University of Alberta professor emeritus Frank Weichman testing a new ceramic stove by Edmonton potter Lorris Williams. The stove is designed with input from rural residents of Kenya. Photo by Suzette Chan.
(Edmonton) Professor emeritus Frank Weichman recently received a Sage Award from the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton for his service as a volunteer in the public and non-profit sectors of Edmonton.
Born in Germany, raised in Holland and educated in New York, Weichman received his PhD from Northwestern University, near Chicago, and joined the University of Alberta’s Department of Physics in 1958. Weichman remembers it as "a period of extreme expansion," with about "four professors hired each year for two to three years running."
In about 1960, two UAlberta Physics profs, Lynn Trainor and Joe Lipson, started a high school outreach program, which Weichman eventually joined. "I was holding weekly evening sessions to broaden the background of bright students and local teachers."
He continues to be involved in physics education projects, taking physics demos out to local grade schools and working in collaboration with Dr. Brian Martin (The King’s Centre for Visualization in Science at the King’s University College) to produce online, rich context problems in physics for use by physics teachers at both high school and university levels.
In the late 1990s, a few years after he retired, Weichman became a founding board member of iHuman, a non-profit society started by his neighbours, artists Wallis Kendal and Sandra Bromley. While working with street kids during the development of their internationally acclaimed Gun Sculpture, Kendal and Bromley saw a way to help at-risk youth through arts programming. Weichman says he knows "nothing about art," but he knows numbers. He served as iHuman’s treasurer until about five years ago, and continues to volunteer as needed.
Weichmann has also turned his attention to environmental and community concerns, such as the south and west expansion of the City of Edmonton’s Light Rail Transit system.
His interests in physics, improving people’s lives and sustaining the environment dovetail into another interesting undertaking: developing a low-cost, low-maintenance ceramic cooking stove.
About 15 years ago, Weichman started to develop a stainless steel, energy efficient portable stove for backpacking. He thought a ceramic version might also work for more stationary situations where fuel was scare. He worked with a potter friend, Lorris Williams, to develop some variations. Serendipitiously, a group of university students approached Williams with a project to make a ceramics-based water filtering system. "There was a crew of University of Alberta medical students who wanted to do something about cleaner water for Kenya," Weichman says. The group, Innovative Canadians for Change (ICChange), brought both items to rural Kenya. Kenyans are now making them with local materials.
During this acceptance speech at the Sage Awards, Weichman said he was "embarrassed by the fuss." But Weichman’s continuing record of helping others through his concern for the social and natural environment and with his knowledge of science is worth celebrating.