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Ground-breaking scientist and aerospace engineering leader receive honorary degrees June 20, 2017

On June 16, Hamish Robertson and Michael Pley received honorary degrees at McMaster Engineering’s 2017 Convocation Ceremonies.

Hamish Robertson is an accomplished McMaster graduate, a ground-breaking scientist, and a leader in his academic field. Hamish Robertson completed his PhD in Atomic-Beam and Nuclear Structure Physics at McMaster University in 1971. He then served as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Michigan State University, remaining there to join the faculty. He became a Professor of Physics in 1981. His research at Michigan State resulted in the first observation of an isobaric quintet of states in nuclei. He also carried out experiments on parity violation, nuclear astrophysics and nuclear reactions and was able to settle a long-standing question by determining that Lithium 6-Li is a relatively recent product of astrophysical processes.

In 1981, Dr. Robertson joined the legendary Los Alamos National Laboratory to investigate neutrino mass via tritium beta decay and solar neutrino physics. Through that work, he showed that neutrinos are not sufficiently massive to close the universe gravitationally. Appointed as a Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1988, Dr. Robertson initiated the laboratory’s collaboration with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO).  He is now SNO’s US Co-Spokesman and served as the Observatory’s Scientific Director in 2003-2004. SNO’s outstanding work was recognized when Arthur McDonald was the co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics and when the observatory received the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Dr. Robertson joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 1994 and was appointed to the Boeing Distinguished Professorship in 2008.  He has been a visiting scientist or research associate at leading research institutions including Princeton University, Argonne National Laboratory, and Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories.  He has chaired the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee and the Division of Nuclear Physics for the American Physical Society (APS). A past Member of the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council, he has also served on NRC Nuclear Physics and Neutrino Astrophysics panels, the APS-DNP Executive Committee, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Grant Selection Committee. A Reviewer for the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy, he has also served on the Editorial Boards of Physical Review D and Annual Reviews of Nuclear and Particle Science.

Dr. Robertson is a Member of the Canadian Association of Physics, the IEEE and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (London) and the American Physical Society.  In 2003, he became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and, a year later, of the National Academy of Sciences.  In 1997, he received the APS Tom W. Bonner Prize.  Dr. Robertson is also a Member of the founding class of inductees into the Washington State Academy of Sciences and he received the Polanyi Prize for the SNO collaboration.  He was the Brattain Lecturer at Whitman College, the Herzfeld Lecturer at the Catholic University of America, the Leigh Page Prize Lecturer at Yale University and the Peter Axel Memorial Lecturer at the University of Illinois.

Michael Pley is one of McMaster’s own, a member of the Class of 1983 in the Electrical Engineering stream of the Engineering and Management Program. He is an influential engineer, an accomplished and respected corporate executive, a committed community leader and a thoroughly engaged McMaster alumnus.

Mr. Pley joined COM DEV shortly after graduating and worked with the company for his entire career, with the exception of two brief stints with other companies, first MA Electronics and then Unitron Industries Ltd.

A leader in aerospace engineering, COM DEV International – now part of Honeywell Aerospace – creates commercial, civil and military satellite technology.  In fact, more than 80 per cent of all communications satellites ever launched have had COM DEV technology on board.  Until his retirement in 2016, Mr. Pley guided the company from a number of senior positions including Vice-President of Operations, Vice-President of Space Programs, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer.  He was also a member of the company’s Board of Directors from 2007 to 2016.  Under his leadership, the company earned awards including the Waterloo Junior Achievement Business of the Year Award, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce Large Business Award for Business Excellence, and the Waterloo Area’s Top Employers Award six times in a row.

A graduate of the McMaster University/Conference Board of Canada Directors College, Mr. Pley has served on a number of corporate and not-for-profit boards.  He was a Member of the Board at exactEarth Ltd and is currently on the Board of Waterloo North Hydro.  He was a long-serving Director, and also Vice-Chair, for the Sunnyside Home Foundation and is currently a member of both the Centre for the Community Group Foundation Board of Directors, as well as the Advisory Board to McMaster’s Dean of Engineering.  He also recently became a Camp Warden for the McMaster Engineering Kipling ceremony, thus taking on part of the responsibility for the annual ceremony for graduating engineers.

Mr. Pley was appointed by the Minister of Economic Development and Trade to the Ontario Manufacturing Council, was part of the Advisory Board for the Waterloo Region Economic Development Strategy, and serves as an Executive Member of the Board of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.

Mr. Pley earned his Professional Engineer designation in 1987 and, in 2006, was the inaugural recipient of the L.W. Shemilt Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award presented by McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering.