Fritz Boehm

Karlee in the lab
"The fact that someone who works really hard can get recognition in the end is really important,” says Karlee Bamford, winner of the 2015 event.

Learning through giving 

If Dr. Fritz Boehm has one regret, it’s that his busy career as a mining engineer left him little time to indulge his curiosity for science. "After University I did my PH.D in Engineering while working in a research institute and that was one of the happiest times in my life,” he says. “I had time to investigate and think about problems, something you don’t often have opportunity to do in a business environment.” 

Since Fritz’s retirement, he’s been looking for a way to reconnect with science and by doing so help Canada stay at the forefront of research and development. “I was able to start my own company in Canada. For that, my family and I are very thankful, and we want to give something back,” he says. “We felt that we can do that best by donating to the Faculty of Science’s fascinating Honours Fest event.”

Honours Fest 

Honours Fest is the culmination of two semesters’ grueling work. It’s a chance for honours students to show others what’s been occupying their time and brainpower while practicing their presentation skills. Until recently, that was the only reward on offer, but thanks to Dr. Boehm, students who place in the top three now receive a cash prize. Fritz’s donation indirectly benefits everyone by adding gravitas and excitement to the event, raising the level of competition as a result. “Science is so important to our future,” says Fritz. “I see young people working hard for that, and I believe they deserve some reward.”

The students view Fritz’s donation as a sign that their work is valued. “The fact that someone who works really hard can get recognition in the end is really important,” says Karlee Bamford, winner of the 2015 event. “Science students need to feel like there is a place for us in the scientific community.”

Chemistry fundamentals

Karlee’s honours project focused on phosphorus. She combined three scientific methods (main group chemistry, mass spectrometry and quantum chemistry) to study the fundamental processes that take place when breaking phosphorus-phosphorus bonds in newly synthesized compounds.

“We saw processes that have never before been observed for these compounds,” she says, “which was very exciting!” She explains the importance of fundamental main group chemistry lies in its future uses: “Over 100 years ago, carbon was largely the focus of chemical research, and the discoveries made completely changed our lives. We don’t know precisely what will come of phosphorus chemistry, but we won’t get there without this kind of exploratory work.”

Indulging scientific curiosity

Fritz also gets to indulge his scientific curiosity by attending the students’ presentations and chatting with them about their work. So what does Fritz think about Karlee’s research? “I think Karlee’s work is fascinating,” he says. “I understood what she was aiming for, but I have to admit the details escape me! I couldn’t believe that an undergraduate could go that deep into science.”

Fritz is pleased he chose to support Honours Fest and is already looking forward to the next session, but says he doesn’t envy the judges. “I don’t know how they chose three winners out of all the fantastic work presented by such enthusiastic students. I would have given each and every one a prize if I could!”