A Brief History of

The Gas-Phase Chemistry Conferences

"The Trent Conference"

Professor Raymond E. March (November 2003)

Edited by T.D. Fridgen and J. L. Holmes (June 2004)

Updated by T.D. Fridgen (11/17/2005)

Recently, I was invited by Dr. Travis Fridgen to set down a little of the history of a conference series that has been known as the "Gas-Phase Chemistry Conference", "Gas-Phase Ion/Molecule Chemistry Conference of Southern Ontario" and "The Trent Conference". The original organizers, Diethard K. Bohme of York University and Raymond E. March of Trent University, gave the first name because there had been a strong tradition in Canada for research into gas phase chemistry and this tradition was being continued. Much of the original impetus for the study of gas-phase chemistry and photochemistry had come from the laboratory of Dr. A.W.R Steacie at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa and, later, from the Steacie Institute at Ottawa.

The study of gas-phase chemistry was pursued also in some of the universities in Canada by, for example, Professors Carl Winkler (McGill), Keith Laidler (Ottawa), Don LeRoy (Toronto), Harold Schiff (McGill), Charles McDowell (UBC), John Polanyi (Toronto), and Paul Kebarle (Edmonton).

Research into mass spectrometry and the use of mass spectrometers had been pioneered in Canada by Dr. Fred Lossing (NRC), Professor Arthur N. Bourns (McMaster), and Professor Harry Duckworth (Winnipeg) and, with the availability of relatively inexpensive channel electron multipliers, there was increased interest in the application and development of mass spectrometers both for analytical chemistry and for the study of uni- and bi-molecular reactions of gaseous ions. In the early 1960s, there was a great surge in the study of the reactions of ions with atoms and molecules in the gas phase. This new interest came from the study of atmospheric chemistry and the discovery that ion/neutral (atoms or molecules) reactions were of importance in the upper atmosphere. This discovery came, in turn, from the development of small quadrupole mass filters that could be flown on rockets to sample atmospheric constituents. In addition, the development and availability of quadrupole mass filters of more normal size contributed to the growing interest in mass spectrometry. Diethard Bohme recalls that his Ph.D. project at McGill University in the early 1960s involved putting together the first working quadrupole mass filter in Canada; Diethard and John Goodings built the electronics to go with a quadrupole rod set donated by Dr. Rock Narcissi of the Air Force Cambridge Laboratory in the USA.

The first Canadian Conference (separate from what is now known as the Trent Conference) was held at Trent University in June, 1977. At this time, bench-top computers were virtually unknown; for example, Trent would not acquire its first bench-top computer (an Apple computer) until some four years later. Any computing that one wanted to do, for example, calculating ion trajectories in a mass spectrometer, was accomplished with punched cards and the use of a computer at Carleton University. Nevertheless, with strip-chart and x-y recorders, a pencil, a ruler and a magnifying glass one could work out the kinetics of some ion/molecule reactions from mass spectra recorded at various times.

The program of the first Canadian Conference, held on June 3-5, 1977 reflected this new interest in the study of ion/molecule reactions in two ways: first, the cover design for the Conference Program showed a schematic encounter between an ion and a molecule according to the model of Langevin; and the topics discussed by the presenters at this first conference were overwhelmingly focused on gaseous ions. The cover design, which was used also for the second conference and is shown in Figure 1, shows the cross-section for an orbiting collision with the possibility for reaction and the deviation in motion due to the ion-induced dipole interaction. An unknown woman in Peterborough created the cover design; the fee was, I believe, some $20.

The attendance at the first conference was drawn from several of the Ontario universities as well as universities in British Columbia and Quebec, and from Sciex in Ontario. The opening speaker was Professor Harold Schiff of York University. The organizers invited Harold to open the conference because they had both been associated with Harold at McGill University and Diethard Bohme was a colleague of Harold at York University; Harold was to present his thoughts on the "State-of-the-art with respect to ion/molecule reactions". The second speaker was Dr. Fred Lossing, the father of mass spectrometry in Canada. The third speaker was Dr. Imry Czismadia of the University of Toronto who spoke on theoretical studies of positively-charged molecular species. Thus, at the beginning of the first conference there was an emphasis on ion/molecule reactions, mass spectrometry, and theoretical studies of gaseous ions. Some 36 years later, these three areas still hold the interest of many researchers in Canada. The program for the first conference is reproduced in Figure 2.


The conference was judged (at least by the organizers!) to be a modest success and it was agreed that the second conference would be held in three years time, in 1980. A group photograph is shown below. This photograph, along with others from following conferences, is archived. The group photograph for the first conference shows that there was a great deal of chemistry talent in attendance; the talent was obvious among the older attendees and time would prove that there was a great deal of talent among the younger attendees also.

The second Canadian Conference, held at Trent University in June 1980, was to be in honour of Dr. Fred Lossing. Fred was very popular among his peers and past Post-Doctoral Fellows, and was respected enormously by young professors and graduate students. Fred was helpful, encouraging, patient and congratulatory. The organizers were delighted to learn that Fred had agreed to be so honoured. The purpose of the second conference was announced as follows:

"The purpose of this conference is to honour a distinguished Canadian scientist, Dr. F.P. Lossing and to bring together practitioners throughout Canada interested in various experimental and theoretical aspects of the chemistry of gaseous ions. The number of such practitioners in Canada has grown rapidly over the past few years. The concomitant progress in research which has been considerable and of high international standing has been achieved to a large extent in isolation at least in the Canadian context. This conference will provide an opportunity for practitioners in Canada in this field of chemistry to become acquainted with each other, and to stimulate collaboration and co-operative efforts among various Canadian groups."

 The program for the second meeting was substantially longer than the first, reflecting a great deal of chemistry research at that time. Virtually every aspect of research on the chemistry of ions in the gas phase was covered. A listing of the attendees at the second meeting is given in Figure 3. Of particular interest is the abstract from Professor Iribarne's laboratory at the University of Toronto; the abstract is reproduced in Figure 5.

In view of the present great interest in electrospray ionization and its wide application, it is encouraging to note that research into the formation of gaseous ions from non-covalent compounds was being carried out nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The conference then left Trent. The third Canadian Conference was organized by Professor Jan Herman and was held at l'Université Laval, in Québec in 1984 and was in Honour of Professor Larkin Kerwin. The group photograph from this conference to the right shows Dr. Gerhard Herzberg front and center. Dr.Herzberg is the only Nobel Laureate (1971) known to have attended a Gas-Phase Chemistry of Ions Conference.

That same year a second conference was held at the University of Ottawa organized by Professor John Holmes. It was at this conference that the current format began; speakers of the conference were almost exclusively graduate students with some postdoctoral fellows and, more recently, some undergraduate student speakers. As well, it was at this conference that the numbering of the "Trent Conferences" began. In 1985 the 2nd Conference under the same format was held at Queen's University at Kingston and was organized by Professor John Stone. The 3rd conference was held at Trent Unversity the following year.

The 4th "Trent Conference" in 1987 was actually the 4th Canadian Conference and was held in honour of Professor Paul Kebarle at the University of Waterloo, organized by Prof. Terry McMahon. It is a welcome coincidence that under the numbering of both conferences it was the 4th!

In 1988, the 5th conference was held again at Trent University and was organized by John Holmes and Ray March. Part of the rationale for returning to Trent was that it was fairly central for the universities in southern Ontario. Thus began a series of thirteen conferences held at Trent through to the year 2000. Each conference was held during the Reading Week in October. It was during this period that the conference was called the "Gas-Phase Ion/Molecule Chemistry Conference of Southern Ontario"; only later in the 1990s did it become known as the "The Trent Conference".

The conferences at Trent were held each year in the Champlain College Council Chamber. The room is quite unique in that it has two orthogonal sets of benches for the students such that many in the audience can see each other. Presentations by Trent students were based upon their studies in, almost exclusively, quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometry yet, in 1989 some 6 years following the commercialization of quadrupole ion trap instruments, no other group in southern Ontario had access to such equipment. Thus, in order to boost the "quadrupole ion trap" content of these conferences, I invited Professor Graham Cooks, of Purdue University, to send two or three graduate students each year to speak on their researches in quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometry. As for the students from Purdue, it was invariably their first visit to Canada if not to any foreign country. On the journey, they had an opportunity to see Niagara Falls! At the conference, they each had some twenty minutes for their presentation to an audience that was not unfamiliar with the intricacies of the quadrupole stability diagram. Often they stayed one or two nights at my home. The American content of the conferences was increased by the attendance of Professor Chrys Wesdemiotis and his students from the University of Utah and, later, of Professor Bob Dunbar and his students from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Participation by students from the USA continues to the present time with students from Akron, Purdue and SUNY Buffalo regularly attending. The general format of the conferences at Trent was that presentations commenced on Saturday morning or Friday evening and continued until Sunday lunchtime. A conference dinner was held on Saturday evening either at the university or in a restaurant/bar, or in the Officers' Mess at the Peterborough Armoury. The pre- and post-dinner social hours presented opportunities for the peer group to become better acquainted. We had the use of a seminar room close to the lecture hall for refreshments of coffee, cold drinks, granola bars, fruit, etc. For some years, my wife took on the responsibility for the refreshments; I am very grateful to her for doing so.

In 2000, at the urging of Dr. Mommers (Mommers Technologies) the group decided to seek a new venue and a new time for the conference. In August of 2001, the 18th Trent Conference in Mass Spectrometry was held at the Leslie Frost Centre, in Minden, Ontario, under the supervision of Professor Paul Mayer, of the University of Ottawa. The 18th, 19th and 20th annual conferences were held at the Leslie Frost Centre. The Leslie Frost centre was abruptly closed in the summer of 2004 by the McGuinty Liberals, in fact about 4 weeks prior to the 21st annual conference. We were lucky the YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia, Ontario was able to accomodate us on such short notice. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, most noteably Mommers Technologies we have added another welcome dimention to the program. The 21st, 22nd and 23rd conferences featured an evening of live entertainment by Local Jazz musicians, most recently Terra Hazelton and her Easy Answers. This year, the 24rd annual conference will be held for the fourth time at the YMCA Geneva Park. An archive of the conference pictures is availble.