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Anthony E. (Willy) Williams-Jones

Anthony E. (Willy) Williams-Jones received his early education in South Africa, completing his BSc in 1967 at the University of Natal, and his MSc two years later at the same university. In 1969, he and his wife, Colleen, left South Africa, and Willy enrolled in a PhD program in metamorphic petrology at McGill University under the supervision of Dugald Carmichael. A year later, he moved with Dugald to Queen’s University and, en route to completing his PhD in 1973, learned from him the power of thermochemical analysis and the importance of the caveat, ‘the field is the final arbiter’. After a four-year career in mineral exploration, which took him to southern Africa and Brazil, Willy obtained an academic position in economic geology at McGill University, where he takes great pleasure in teaching at all levels and in using geochemistry to address scientific questions related mainly, but by no means exclusively, to the genesis of hydrothermal mineral deposits. He is a former chair of his department, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and is currently an associate editor for Geofluids and Economic Geology.

I am very pleased to nominate Anthony E. Williams-Jones for the Mineralogical Association of Canada’s Past-Presidents Medal. As my colleague at McGill University over the last two and a half decades, I am well placed to single Willy out for this prestigious award, which recognizes career accomplishments in the areas of the Earth sciences covered by The Canadian Mineralogist. Willy is an ore deposits specialist who has consistently applied geochemistry to understand the complex interplay of processes leading to an ore deposit of hydrothermal type. He comes to the field from a background in contact metamorphism and skarn development. He has now branched out into experimental documentation of element mobility, such that he is among the few people who has an excellent command of important processes from field, theoretical, and experimental bases.

His laboratory at McGill carries out experimental studies of mineral and solution (i.e. metal complex) equilibria at high temperatures and pressures with direct relevance to ore transport and deposition in the Earth?s crust. His interests in volcanic gas chemistry catalyzed his experimental studies of volatile metal complex equilibria, which are extremely important to our understanding of element partitioning during high temperature fluid volatile phase separation in ore depositing systems. Willy is highly motivated, as well as being an extremely creative and innovative researcher. He is perhaps the foremost ore deposits geologist in the world today. One of the amazing things about the work that Willy has carried out over his career, and which continues today, is the scope and breadth of his research into the genesis of mineral deposits. I think there are few economic geologists who can match Willy’s efforts in this regard. The breadth is not only in the array of types of mineral deposits that he and his group have tackled but in the methodologies applied to them and the approaches taken. His studies of mineralizing systems have included sediment-hosted base metal mineralization, uranium, porphyry Cu-Mo, granitoid-related W-Sn-Mo, pegmatite and hydrothermal rare-element mineralization, epithermal precious metals, asbestos, fluorite, Archean gold, and modern geothermal systems.

Willy thrives on new challenges. He has developed excellent contacts with industry, and is well supported in that way. He has also published in strictly ‘metamorphic petrology’ topics involving metasomatism, e.g. rodingitization and formation of tremolite (a carcinogen) in asbestos deposits. His latest interests involve gaseous transfer in fumarolic environments. He has legions of students, and his infectious enthusiasm has led to teaching awards at both undergrad and grad levels. James Brenan, in his acceptance remarks as a recent winner of the MAC’s Young Scientist Medal, credits, credits Willy with inspiring him to follow a career in the Earth sciences. He is not alone. In a course, Willy likes to put students on the hot seat. They squirm and complain at first, but emerge from the experience with much greater aplomb. Willy is a very hard worker, dedicated to the science and to his students. Willy has also contributed to the Department of Earth Sciences both as resident faculty and as chairman. His participation in NSERC funding committees and as an associate editor for Economic Geology also show his commitment to the research community as a whole. While he rarely publishes in The Canadian Mineralogist, he has served one term as associate editor. Willy’s publication list is extensive with over 100 contributions as first or associate author. Many of these contributions are cited regularly in the economic geology literature.

Willy is an extremely honest and ethical scientist and human being. He is an erudite person who simply bubbles with enthusiasm. In addition to being a world-class scientist, he is also a wonderful ambassador for Canada. Professor Williams-Jones, known as Willy to colleagues and friends both in Canada and overseas, is one of Canada’s most internationally ‘visible’ Earth scientists.

I am delighted and very honoured to receive this prestigious award, the Past-President?s Medal, particularly on the 50th anniversary of the Mineralogical Association of Canada. At the same time, I feel very humble when I consider the stature of previous recipients. However, it is easier knowing that I share this honour with the many students, both graduate and undergraduate, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates who have allowed me to join in their discoveries and made my life in science so exciting.

My scientific career really only got started when I arrived in Canada. Before that I was too embroiled in student politics in South Africa to give much thought to geology, although I did know that I would like one day to teach in a university, use chemistry to try to understand nature, interact with interesting people, and travel to exotic parts of the world. My career, first as a doctoral student at Queen’s University, later as a mineral explorationist with Inco, and for the past 28 years as a professor at McGill University, has allowed me to do all that and more.

Dugald Carmichael got me started in science. He saw me crawl, take my first tentative steps, and then develop the confidence needed to start asking the right questions and even attempt to answer them. His diet for me, which included Korzhinski’s ‘Physicochemical basis of the metamorphic facies concept’, was hardly pablum, but it did provide appropriate nourishment. He was the ideal thesis supervisor, providing me with the right balance of freedom, advice, and encouragement needed to allow me to grow. Dugald convinced me that metamorphic rocks are beautiful. His enthusiasm was infectious. He showed me the importance of combining very careful field and petrographic observation with rigorous thermochemical analysis, and above all he continually reminded me that even the most sophisticated model is only a poor approximation of nature. Although I am no longer a metamorphic petrologist, my approach to science is still very much influenced by my years with Dugald Carmichael.

My four years in Inco’s international exploration division were pivotal in my decision to reinvent myself as an economic geologist. The intellectual challenge of trying to predict the occurrence of economic mineralization was intoxicating, and when occasionally predictions were rewarded with discovery, the sense of accomplishment was extraordinary. It also allowed me to see the world. Thus when I received a letter in Brazil from the late Jamie Bourne, who was also supervised by Dugald, telling me of an opening at McGill University for an economic geologist or metamorphic petrologist, amazingly in hindsight, I was very undecided as to whether I should apply. Fortunately, common sense and the need to provide my young family with some stability prevailed.

I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have been hired by McGill University and to have been given the opportunity to become a member of an outstanding Earth science department. The atmosphere has been very collegial, and thus developing research collaborations within the department has been easy. I would like particularly to acknowledge my collaboration with Scott Wood, now at the University of Idaho, who introduced me to the world of experimental geochemistry. I have also enjoyed very productive collaborations with Bob Martin, on rare metal deposits; Jeremy Fein, who has since moved to the University of Notre Dame, on the organic phase transport of mercury; John Stix, on magma degassing; and most recently with Jeanne Paquette, who has helped me to understand the incorporation of gold and other metals in pyrite.

Any success that I have had as an academic I owe mainly to my students both graduate and undergraduate, my postdoctoral fellows, and my research associates. Hardly a day goes by without one of them giving me cause to think. We have had a lot of fun doing science. And of course there is nothing like the thrill of discovery. For example, I will never forgot my excitement when, with my former PhD student Stefano Salvi, I rediscovered Fischer-Tropsch synthesis and we solved the problem of the genesis of hydrocarbons in alkaline intrusions. This came about partly because I had learnt about this synthesis as a chemistry student in apartheid-ridden South Africa, which had industrialised it to provide the country with a source of petroleum and thereby counter the effect of the international oil embargo. I will never forget my excitement when the experiments of my research associate Artasches Migdisov confirmed our belief that, contrary to thermodynamic prediction, water vapour can potentially transport ore-level concentrations of metals. And I will never forget my excitement at sharing in the discovery by my former PhD student Bob Linnen that ore-level concentrations of cassiterite can develop during magmatic crystallization. I will also always remember with pride the excitement shared with my son, Glyn, when we were able to show that the canali on Venus can be satisfactorily explained by invoking long-lived flow of natrocarbonatite magma.

In closing I would like to thank the many people that I have not already mentioned who have supported me during my career, particularly Jim Clark and Ian Samson. I would like to thank Bob Martin for all his hard work in putting this nomination together. And finally, I would like to thank my wife, Colleen, my sons Bryn and Glyn, and my daughter Leigh-Ann, without whose patience I certainly would not be standing here today.”

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