Personal tools
/ Physics at UofT / History of the Department / The Life of John Tuzo Wilson / National and International Activities

National and International Activities

Tuzo's enthusiasm for his science, and his position in 1946 as the only Professor of Geophysics in Canada, led to his being called upon frequently to serve on national policymaking bodies. The President of the National Research Council, Dr. C. 1. Mackenzie, asked him to chair and to re-vitalize the National Committee for the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The appointment was a very significant one. At that time the National Research Council played a leading role in the post-war building of science in Canada, and its President was de facto scientific advisor to the government. National committees, corresponding to the international scientific unions, were encouraged to take an active view of their science within the country, in addition to fulfilling their liaison role.  Their advice was heeded by the university grants arm of the Council, and they even had modest budgets to carry on projects of their own. Tuzo's committee was extremely active in coordinating geophysics in Canada, and in drawing attention to deficiencies. As an example, in the years leading up to the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-8, it was realized that, although the study of glaciers as indicators of climate change was to be an IGY discipline, there was virtually no university research in glaciology in Canada. Tuzo arranged for the establishment of programmes in glaciological research at several Canadian universities. At the same time, the publication of the first glacial map of Canada (56) was successfully encouraged. Tuzo contributed a great deal of information to the map, resulting from his analysis of air photos of the Canadian Shield.

The 1950s were years of major expansion of geophysical activity at Canadian universities. Almost invariably, universities considering faculty appointments in the sciences turned to Tuzo for advice. He assisted in bringing candidates to the attention of Dalhousie and Queen's Universities and the University of Western Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia; most of those appointed had had some connection with the Geophysics Laboratory at Toronto.

Difficult to document because of confidentiality, but known through comments made by Tuzo to his associates, was the fact that his advice was frequently sought in the appointment of scientists to senior government positions. There is no question that his advice was taken seriously in very senior appointments to the Defence Research Board, the Dominion Observatory, and some of the national museums.

It was not long before the activity of the national committee came to the notice of the international union. Tuzo attended the General Assemblies of 1948 (Oslo), 1951 (Brussels), and 1954 (Rome), becoming a Vice President of the IUGG at the last. The 1957 General Assembly, which would mark the beginning of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), was to have been held in South America. When it turned out to be impossible to carry out arrangements there, Tuzo arranged an invitation from Canada, and hosted the Assembly at the University of Toronto. The General Assembly was a great success, marked by the excitement generated by the IGY, the largest attendance in the Union's history, the presence of the first sizable delegation of scientists from the U.S.S.R. to attend an international meeting, and by an éclat which characterized all events. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Tuzo would be elected President.

Very soon, he became involved in a problem that was to occupy international bodies for years: should the Academia Sinica (Beijing) or the Academia Sinica (Taipei) represent science in China? The matter was of some urgency, since the Academia (Beijing) had initially indicated its intention to participate in IGY, but had withdrawn when the Academia (Taipei) applied for admission to IUGG. Tuzo was asked by the IUGG executive to visit both academies, to assess their activities in geophysics, and to attempt to achieve global participation in IGY. He already had an invitation to visit and lecture in the U.S.S.R., and he resolved to travel from Moscow to Beijing by the Trans Siberian Railway, and to return home by way of Taipei. He thus became the first western scientist in very many years to observe geophysical work in the U.S.S.R. and China, and to travel on the Railway. His sincere interest in science and absolute freedom from political bias opened doors for him in all countries. His visit to the Academia in Beijing led to friendships with Chinese scientists which lasted throughout his life, and which would be invaluable years later when the Ontario Science Centre arranged exhibits of Chinese science.

Two popular books: I. G. Y. The Year of the New Moons and One Chinese Moon resulted from these international activities. Tuzo was always careful to point out that he was not one of the instigators of IGY, and that it had been planned by an international bureau chaired by Sydney Chapman. But during his term as President of the IUGG he most effectively encouraged global participation in it. Unfortunately, the problems of accommodating both the Academia Sinica (Beijing) and the Academia Sinica (Taipei) in international bodies was not to be resolved for many years.