Ronald James Gillespie Physical Chemistry

Developed VSEPR (Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion) Theory

The Story

Gillespie explored the chemistry behind the brightly coloured solutions produced when certain elements (such as iodine, sulfur. selenium, and tellurium) were dissolved in concentrated sulfuric acid. In the process, he developed superacids, such as HSO3F, which became widely used in organic and inorganic chemistry. This development led to the production of non-metallic elements in the form of polyatomic cations (I2+, S82+) a discovery that opened up a whole new field of chemistry.

Gillespie also studied the shapes of molecules and, along with R. S. Nyholm, developed the widely-used Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (VSEPR) theory. VSEPR can be used to describe and predict the shapes of molecules (e.g. linear, cubical, pyramidal, etc.) based on the number of electron pairs in the outer shells.

Gillespie wrote Molecular Geometry (1972), Chemistry (1986, 2nd edition 1989) and The VSEPR Model of Molecular Geometry (1991). He has written over 370 academic articles and received many honours, among which are several teaching awards.

Sources: Canadian Who’s Who 1993; McMaster Chemical Extracts, Dec. 1999; Chemical Institute of Canada; Image: Dr Gillespie's website.

The Person

August 21, 1924
London, England
Professor Emeritus
Department of Chemistry, McMaster University
  • BSc, University College, London, 1944
  • PhD, University College, London, 1949
  • Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, 1953
  • Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada, 1960
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 1965
  • Noranda Award (Chemical Institute of Canada), 1966
  • Canadian Centennial Medal, 1967
  • Union Carbide Award (Chemical Institute of Canada) for Chemical Education, 1976
  • Silver Jubilee Medal, 1977
  • Chemical Institute of Canada Medal, 1977
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, London, 1977
  • Tory Medal (Royal Society of Canada), 1983
  • McMaster Students Union Award for
Last Updated
September 25, 2015

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