Date of Birth: 26th Apr 1931
T+T Icons In Science & Technology Volume II
Professor Wilfred Chan was one of the “founding fathers” of the Department of Chemistry at the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI) who introduced and developed the field of natural products research. He initiated studies on marine natural products in Trinidad and Tobago and did extensive fundamental work on terrestrial Caribbean flora. In addition to being on the staff of the Faculty of Natural Sciences on the campuses in Jamaica and Trinidad for 40 years, he also lectured in North America and at the Universidad Central de Venezuela1. His postgraduate students and their own students have made their mark in natural products chemistry throughout the world, in both industry and academia.
Wilfred Chan was born on 26th April, 1931 in New Amsterdam, Guyana. He attended Rosignol Government School and received a scholarship to Berbice High School in 1941. He completed his Senior Cambridge Certificate, earning a scholarship to Queen’s College in 1946 where he achieved the London Higher Certificate and earned an Open Scholarship to the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) now UWI.
Chan completed his Bachelor of Science (BSc) General in two years and gained a Geddes Grant Fellowship to pursue postgraduate studies in organic chemistry in 1953. In 1957, he became the first UCWI graduate to complete a doctorate. This was followed by a Carnegie Postgraduate Fellowship at the Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow under the tutelage of Nobel Laureate, Sir Derek Barton.
In 1958, Chan joined the staff of UCWI in Mona, Jamaica as an assistant lecturer in chemistry. He rose through the ranks and was appointed Personal Chair in Organic Chemistry in 1970. He served as Dean of the UWI Faculty of Natural Sciences from 1972 to 1974 and headed the Chemistry Department from 1973 to 1976. He then accepted a Senior Fellowship from the International Development Research Centre to conduct research at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. After returning to Mona, he transferred to the St. Augustine Campus in 1978. He also served as External Examiner to the University of Guyana for many years.
Professor Chan was the Organising Secretary of the inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Chemical Conference, which was held in Mona in 1963 and again in 1969. He also co-founded the Mona Symposium on Natural Products and Medicinal Chemistry in 1966 which continues to this day. The 1992 Symposium was dedicated to him, and he was made Conference Life Chairman in recognition of his exceptional contribution.
Professor Chan retired from UWI in 1996 and was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus in Chemistry. During his long tenure, he supervised a number of postgraduate students who went on to hold academic positions at all three campuses of the university. After retirement, he remained active in teaching and from 1998 to 2002, he served the scientific community in the region through his presidency of the Caribbean Academy of Sciences.
In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Professor Chan was awarded a Centenary Medal by the Institute of Jamaica in 1981, and was named a Distinguished Graduate of The University of the West Indies at the 50th Anniversary Celebrations held in 1998. In 2000, the Government of Jamaica awarded him the Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD).
His advice to youngsters is: “know clearly what you want to do and then pursue it.”