March 15 is the University of Toronto’s 189th birthday, and to celebrate, I’m counting down with a list of great moments in U of T’s history each decade since its establishment in 1827. Earlier this week, we looked at the origins of football, anthropology, and a U of T president with a unique talent – check out the post here. Today, we’re moving all the way up to the present day, starting in the 1920s with one of the most significant findings in the history of medicine.
1. 1920-1929 — A treatment for diabetes
In 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin in a lab at U of T. In 1923, Banting, along with department head J.J.R. Macleod, were awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery.
2. 1930-1939 — The first electron microscope
In 1938, the first electron microscope in North America was built at U of T by a team of researchers led by Eli Franklin Burton in the Department of Physics.
3. 1940-1949 — The first pacemaker
In 1948, Dr. W.G. Bigelow of the Faculty of Medicine began to study hypothermia as a means of performing open-heart surgery and discovered that electrical charges could induce a heart to continue beating. His research team went on to develop the first electrical cardiac pacemaker which ready for clinical use in 1949.
4. 1950-1959 — The first electronic computer
Yes, another first, this time for Canada: U of T purchased the country’s first electronic computer in 1952.
5. 1960-1969 — The longest thesis is submitted, the Beatles break up, and the stem cell is discovered
The longest PhD thesis submitted at U of T (so far) was 1,443 pages long, submitted by John Francis Quinn in 1966.
Completely unrelated, John Lennon split up with the Beatles one week after playing a concert at Varsity Arena with Plastic Ono Band in 1969 at which the live album Live Peace in Toronto was recorded. He said in an interview that he knew they would be breaking up before the show in Toronto.
Most importantly, the stem cell is discovered in 1961 by Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch, considered one of the most significant discoveries in medicine since Banting and Best. Stem cell science emerges as a major discipline after this discovery.
6. 1970-1979 — Hart House opens to women, and Robarts opens to all
In 1972, women were finally allowed full entry into Hart House; up until then, they had only been allowed into the building during limited hours. You can read more about women’s struggle to enter Hart House on The Varsity’s website.
In 1973, the John P. Robarts Research Library opened to the public, the largest university library building in the world with the second most holdings in North America.
7. 1980-1989 — Another Nobel Prize
In 1986, John C. Polanyi, a chemistry professor since 1962, was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on reaction dynamics — something called infrared chemiluminescence, and I won’t pretend that I have any idea what that is, but can say on good authority that it has a cool name.
8. 1990-1999 — Discoveries of the cancer stem cell & two new moons of Uranus
The cancer stem cell was discovered at U of T in 1997 by Dr John Dick, continuing the work of Till and McCulloch (#5). In the same year, a team led by Brett Gladman discovered two new moons of Uranus.
9. 2000-2009 — Research on traffic jams, climate change, nutrition, and more
Among amazing research that comes out U of T in this century includes better road and traffic management systems to alleviate gridlock and traffic jams in 2001, sea level “fingerprints” of polar ice sheets melting to provide global climate change is having a direct impact on the Earth’s sea level also in 2001, the development a groundbreaking iron supplement to help eradicate childhood anemia in developing countries in in 2002, the idea to use raw materials instead of plastic in just about everything in 2005, and structural components to earthquake-proof skyscrapers in 2007.
Oh, and in 2005, the Robarts cherry blossoms are gifted to the university by Japan and planted in front of the library, making campus all the more scenic come spring time.
10. 2010-present — More to discover!
The university, as always, is growing and changing — with the Robarts expansion impending, the university’s population building and diversifying, and research initiatives strong and ongoing across departments of the university, the legacies of this decade are still to come.
View part one in this series here.