Remembering Fred P. Lossing

Fred Lossing died on May 22 1998 at the age of 82. Those privileged to have known him are deeply saddened at his passing. Fred was unique, there will never be another like him. The following reminiscences from some so privileged provide evidence of his individuality, character and personal caring.

Remembering Frederick P. Lossing

by Robert Boyd, Director, Marine Sciences, NRC, Halifax

Although I was not a post-doc of Fred Lossing, he did have a strong influence on me at an important stage of my life. I arrived at NRC in 1962 as a green-as-grass post-doc, just turned 24 and having spent all my life in small Scottish towns and remote areas (Shetland Islands). I worked with Ken Kutschke in the Photochemistry Section, next door to Fred's empire, and the two Sections shared informal seminars and so on. In those days Fred was at the height of his intellectual and creative vigour, and at first this scientific whirlwind and memorable physical presence was a little intimidating to the shy and reserved Presbyterian I used to be. But as many can testify better than I, Fred was also a very kind person, and in between his characteristic extroverted (and frequently hilarious) carryings on he took time to sit with me a few times and chat about chemistry, life, the meaning of the universe, and all that. He had a great influence on me as a person. I honestly do not know whether or not this had anything to do with my decision to get into mass spectrometry 10 years later, Fred's influence on me was more directly personal.

Among the typical Fred Lossing extracurricular activities I remember was the time he lured the unsuspecting Jim Morrison (a match for Fred's combination of scientific excellence and irreverent exuberance) on one of his fishing trips. Apparently Jim had distinguished himself by landing a fish of unknown speciation which must have been at least 1 inch long. Fred had it stuffed and mounted on an enormous plaque, with some elaborate inscription on a brass plate, and made a great fuss of the presentation. On another occasion, when Bill Schneider was appointed NRC President, rumour had it that the Fred and Jim team was responsible for arranging a new frame for the sign-in sheet at Sussex Drive in the form of an important household item which was largely responsible for the demise of the Eaton's Catalogue as an item of consumable supplies in many Canadian homes. Naturally the new President signed himself in with disinterested aplomb to the dismay of the Merry Pranksters.

These were the days of scientific and personal giants at NRC, of whom Fred Lossing was a typical example. I think that his scientific creativity and extroverted humour were actually two manifestations of the exact same mindset. My wife also knew Fred well, and we learned of his passing with sadness and a sense of personal loss. But it would be wrong to end this brief memorial on a maudlin note. I prefer to remember Fred striding down the hall of Sussex Drive with an enormous drill in his hand, declaiming that HE was going to show Roger how to drill a hole in the goddamn ion source!

by John Holmes, Professor Emeritus, University of Ottawa

Although I met Fred as long ago as l958 when I was a post-doctoral fellow at NRC I had little scientific contact with him at that time. I was a photochemist and Fred's lab performed qualitative sample analyses by mass spectrometry. Most of my precious samples were declared to be carbon dioxide and water and so the technique did not endear itself to me then. Some years later (in l964), Fred guided me in the selection of the Hitachi RMU6-D as the Ottawa University Chemistry Department's first MS. A choice I never regretted.

Our paths diverged again, until at a chance meeting in l970 we discovered that we were working on the same molecules. Clearly that had to stop and so we began a long collaboration which lasted until 1994, when he (more or less) finally retired from chemistry. From 1976 we shared in some 35 publications, often with Hans Terlouw, especially when the latter was still at the University of Utrecht.

My memories of Fred are all happy ones. He was a great raconteur, always ready with a quick joke or allusion to divert us from scientific gloom or to celebrate a new finding. When he retired from NRC, he took up residence in my lab at the University and so added ten more years of research to his professional life. His apparatus came across town in the back of an open truck with he, John Krause and I supporting the fragile equipment. The sun shone and nothing was broken. He was greatly admired by the graduate students and post-doctoral workers, not least for his experimental skills at keeping his electron monochromator in top operating condition; he was never satisfied with less than perfection.

Although disinclined to accept fools gladly (a result of his administrative years at NRC) he had immense patience with his fellow scientists. I think that he believed that no idea was foolish until it had been carefully considered, discussed and then discarded. He encouraged all of us to speculate as wildly as we pleased and then we would together sort out any residual wheat from the chaff. Many, many hours were spent in this way and we never failed to profit from his scientific insight and wisdom.

Fred was a great role model. He never lost the thrill of the scientific chase; collaboration with him was one of life's great joys and he is very sadly missed.

by Paul Kebarle, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta

I arrived at NRC, Sussex Drive, in Ottawa in February 1956, to do postdoctoral work with Fred Lossing, having just completed my Ph. D. in physical chemistry at UBC. At that time NRC had a preeminent position in research relative to the Canadian Universities. Only McGill and the University of Toronto had research in Chemistry that could be considered of comparable quality. UBC was still in the dark ages. Therefore, for this and reasons outlined below, I had high hopes for my stay at NRC with Fred.

At UBC, I had had my acquaintance with mass spectrometry. It had not been a path that I had chosen initially. My research work was on the thermal decomposition of olefins in the gas phase. I was first to establish what the products are and it was hoped that on that basis one might be able to propose the reaction mechanism by which products are formed. After several months of collecting mixtures of gaseous and liquid reaction products from the thermal decomposition of butene, I realized that finding out what the products were, was the major problem. At that time gas chromatography had just been discovered but was still largely unknown. The only alternative was mass spectrometry which was also generally not available at University Chemistry Departments. But, there was a mass spectrometer at UBC, in the lab of my research director Al Bryce. That mass spectrometer had been built by the machine shop at NRC, with Fred Lossing's help. It was essentially identical to the instruments that Fred was using in his own lab, which were also "homemade". Unfortunately, the UBC instrument had never worked. Al had not managed to get it going, mostly because of the presence of leaks in the analyzer tube and associated stainless steel pumping leads. "Paul, if we manage to get the mass spec going your problems will be solved", Al said with a smile. Since Al was very busy with lectures and I was his only student, it obviously fell on me to do it. This meant many months of work, which included learning how to hunt for leaks and gaining some understanding of the electronic circuits used, since there were no manuals. Fred had been consulted several times on the phone and had been very help ful, but all these conversations had been with Al. I had never had the courage to call Fred myself. So when arriving in Ottawa I was very curious about Fred as a person and happy to be finally with somebody who was such an expert in mass spectrometry. I liked Fred's open, direct and democratic manner immediately. Fred showed me the lab and explained how the research group (two postdocs and himself) worked. One of the first objects in this "show and tell" was the apparatus for his latest experiment with which the mass spectra due to ions produced by photoionization of molecules, had been determined for the first time. With some excitement and happiness in his voice, Fred gave the necessary explanations. Ikuso Tanaka, a post doctoral fellow in Ned Steacie's photo chemistry lab, had been doing photoionization experiments using a Faraday plate detector to measure the ion current and Fred had suggested that they look at the ions with a mass spectrometer. The apparatus that they used was one of the two 90 degree magnetic sector instruments that were in Fred's lab (i.e. of the homemade variety that I had also used at UBC ). Fred had fitted the electrical gas discharge light source to this instrument. The arrangement was simplicity itself. The light source, which was essentially a glass tube of some 15 mm outer diameter with a smaller diameter lithium fluoride window at its end, was blackwaxed to the stainless steel vacuum housing of the mass spec ion source. "I drilled a hole in the stainless steel wall opposite to the ionization box and inserted and blackwaxed the light source. We got the first mass spectra just days after we decided to do the experiment", said Fred with obvious pride and satisfaction. "We also had to make some changes to the ion source to avoid ionization by secondary electrons produced by photoemission from the metal electrodes" said Fred and drew the changes on a piece of paper. They had cut holes in the ionization box, spotwelded some metal plates for shielding and moved other electrodes out of the way.

I was quite amazed. This man had drilled into the stainless steel vacuum housing with the bench drill that was just behind us, used blackwax, moved electrodes around to make space. Black wax is a very bad vacuum material since it outgases all kinds of crud. What about the ion transmission after he moved the electrodes? He must have lost much sensitivity for ion detection. In my past work I had considered the ion source and acceleration plates a sacred arrangement. I would not have "dared" to do any of these changes. And yet, on second thought, to make the changes was relatively easy and they were obvi ously required. Blackwax was O.K for the experiments that they did, and they had obtained the results that they were after.

The lesson that I learned right there and then in that first encounter with Fred was this. Don't be afraid to make changes. Changes can be part of the game. Just think out carefully what conditions you need for the desired experiment and don't worry about sacred cows.

Fred knew that the next step in the development of photoionization as a research tool was to use a monochromator and suitable light sources so as to be able to determine ionization and appearance potentials by photoionization, but he decided that his lab was not the best place for such a complex project. Stimulated by Fred's results, other researchers developed instruments with monochromators and much later the photo-ion photo-elec tron coincidence methods which became today's well known sources of ion energetics data. During my two years' stay at Fred's lab I participated in a variety of studies but the most interesting one to me, was in an area previously developed by Fred. It dealt with the determination of ionization potentials of free radicals produced by the thermal decomposition of suitable molecules in a heated flow tube near the ion source. A study undertaken together with Alex Harrison, who came in as postdoc some months after me, had important consequences for my future work. It dealt with the determination of the ionization ener gies of variously substituted benzyl free radicals. On the basis of the experimental results it could be shown that the substituent effects in the gas phase were much bigger but still closely proportional to those in solution. This was one of the first findings relating gas phase and solution energetics which later became an area of great significance in gas phase ion chemistry and also had an impact on solution chemistry.

Fred regularly did experimental work himself on one of the two research mass spectrometers. Because we also shared the office, (he and the two postdocs had a desk each in it) we were working most of the time pretty close to him. This was great because there was so much opportunity for questions and discussion and not always of scientific topics. But this constant contact could also easily have become oppressive, had Fred not maintained an atmosphere of equality and irreverence. I am sure the irreverence was not a deliberate policy aimed just to increase the productivity. It was a part of his personality. Life should be fun and research should be enjoyable and it can't be so if we are dead serious about what we are doing. His quick sense of humor during ordinary conversations did much to lighten the atmosphere. He also loved at times to lighten the atmosphere by "suitable" practical jokes. One that I remember, was to attach a radio tube to the magnet without the postdoc working on the instrument noticing. The tube stuck to the magnet because some of the electrodes inside it were ferromagnetic. When the postdoc, towards the end of the day, shut the magnet current off, the tube crashed to the floor. Since we were always worried about electronics breakdown and all the circuits used tubes, the appearance of a tube on the floor could induce nothing but horror on the face of the operator. "Where the hell did this tube come from? What did I do wrong? Should I tell Fred?" The speechless operator was finally freed of his misery by Fred's booming laughter and explanation of the trick used. Obviously these jokes were appreciated more by Fred than by the victim, but then after some time Fred was forgiven. It had been an interesting event.

I remember also the great parties that we had, once or twice a year in the lab, such as the Christmas party. To this, special guests were invited or they invited themselves. These were particularly colorful postdoctoral fellows from Steacie's group, which Fred tended to discover and strike up friendships with, and Jim Morrison, a senior research officer like Fred, who was a serious competitor of Fred's in contests of wit and practical jokes. We all drank rye and ginger ale provided by Fred and got gloriously high. So don't wonder how come I don't remember the practical jokes so carefully planned and sometimes successfully executed by Fred or Jim at these parties.

When, after two years, I was leaving Fred's team to take my new position at the University of Alberta, I felt very happy to have had the good fortune to work with him. I had become an independent mass spectrometrist. I had experienced a supervisor who always acted with exemplary integrity and fairness, and I had made a friend for life. The Chemistry Department at the U of A had given me sufficient funds to assemble a mass spectrometer of the Lossing variety and Fred was helping with the production at the NRC machine shop. It was this instrument that together with the "no sacred cows" lesson became the first near atmospheric pressure mass spectrometer and the major source of my publications.

by Alex Harrison, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

The two years I spent with Fred Lossing at NRC, beginning in the autumn of 1957, were two of the most enjoyable years of my life. Paul Kebarle was the other post-doc with Fred at that time. As Paul has noted, the three of us shared the two instruments and a common office. Both in the office and at the morning and afternoon coffee breaks, conversation would range over a wide variety of topics often involving peoples' foibles but cover ing chemistry, the latest political scandal or the length of time it took a filament to cool when the power was turned off. (I still think that Paul's calculation of several hours was in error.) Fred frequently had leading figures in the field visit and lecture. Apart from meeting these distinguished people and discussing research with them, there always was an enjoyable social evening with Fred and Frances hosting. But Fred introduced us to much more than mass spectrometry and ion chemistry. I remember helping him prepare a mirror for a telescope he was building. Unfortunately, the layer of vacuum-deposited aluminum was too thin and the reflectivity vanished when the mirror was exposed to air and the film oxidized. The next try was successful.

Fred had little patience for bureaucracy, bureaucrats or other fools and did not enjoy his period as an administrator. At the time I was at NRC all permanent staff were expected to sign in on arrival indicating the time. Fred usually "forgot" until the morning or afternoon foray to the cafeteria for coffee and was quite imaginative when it came to the time of arrival. Fred also became annoyed by the disappearance of tools from Chemistry, "borrowed" by post-docs to repair the rickety car they had purchased from a departing post-doc, and tried to convince the bureaucrats that all incoming post-docs should be presented with a tool-kit on arrival; the bureaucrats did not approve.

As others have noted, Fred was very protective of his instruments and didn't trust anyone else to take them apart or repair them. In the summer of 1958, Fred went to England for a conference. He was hardly out of Canadian air-space before Paul suggested we take the instrument apart to see how it worked. So we dismantled it, examined all the parts and put it back together again and it still worked. I don't think Fred ever knew. He certainly wouldn't have approved.

by John Kominar, Professor, Chemistry Department, Wilfred Laurier University

Bob Boyd's mention of fishing trips triggered my memory back to the time when John Cross and I went on a fishing trip with Fred in his boat. We hadn't been out but a short time when John Cross flipped back his rod to cast and his fish hook embedded itself into my right nostril. We all tried but couldn't get the hook out. It didn't bother me much as the hook was stuck in cartilage and there was no pain, but Fred insisted in cutting the trip short and taking me back to Civic Hospital to have it removed. It took the emergency Doc all of about 2 seconds to remove the hook using a pair of needle nosed pliers. (It turns out that that procedure was not covered by OHIP and I was billed about $15, which on a post-doc salary at that time was a lot and I never did pay the bill). The comments about Fred charging down the hall with a drill to show Roger how to make an ion source also brought a chuckle. I think Fred was nearing the end of his patience with all the quartz ion sources he had to make to replace the ones John Cross managed to do in trying to operate the mass spec.

by John Traeger, Reader, Department of Chemistry, La Trobe University

My career in mass spectrometry dates back to 1968 when, as a fresh honors student, I was given a research project by Jim Morrison to "build a quadrupole mass spectrometer". This venture into machine building was to form the basis of a long and continuing involve ment in gas phase ion energetics. With the newly constructed quadrupole I was in a position to carry out my PhD investigation of gas-phase ionization and dissociation processes. Unfortunately, the electron impact source had a typical large energy spread which did not readily lend itself to ionization efficiency studies. However, we were able to largely reduce this by deconvolution techniques that Jim had developed from his earlier research in X-ray crystallography. Nevertheless, the energy resolution was still not as good as that obtainable with an electron monochromator. Consequently, when I received a CSIRO postdoctoral fellowship in 1972 it seemed that the natural progression would be to take it up with Fred Lossing at the NRC in Ottawa and learn the "black magic" associated with electron velocity selectors. As I was to later find out, the successful production of a "good" electron beam varied from day to day and, according to Fred, depended on the phase of the moon as well as other astronomical phenomena - I guess that explained why he took such an interest in astronomy. It also helped to have a small metal file appropriately placed in the vicinity of the monochromator to coax the numerous recalcitrant electrons through to the ion source, although certain well directed expletives seemed to work just as well. Fred often joked that perhaps we should take up the offer of one of the local Ottawa men's clothing stores at the time who claimed in their advertisements to be able to "improve your appearance potential".

My introduction to appearance energy measurements at NRC was Fred sitting next to a rather ancient chart recorder, manually varying the electron energy. At an appropriate time he would draw a line through the noisy pen trace, being representative of the ion current, and then move on to the next voltage. I politely suggested to Fred that this rather cumbersome procedure could be much better done by computer and, to my surprise, he agreed, saying that it was about time that he spent some of his administrative funds on something useful. Consequently much of my time as a postdoctoral fellow with Fred was spent developing a minicomputer data acquisition system for the electron monochromator/mass spectrometer. I did however learn much about ion thermochemistry and the use of photons as a means of ionization, two areas where Fred was a leading authority. These proved invaluable in my subsequent research, again with Jim Morrison, to develop a photoionization mass spectrometer. It always amazed me how Fred could predict with uncanny reliability the heat of formation for just about any ion or radical. With such a gift it seemed that experiments were only needed to confirm Fred's predicted value. Although Fred had been exposed to the Aussie accent he still had difficulty in understanding some of our expressions. Shortly after I arrived at Sussex Drive Fred took a phone call from my wife who asked him to let me know that the audio cassette tape of my sister's wedding had just arrived in the mail. The note on my desk simply said "THE WEDDING TYPE HAS ARRIVED". At the time I thought that Fred had innocently misinterpreted the message. In retrospect I'm not so sure. I did however manage to get one back on Fred by convincing him that the colloquial term "banana bender" for a Queenslander originated from the days when people were specially trained to bend bananas prior to packing them for export. Some thirteen years later I was fortunate to spend a study leave period at the University of Ottawa with John Holmes. He had been able to persuade Fred, who had retired from NRC, to continue his research there and together they formed a most formidable team, as their many collaborative papers attest. The old electron monochromator was still the same, even down to that vital metal file.

My family and I have made several other visits to Ottawa over the years, the most recent being for Christmas 1996 when I last saw Fred. Although obviously much older he still had retained that same sharp wit and friendliness that was his characteristic trade mark some twenty five years previously. Fred had great delight in taking my two children down to his "scientific cellar" and demonstrating, as only Fred could do, the spectacular display of his van der Graaf generator along with other equally impressive equipment that he had built. Those of us who have been involved with Fred, particularly in those formative years as postdoctoral fellows, have all been enriched by the experience. Apart from his many contributions to mass spectrometry Fred above all was a true gentleman and someone who we have all had the privilege of knowing.

by Orval Mamer, Professor, Department of Medicine, McGill University

John Kominar's story reminds me of the time I shorted the HV on one of Fred's instruments through my finger while leak detecting with an argon hose, burnt the fingertip badly (it eventually grew back, chameleon-style) and I bashed my head on the sink as I recoiled under it. When I regained consciousness, the MS was a in sorry state, and not working. I immediately recalled an accident with a mercury manometer that John Kominar and John Cross had which will not be retold here and which earned some unwanted attention from Fred, and I quickly set about repairs. I was screwing the last module back into place having completed repairs when Fred walked in and asked "What are you doing?". After I confessed, ending with revealing the cut on the back of my head and the burnt fingertip, he said "Hell, you'll heal, I'VE got to fix the damned mass spectrometer!" I replied that it was fixed, and he proceeded to do some checks. I felt an unfathomable sense of relief when he agreed that it was. He never bore a grudge, no matter how deserving of excommunication someone might be. Twice-a-day, mid morning and mid afternoon, Fred would stroll through the lab and office areas, and like the pied piper, lead us down into what passed as the staff cafeteria for coffee break. On the way there, Fred would 'sign in' as noted above by Alex, usually issuing a ripe verbal epithet while conforming to what he considered a bureaucratic petty check on whether he was present and accounted for. Discussions over coffee were usually the most stimulating parts of every day, with Fred dipping his wooden popsicle stirstick into his coffee and using it like pen-and-ink to draw a figure on the tabletop to reveal new findings or embellish a story. If only we could have published that tabletop! Fred, George Chapman and I did some skeet shooting in the bush southwest of Ottawa a few times. I remember feeling pleased that he would be on our side in the event of a war. Fred was also an avid amateur astronomer, and was active in the Ottawa centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He helped build a 16 inch Newtonian telescope, the major instrument in the Fred P. Lossing Observatory complex established out side Ottawa ( Fred would do the occasional 'secret government job' in the lab (read vacuum-aluminizing Newtonian mirrors for amateur astronomers) - he did one for me while I was with him (1968-9), and I still have it.