(John) Larkin Kerwin General Physics, Subatomic Particles, Optics, Biophysics, Theoretical Physics

First President of the Canadian Space Agency Contributed to the advancement of science in Canada

The Story

After completing his master’s degree, Larkin Kerwin started his research career at the University of Laval. He joined the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Science as assistant in 1946 and rose to a full professorship in 1956. Dr. Kerwin's research in Atomic and Molecular Physics helped establish this branch of Physics as a major branch of research at Laval. He was one of the first Quebec-born Canadians to specialize in Atomic Physics.

In the middle of the 1950s Dr. Kerwin assumed more administrative responsibilities. He was Director of the Research Laboratory on Mass Spectrometry (1955 – 1966), Director of the Van de Graaff Accelerator (1961 – 1972), assistant dean of the Faculty of Science, assistant rector for Teaching and Research (1969 – 1972), and finally first elected Rector of the University (1972 to 1977).

Appointed in 1980, Dr. Kerwin served two terms as President of the National Research Council of Canada. He raised awareness of the value of research and development in Canada. He was involved in a working group to study how research and development can be used to create jobs and help the world economy to recover. In 1989 Dr. Kerwin became the first President of the Canadian Space Agency. He retired in 1992.

Dr. Kerwin also held the presidency of many societies and scientific organizations, such as the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. He received 15 honorary doctorates from Canadian universities. The Canadian Space Agency’s Library was named after Dr. Larkin Kerwin.


Dr. Larkin Kerwin’s biography with a focus on his contribution to the Canadian Space Agency

Remembering Former NRC President, Dr. Larkin Kerwin: a short profile with a focus on Dr. Kerwin’s contributions to the National Research Council of Canada (since deleted)

In Memoriam Dr. Kerwin’s profile with a focus on his work at Laval University

Archives Canada

Image: Canadian Space Agency

The Person

June 22, 1924
Québec City, Québec
Date of Death
May 1, 2004
Place of Death
Québec City, Québec
Family Members
  • Spouse: Maria G. Turcot
  • Eight children
  • BSc (Physics) St Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia,
  • MS (Physics) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1946
  • DSc (Physics) University of Laval, 1949
  • Officer of the Légion d'Honneur de France, 1989
  • Officer of the Order of Québec, 1988
  • Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada, 1987
  • Companion of the Order of Canada, 1980
  • Chevalier Grande Croix de l'Ordre Équestre du Saint-Sépulcre, 1980
  • Medal of the Canadian Association of the Physicists, 1969
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 1964
  • Medal of the governor general, 1944
  • Medal of the first lieutenant-governor, 1941
Last Updated
June 16, 2015

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