Dedication to Robert Kinnear Boyd
Article first published online: 20 APR 2006
Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Volume 20, Issue 10, pages 1487–1491, 30 May 2006
How to Cite
Thibault, P. (2006), Dedication to Robert Kinnear Boyd. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom., 20: 1487–1491. doi: 10.1002/rcm.2510
- Issue published online: 20 APR 2006
- Article first published online: 20 APR 2006
Robert Boyd officially retired last December as Editor-in-Chief of Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, a role he assumed in 1997 after serving seven years as an Editor. For Bob, retirement is probably a polite euphemism for embarking on a long list of exciting projects he has not yet found the time to undertake. This impression was certainly reinforced when I met Bob and his wife Dianna (Fig. 1) in Montreal recently during a visit in which Bob was giving a lecture to the Université de Montréal. As a Researcher Emeritus at the NRC's Institute for National Measurement Sciences in Ottawa, Bob is regularly solicited to give lectures, provide expert opinion on review panels, and write seminal articles on mass spectrometry and trace analysis including a recent IUPAC project to update and extend the definitions of terms related to the field of mass spectrometry and retirement …
I first met Bob in 1987 when my good fortune brought me to accept a two-year appointment as a Research Associate with the National Research Council's Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB, formerly Atlantic Research Laboratory) after completing my PhD. This was supposed to be a two-year secondment from the Biotechnology Research Institute in Montreal, but I actually stayed for nine years after being promoted to research officer in 1990. Bob had just been recruited a year earlier by Roger Foxall (former director general of IMB) and Dave Jamieson (then section head of the analytical chemistry group) to lead a new mass spectrometry team after 18 prolific years of academic research at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of the University of Guelph. It is noteworthy that Bob's career at the NRC actually started back in the early 1960s when, after completing his PhD degree at St. Andrews University, his sense of adventure brought him to Ottawa to conduct his first post-doctoral studies in photochemistry with Ken O. Kutschke. Little did he know that destiny would bring him back to the NRC some 20 years later.
Roger and Dave envisioned that mass spectrometry would play a strategic role in the development of the multidisciplinary institute and they were very eager to hire Bob to head this new initiative. Enticed by the scientific opportunities this new vision would provide, Bob embraced the challenge and joined the analytical chemistry group in 1986. The group was relatively small then and consisted of five research officers (Dave Jamieson, Bob Boyd, Greg Sim, Roger Guevremont and Michael Quilliam who joined in 1987), and four technical officers (Glenn McCully, Bill Hardstaff, Don Embree, Ed Dyer) (Fig. 2). At that time, mass spectrometry, mostly GC/MS, was primarily used to support the Certified Reference Materials Program (CRMP, formerly the Marine Analytical Chemistry Standards Program), a program established ten years earlier by the NRC in response to a government need for certified standards and reference materials to monitor pollutants in the environment. The lab was equipped with a Finnigan single quadrupole GC/MS system and a newly acquired VG ZAB BEqQ hybrid sector-quadrupole instrument. However, it was clear that the growing needs of the new marine bioactive programs at the IMB and the opportunistic emergence of ‘soft’ ionization techniques would place higher demands for bioanalytical mass spectrometry, a situation that did not take very long to materialize …
Indeed, at the end of November 1987, a mysterious and serious outbreak of food poisoning in Canada that resulted in 153 cases of acute intoxication and three deaths was traced back to cultured blue mussels from a localized area of eastern Prince Edward Island. For several weeks, this outbreak made newspaper headlines and was monitored closely by an alarmed Canadian public. In mid-December, a team composed of all available chemists and marine biologists from the IMB together with some scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was rapidly assembled under the leadership of Jeff Wright to take part in an intense four-day marathon effort to identify the elusive toxin (Fig. 3). As part of this effort, Bob and his technical officer, Don Embree, played a key role in obtaining partial structural features of the toxin from fast-atom bombardment tandem mass spectra and accurate mass measurements (peak matching) of the bioactive fractions. Armed with spectra in hand, Bob presented the latest mass spectrometry data in makeshift meetings organized daily in a small conference room adjacent to Roger Foxall's office. The around-the-clock effort by all team members, coupled with an efficient bioassay guided fractionation strategy, led to the identification of the toxin just 108 hours after the beginning of the investigation. The causative agent of toxicity was identified as domoic acid, a neuroexcitatory amino acid produced by the diatom Nitzchia pungens f. multiseries that bloomed and accumulated at unusually high levels in the filter-feeding bivalves during the fall of 1987. Detailed accounts of this incredible detective story were described in different publications shortly after, a number of which were accompanied by Bob's editorial contributions. The discovery of domoic acid not only represented a great example of the scientific team spirit in which Bob participated, but also enabled the IMB to launch its marine toxin and mass spectrometry research programs.
Bob's early scientific contributions at the IMB were primarily focused on methods development and linked-scan functions for tandem mass spectrometry, an area he first explored in 1975 while on a sabbatical to John Beynon's lab at Swansea, Wales, which led him to switch his research interests from fast kinetics (shock-tubes) to mass spectrometry. Bob, together with Roger Guevremont and the electronic skills of Ed Dyer, developed new E-Q linked scans for the BEqQ instrument to enhance transmission and confirm mass assignment of fragment ions formed in collision activation experiments involving mass-analyzed ion kinetic energy spectra. The productive trio made a series of innovative contributions that were published in different journals in the late 1980s. Anthony Alexander (a postdoc also working with Bob) and I experienced first hand the virtues of the technology developed when the first MIKE spectra we obtained on the BEqQ instrument for dimeric di-lysine peptide ions led to puzzling fragment ions that did not make any chemical sense. Unaware of artifact transitions occurring in the first field-free region, I remember naively presenting the data to Bob perplexed by the fact that fragment ions of fractional kinetic energy could give m/z values above the precursor ion once analyzed by the quadrupole. After I had extracted a good laugh from him he replied that it represented a great example of an intense MIKES artifact resolved, and off we went (a few hypothetical ion intensity contour maps later) to our very first publication together.
Bob was very keen to establish a strong foothold in mass spectrometry and in early 1989, while the IMB was enjoying the post-domoic acid spotlight, he initiated discussions with MDS/Sciex to acquire one of the first API III triple quadrupole instruments (actually production unit #4), the first workhorse mass spectrometry system directly linked to an HPLC system. This was prior to any joint venture agreements with Perkin Elmer and Applied Biosystems at a time when MDS/Sciex was primarily known for its trace atmospheric gas analysis (TAGA) quadrupole and Elan ICP/MS mass spectrometers. Bob saw the remarkable possibilities of this revolutionary technology and together with Mike Quilliam and Dave Jamieson they canvassed different government agencies to get their support for the acquisition of the API III. Bob was also instrumental in organizing many research contracts with other government laboratories to leverage the operating costs of the instrument and the recruitment of associated personnel. Amongst the new recruits were Steve Pleasance, a PhD student from Dai Games's lab, as well as young talented graduate students such as Mei Xie, Helene Perreault and Joseph Anacleto (Fig. 4). As time went by, these talented young minds went on to take different positions in industry and academia and new ones came to visit. The period marked the beginning of a fruitful and still very active scientific collaboration with MDS/Sciex in which fundamental and applied aspects of atmospheric pressure ionization were developed for the analyses of environmental contaminants, marine toxins, peptides and proteins.
In spite of the increasing administrative duties required of these positions, Bob always maintained close ties with the academic research environment and continued to direct the work of postdocs and graduate students as an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University. The intense period of research activities that followed the domoic acid crisis also revealed important leadership traits of Bob's personality that predestined him to climb through NRC's echelons.
In 1990 when Dave Jamieson retired, Bob took on the leadership of the analytical chemistry group and was also responsible for the management of the CRMP, a role he assumed until 1998. His involvement in the CRMP was critical in expanding the mandate of this program to fulfill the pressing needs of the seafood quality laboratories for marine toxin standards and reference materials. Enriched by the experience of the amnesic shellfish poisoning (domoic acid) incident, the IMB launched a research program to purify individual marine toxin standards and prepare shellfish reference materials to aid analysts and researchers working in the area of seafood testing and quality. Bob, with the assistance of Denise Leblanc and a number of marine and analytical chemists including Mike Quilliam, Jeff Wright, Maurice Laycock, Pearl Blay, Bill Hardstaff, Steve Locke and myself, were chiefly responsible for laying the foundations of this internationally recognized program. The number of calibration solutions and mussel tissue reference materials sold worldwide for the monitoring of amnesic, paralytic and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning increased yearly to reach more than 22 different reference materials by 1998.
In 1998, Bob was appointed Acting Director General of the NRC-IMB. He accepted the position on a short-term basis only, knowing the additional administrative burden would not allow him to maintain the intense pace of his research activities. During his short appointment as Acting Director General he introduced a number of fundamental changes to the institute's organizational make up, including the reorganization of the management structure, the creation of a Science Advisory Committee, and the development of a peer review process for enhanced funding opportunities which provided numerous grants and sustained funding for IMB's research facilities. His involvement with the Atlantic Initiative was key in leveraging the expertise of the institute and to gain support for the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment, including several new mass spectrometers. As president and chair of the board of the Atlantic Genome Center (AGC) he succeeded in bringing together scientists from IMB and four Atlantic Canadian universities in an unprecedented effort to establish the region as a world leader in genomic research. The AGC provided a unique opportunity for industry, government and academia to form synergistic partnerships to bring exciting science and economic developments to the Atlantic region.
His distinguished contributions to the field of analytical chemistry were recognized in 2001 by the Maxxam award from the Canadian Society for Chemistry. In 2002 he was appointed Researcher Emeritus at NRC and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, a distinction given to Canadians who had made outstanding and exemplary contributions to Canada as a whole.
His clever mind, great sense of humor (including musical talent) (Figs. 5 and 6), unparalleled writing skills and talent for constructive criticism continue to be revered assets. Always generous of his time, he would go out of his way to provide assistance and necessary support to those in need, especially when it came to insightful suggestions and reporting the scientific contributions. For young recruits like us, Bob was a great motivator, an outstanding scholar and a very considerate mentor. I only overlapped with Bob for about nine years while at NRC-IMB, but he had a profound and positive influence on the personal and professional development of many individuals including myself. I am most grateful for the opportunity to have shared the road with him on my short scientific journey at the institute.
Before passing the platform to others in this tribute to a significant career, it seemed only appropriate to add a few mementos (see Figs. 1–7) that marked some of the notable events in Bob's professional career. Most of these photographs were provided by Dianna Boyd and Denise Leblanc, but Helene Perreault very kindly sent the photograph taken in the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. I am also grateful to Cathy Gibson for her assistance in enlightening this tribute with information on Bob's important contributions as Acting Director General at IMB.