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Mourning Robert Bury Ferguson, Professor Emeritus

January 22, 2015 — 
Robert Bury Ferguson

Robert Bury Ferguson

Robert Bury Ferguson, Professor Emeritus in the department of geological sciences, died on Jan. 18, just shy of his 95th birthday.

The service is Saturday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Church at 603 Wellington Cres.

Dr. Ferguson joined the U of M professoriate in 1947, tasked with teaching mineralogy and crystallography, and to manage the newly acquired X-ray diffraction facility. But he wanted to do more, and so he developed the department’s advanced-level courses in X-ray crystallography and crystal chemistry as well. More pressing at the time, however, was the great influx of students arriving to study after the war — enrolment in his department suddenly went up 50 per cent. Ferguson saw the department lacked teaching materials and so he and a colleague produced hundreds of hand-made, geometrically precise, wooden models of crystals for the new students to use in their introductory courses.

An exceptional researcher and mentor, he made an impact on the field and its people. The Museum of Mineralogy, which was formally established at the Department of Geological Sciences in 1971, for instance, was renamed after him in honour of his life’s work.  And though he retired from teaching in 1985, his students — his legacy — continue to impact the scientific field, which is beautifully illustrated by the fact that six of his former students and postdoctoral fellows have been honored by having minerals named after them: bobtraillite (R.J. Traill, Ph.D. 1956), trembathite (L.T. Trembath, M.Sc. 1961), gaitite (R.I. Gait, Ph.D. 1967), černýite (P. Černý, PDF 1969), griceite (J. Grice, M.Sc. 1970, Ph.D. 1973) and frankhawthorneite (F.C. Hawthorne, PDF 1973). Of course, Dr. Ferguson has a mineral named after him as well: bobfergusonite.

UM Today will re-post a full obituary of Dr. Ferguson at a later date. Check back for an update.

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