Meet the department – Jim Stevens, University Professor Emeritus, gentleman farmer, community leader
September 2020 is unlike any ‘back-to-school’ season that we have ever seen. As faculty, staff and students prepare to return to learning in a mix of in-person and online, we find ourselves adjusting in countless ways. While there are lots of exciting new developments coming for Fall 2020, we are sad that this will be the first September since 1957 without our beloved tradition, the corn roast, started by retired faculty member Dr. Jim Stevens and his family.
Departmental lore has it that Jim started the annual corn roast the day after arriving as an assistant professor on September 3, 1957 when Earl MacNaughton, the department head, was looking for a site for the event. The corn roast continued annually at the Stevens’ farm until 2010, when Jim and his wife Karin moved into the city. Since then, until this fall, we have gathered at Riverside Park to celebrate the start of a new school year, introduce new members of the department, and celebrate successes of the previous year.
As a faculty member, Jim’s research focused on understanding the fundamental properties of polymers, which are substances made up of long chains of repeating molecules. Jim is a world-class experimentalist, pioneering a technique for investigating these substances through laser-light scattering. Over his extensive career, Jim has collaborated with physicists in laboratories around the globe including University of Kent at Canterbury, The University of Manchester, Bell Laboratories, École Supérieur de Physique et de Chimie in Paris, Chalmers University of Technology, University of Uppsala, Umeå University (Sweden) and the Warsaw University of Technology. These fruitful collaborations led to Jim being co-recipient of the Swedish Innovation Cup in 1988 for an electrochromic device they created. In 1992, Jim was inducted as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in recognition of his leadership in the field of polymer electrolytes, with 141 publications that have been cited more than 5200 times by others in the field.
Jim’s innate curiosity and love of science fuels his ongoing explorations, well past retirement. In 2018, Jim gave an engaging departmental colloquium on “smart” windows, more than 60 years after he began his career as an assistant professor at the University of Guelph! Smart windows consist of two pieces of glass with conductive surfaces made of thin layers of indium-tin oxide on one piece and nickel oxide on the other. A small applied voltage can be used to block the incoming light, depending on its wavelength. This means that the amount of heat dumped into the living space can be controlled and air conditioning can be eliminated: exciting technological developments that could result in significant energy savings in building operations more than three decades after Jim’s initial research in electrochromic films.
His passion for science is matched by Jim’s commitment to his communities, both professionally and socially, as evidenced by his work with organizations such as the Science Teachers Association of Ontario, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, and the American Association of Physics Teachers (Ontario Division). Many in the wider Guelph community know Jim well as a long-time member of the Guelph Rotary Club. With Rotary, he has worked on projects improving living conditions in Tanzania and Uganda. Jim helped to obtain financial support for the construction and operation of the River Run Centre and Hospice Wellington. Jim has sung in the St. George’s Church choir for over 60 years. He was the recipient of the Order of Niagara in 2019.
A scholar, a community leader, and also a devoted athlete and Gryphon supporter (https://news.uoguelph.ca/2015/05/lifelong-member-of-campus-athletics-centre-looks-forward-to-revamped-facility/), Jim exemplifies the best of what we aspire to be. His sense of community and love for physics of all stripes helped to form the core philosophy of who we are as a department today. Although there won’t be a corn roast in September 2020, we’ll all raise a (virtual) toast to Jim for the important role he continues to play in our story and look forward to resuming the tradition in September 2021. It just doesn’t really feel like the start of a fall semester without it!