amsterdam, Guyana on 26th April, 1931. He attended Rosignol Government School, and like many Guyanese people, his morning journeys were long trips that involved both cycling and transportation by ferry. When he was eight, he and his brother contracted typhoid fever. However, he still passed his exams that year and he went on to Berbice High School and later, Queen’s College, where he earned a scholarship to university.
He did his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at the University College of the West Indies (UCWI – later renamed UWI) in Mona, Jamaica. He then joined the university as a Lecturer in chemistry and rose through the ranks over the years that followed. During his time at UWI, Chan became Professor and served as the dean of natural sciences and the head of the chemistry department. He was a dedicated educator who mentored and inspired many Caribbean chemists.
Professor Chan’s research centred mostly on products extracted from Caribbean plants and animals. He studied how chemicals obtained from sea sponges can treat the fungus that causes the disease, Candidiasis. His studies on land plants in the Caribbean sparked much interest in these plants among researchers who had never studied them before, leading to many discoveries in later years.
Professor Chan was a founder of the Caribbean Chemical Conference and the Mona Symposium on Natural Products and Medicinal Chemistry. In 1992, the symposium was dedicated to him. Since 2000, the Wilfred Chan Award has been given to the student with the best academic performance in Organic Chemistry at the Part II level of the bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Although Professor Wilfred Chan retired from UWI in 1996, gaining the title of Professor Emeritus in the same year, he remained active in teaching and served the Caribbean Academy of Sciences as President from 1998 to 2002.
Professor Chan advises aspiring scientists that, “All things have their place in nature. Make your life’s work to learn and understand as much as possible. Read widely and as much as you can.”