Like so many virtuosi, Roderick Guthrie can trace his lifelong passion back to an early accident that left him bedridden. “I was quite a fan of Captain Hornblower and loved making model sailing ships,” the veteran McGill metallurgist recalled of his boyhood in England. “So, at 16, I figured out how to make my own cannon… I literally blew my own kneecap off, had six weeks off school and had to write an essay on metals. I became absolutely fascinated.”
His essay won the school contest and Guthrie pursued his passion for metal processing to Imperial College in London and on to a 30-year career at McGill that recently earned him a $100,000 Killam Prize—Canada’s most prestigious award for lifetime achievement in research—for engineering.
Among his other accomplishments, Guthrie, director of the McGill Metals Processing Centre, developed a technique for metal processing that has assured quality control in products worldwide from soft drink cans to refrigerators to Boeing 747s to high-performance cars.
And what will he do with the $100,000 prize? “Pay off the debts that I owe on my NSERC grants,” he laughed. “That’s what the accounting department has suggested. Then again, I’ll probably use it to pay off the mortgage.”
Guthrie is McGill’s 13th Killam Prize winner. In all, nearly one in every six Killam Prizes since 1981 have gone to McGill professors.