By the time that I graduated with a PhD from McGill University in 1946, I had thoughts only of earning a living as a chemist. I believed that success in research could be compensated by the "thrill of discovery" and the recognition this achievement brings.
I decided to gamble on an attempt to synthesize sucrose (sugar). My main challenge was to isolate — from a partially charred, gummy material — a considerable amount of the substance needed for the next step in the process. Finally, success! In 1953, my colleague Georg Huber and I announced the synthesis of sucrose. This feat, often called the "Mount Everest of Organic Chemistry" won wide acclaim.
Soon afterward, as a 34-year-old with little experience in teaching, and none in university administration, I was asked to become vice-dean and chairman of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Ottawa. I am very proud to have occupied such a key position. It was hard, however, to refuse the offer of a professorship at my alma mater, the University of Alberta, where research would be my main responsibility. I joined the University of Alberta Department of Chemistry in 1961.
Exploring sugars led to new research in many parts of the world. During my career, the field of carbohydrate chemistry went from being an academic specialization to becoming an area of great practical importance. We have since learned a great deal about how carbohydrates bind to proteins: a phenomenon crucial to everything from immunology to cancer treatment.
I have been called the pioneer of carbohydrate chemistry, and have received many honours, including that of a Companion of the Order of Canada. In spite of all this, I considered my children to be my proudest accomplishment — an accomplishment that I shared with my wife, Virginia