Victor Runeckles

Victor Runeckles

Professor Emeritus, Plant Science

Dr Victor (Vic) Runeckles was born in London, England, and studied botany and plant biochemistry at London University. He received a First Class Honours BSc in 1952, and the Diploma of the Imperial College of Science and Technology and a PhD from London University in 1955.

After work as a National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, he joined the Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada, where he rose to the position of Manager of Research and Development. During this period he also taught at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. In 1969 Dr Runeckles joined the Faculty as Professor and Head of the Department of Plant Science. He served as Head until 1988 when he stepped down to spend more time with his teaching and research. He retired from the Faculty in 1995.

An expert on the effects of air pollution on plant and crop growth, Dr Runeckles taught in introductory Agricultural Sciences courses as well as teaching courses on Methods of Plant Analysis, Chemical Control of Crop Growth, and Responses of Plants to Air Pollutants, and contributing to the plant physiology course jointly offered with the Departments of Botany (Faculty of Science) and Forest Sciences (Faculty of Forestry).

Although his biochemical interests have remained close to the surface throughout his career, his graduate years at Imperial College instilled an appreciation of the need to understand the functioning of the whole plant that leads to growth and productivity, not merely the detailed biochemistry of its components. This combination of interests ultimately led to research focused on the stress physiology of plants, the dynamics of plant growth, and the competitive interactions between plants. Along the way, his work at Queen’s University provided the first unequivocal proof that plants respire in the light, in addition to carrying out photosynthesis. At the close of his active research career at UBC, his work on the in situ detection of free radicals in intact leaves using electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometry provided the first direct evidence of increased levels of the highly reactive superoxide free radical caused by exposures to ozone. Although much of his ‘academic’ research while at Imperial Tobacco involved the isolation and identification of several important phenolic constituents of tobacco and other crop species, it was there that he first became exposed to the injurious effects of air pollutants, particularly ozone, on plants. Field work with personnel from Agriculture Canada, the federal Meteorology Branch, and the Ontario Research Foundation led to the determination that ground -level ozone pollution in southern Ontario (similar to Los Angeles ‘smog’) was responsible for severe losses of tobacco and other crops. Research undertaken at UBC included the construction and evaluation of various field facilities for exposing crops to ozone or other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, leading to a major study with Agriculture Canada on the effects of ozone pollution on Fraser Valley crops. Early on in these studies, he proposed that, in order to establish cause-effect relationships between ozone and any adverse effects on plants, plant response had to be related to the flux or uptake into the foliage, and not simply to the ozone concentration in the surrounding air. The adoption of a flux-based approach to establishing air quality standards for ozone by the European Community has led to a major controversy with United States scientists who favour concentration-based standards.

In addition to serving on a number of prestigious national and international committees, Dr Runeckles was a member of University Senate and active in University affairs. He chaired both the Senate Curriculum Committee and the Senate Academic Building Needs Committee, chaired the President’s Advisory Committee that founded the Landscape Architecture Program and was Chair of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the Dekaban Foundation. This Foundation brings scholars each year from agricultural universities in Poland to study in the Faculty.

Dr Runeckles is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an Honorary member of the BC Society of Landscape Architects. While at Imperial Tobacco, he was a prime mover in the founding of the Phenolics Group of North America (now the Phytochemical Society) and was its Secretary-Treasurer for many rears. For many years he was an Associate Editor of the journal “Atmospheric Environment.” He has held a number of other offices with national societies and serves as a consultant to governments (e.g., the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and departments and agencies of the British Columbia, Canada and the United States governments) and industry. In 1991, York University honoured him with the award of the first Morris Katz Memorial Lectureship in Environmental Research.

Dr and Mrs Runeckles reside in Nanaimo, BC.

R Blair and C R Nichols 2005