In Memoriam: Dr. Don Spink

Friday, March 29, 2019

Spink, Donald R., BS, MS, PhD

1924 – 2019

The Department of Chemical Engineering regrets to announce the passing of Professor Donald Spink, who died on February 1, 2019 at the age of 95.

Don, who grew up in Rochester, New York, earned his BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1945, his MS degree from the University of Rochester in 1949 and his PhD from Iowa State University in 1952.

Don established himself as a metallurgist in the US, where he worked for companies involved in the manufacture and fabrication of exotic high temperature/high strength metals and alloys critical to the aviation and aerospace industry before beginning his position at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Chemical Engineering in 1969.  

University of Waterloo

Soon after his arrival, Don became known for his friendly smile, encouraging nature and businesslike approach to research and commercialization. In an act typical of his get-it-done attitude, Don took on the role of Acting Chair of the department in his first year here.

As the Chemical Engineering Department increased in size and diversity, Don became involved in solvent extraction technology that had application in metallurgical processes. His interests soon encompassed air pollution, and he began researching the application of new wet scrubbing technology to address emissions problems faced by many industrial operations.

Don and his partner, Dr. Francis Dullien, invented and commercialized technology that removed pollutants from gas streams. They worked with Domtar, Alcan, Stelco and General Motors, among others, to develop the technology.

Dr. Peter Douglas, who has been a professor in the department for the past 31 years, completed his masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Waterloo under the co-supervision of professors Spink and Dullien. He remembers Don’s enthusiastic and pragmatic approach to business development. “Don was always keen to learn more about the problems faced by industry and find ways to solve them,” Peter says.

In 1976, Don and Francis founded Turbotak Technologies to capitalize on their wet scrubbing technology. In 1988, Don left the University to pursue his successful Turbotak Technologies business full time.


The competitive nature that drove Don to excel in business and engineering extended to his love of sports. As a young man, he was a defensive back for the 1944 Michigan Wolverines Football team, which had an 8–2 season, outscored opponents 204 to 91, finished second in the Big Nine Conference, and ranked #8 in the nation.

Upon his arrival at UWaterloo, Don’s first request, outside of university activity, was to learn where he could play golf. He was a regular at Westmount Golf and Country Club for many years, and his golf game was legendary.

Fellow faculty member John Byerley remembers Don’s athleticism on the golf course and the squash court. They played both regularly and competitively, and John admits that he required “maximum effort to achieve victory” on the squash court, due to Don’s aggressive style and sturdy build. One such effort resulted in a collision… and a couple of cracked ribs for John.

Don Spink’s curious mind, strong work ethic, business acumen, athleticism and camaraderie had a positive influence on the department and its faculty and students, past and present. Don and his many contributions to the department are remembered fondly.