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Dr. Thomas M. “Tim” Dauphinee (1916-2017)

By Dick Bourgeois-Doyle


Tim Dauphinee

Helping monitor and measure the world’s oceans

When I went to see Dr. Thomas M. “Tim” Dauphinee at his Toronto home in June of 2016, I wanted to talk about his scientific achievements, his contributions to the field of oceanography, and his impact on research around the world.

But he wanted to talk about more recent inventions and the future. He was planning for the celebration of his 100th birthday the following month.

He had two new patent applications at the time, one for a gadget that controlled window blinds and the other device minimized blind spots in cars. Far from blind himself, the retired researcher said he still had a driver’s license, owned a car, and drove it…some of the time.

I visited him last year, in part, to mark another centennial: that of the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, Tim’s employer for most of his professional career. He worked at the NRC labs in Ottawa as a physicist and expert in physical measurement systems around temperature, pressure, and conductivity. His diverse skills contributed to many projects at the NRC. But they came together in a unique and potent way in the late 1960s when he was challenged to develop a new kind of salinometer—an instrument that could measure the temperature and salinity of sea water in a dependable, accurate, continuous way and could move the science away from the era of water bottles, hand-held thermometers, and imperfect field work.

His inventions and insight paved the way to the development of the first Practical Salinity Scale—the international standard known as PSS-78 that underpins the monitoring of ocean circulation, an important factor in understanding climate change and the movement of marine life.

Tim enjoyed a reputation as a creative and meticulous scientist, and he achieved excellence and international impact by combining his technical expertise with an easy ability to work with others.

His contributions to oceanography resulted from his capacity to collaborate with top scientists worldwide and to publish in a field outside of his own specialty. At the same time, Tim could work easily with people focused on technical applications, building equipment, and making sales.

His research produced dozens of patents and many successful commercial products that he developed in collaboration with private industry. Guildline Instruments Ltd. of Smiths Falls, Ontario, still sells products inspired by Tim’s designs including the legendary Autosal salinometer that established the “gold standard” for oceanographic labs internationally.

Guildline staff and others said that they found it easy to share ideas and projects with Tim because of his reputation as a “kind, generous man of integrity.”

Tim’s style endured beyond his life in science. After retirement, he and his late wife Amy dedicated themselves to the promotion of education and training through the Ontario Credit Union Foundation and a scholarship in their name at York University. For this they received many honours including the international Association of Cooperative Educators Distinguished Service Citation and the Gary Gillam Award for “exemplary achievement in promoting Social Responsibility in Credit Unions.”

After Tim remarried, he settled in Toronto where he spent his final years with his friend and loving new wife Jean. He was cherished as a role model in many arenas by his children and grandchildren as well as friends and colleagues.

At the NRC in Ottawa, a commemorative tree was planted in his honour last year to ensure that Dr. Tim Dauphinee would continue to inspire, perhaps for another century, as the model of an accomplished scientist and inventor who kept thinking, creating, and enthusiastically imagining the future to the end.

Tim died on February 20, 2017.

This post originally appeared as part of The CSP Blog

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