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The Department Mourns the Passing of Dr. F. Geoffrey Herring

Dr. F. Geoffrey Herring, Professor Emeritus, passed away on December 30th, 2019. He was 80 years old.


Just hours before the beginning of a new decade Geoff died at home, peacefully, in his sleep. He had problems with his heart for many years, a fact which he largely kept private, and this as well as the effects of more recent treatment for prostate cancer appears to have finally caught up with the avid soccer fan, runner, darts player and University researcher and educator.

Geoff was born, raised and educated in London England, a place he never tired of returning to for visits. After obtaining BSc (1961) and PhD (Z.L. Ernst, 1964) degrees from the University of London he undertook post-doctoral studies, first at UBC with then Head of Department C. A. McDowell (1964-66) and then at Wisconsin with J.E. Harrimann (1966-67) before returning to UBC in September 1967 as Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Geoff spent his entire working career at UBC, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 2004.

At UBC, Geoff established a reputation as an expert in Magnetic Resonance techniques (NMR) and (ESR). His body of published work attests to his love of exploring the technical, theoretical, and practical applications of the techniques. A perusal of the many technical papers authored and co-authored by Geoff from the 60’s through to the 2000’s reveals he and his students collaborated with a large number of research scientists within the Department, across the University, and beyond. Consequently, Geoff’s research has impacted a range of disciplines including Forestry (wood preservation, pulp bleaching), Medicine (detection of cancer markers), Microbiology (Lipid research), Biophysical Chemistry (permeation through biological membranes), Bio-inorganic, Organometallic and Coordination Chemistries (paramagnetic species characterization), Physical and Theoretical Chemistry (fundamental studies on ions in solution and on the resonance techniques themselves). Geoff enjoyed being in the lab himself, hands-on, working with his students. He remained truly fascinated by the wide range of problems that magnetic resonance techniques could be fruitfully applied to. At one time he had a contract with the US Department of National Defence to study airplane glue (not the model airplane kind).

In the 90’s, Geoff’s academic focus shifted to Chemical Education and Teaching. The increased use of personal computers and the internet impacted the way chemistry was taught and Geoff happily and successfully transitioned from the blackboard and overhead to computer projections, PowerPoint and instantaneous professor-student interactions in the lecture theatre via “clickers”. In teaching first year Chemistry, Geoff explored and used alternative approaches to the lecture-based system of teaching, methods in which greater focus is directed on active participation by the students. The recently created (at that time) Science One and Coordinated Science Programs at UBC provide him with the opportunity to use this approach and he taught in these programs for several years. Textbooks were still needed and Geoff became involved in this aspect of the learning process also. In 2002 he co-authored the Eighth Edition of “General Chemistry” with W.S. Harwood and R.H. Petrucci. Geoff also co-authored the 9th (2006), 10th (2010) and 11th (2017) editions of this highly successful textbook. In recognition of his contributions in this area, Geoff was awarded a UBC Killam Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2000 and again in 2004. After retirement in 2004, Geoff continued teaching first year chemistry for several years. At the time of his death he had committed to co-author a book on Physical Chemistry.

Geoff Herring was a willing and effective contributor to the social and administrative needs of the Department, the University and the Profession. Socially, he happily took on duties such as performing as Santa at the Department Christmas parties in the 60’s and 70’s (not his favorite duty!), or carving the Turkeys and tending the bar at such events (this he liked!). He participated enthusiastically in outreach programs such as the Chemistry shows at UBC Open Houses, Science World, Shopping Mall Demonstrations and other events where he earned the moniker “Dr. Zwoop”. The favorite gathering place for “TGIF” for Geoff and his academic buddies for many years was the UBC Faculty Club and in the early 70’s he was elected to serve a term on  the Faculty Club Board of Directors. Geoff was an active member of the UBC Faculty Association and served on finance and bargaining committees, and at one time was the President of The Confederation of Faculty Associations of BC. For a period he served on the important Dean’s Committee on Promotions and Tenure and he also served a term as the Faculty of Science representative on the UBC Senate where he served on the Senate curriculum committee. Geoff was an active member of the Chemical Institute of Canada and served on the executive of the Medicinal Chemistry Division at one time. Over the years he also served on the organizing committees for several conferences including, in Vancouver, the first ever Faraday Discussion Conference held outside the UK.

There is a 2013 taped interview, in which Geoff discusses his career, on the UBC Library web-site. A future “Celebration of Life” event is planned.