Science alumnus and entrepreneur creates graduate student fellowship to accelerate solutions for health and wellness
Bill Rickert (PhD ’68) honours two Waterloo professors and supports a new generation of scientists
Bill Rickert (PhD ’68) honours two Waterloo professors and supports a new generation of scientistsBy Robin Morden Office of Advancement
Bill is the founder of Labstat, the largest independent testing laboratory for nicotine products in the world. Over the course of his career, he pioneered laboratory methods for analyzing the toxicity and addictive nature of cigarettes, and in the process became an internationally recognized authority on tobacco harm reduction.
He is donating $1 million to create the WS Rickert Graduate Fellowships in Science, $100,000 to the Jim Kalbfleisch Award, and $100,000 to the Professor Thammaiah Viswanatha Memorial Grad Award (adding to the $130,000 he has already given to this award).
The latter two gifts honour the memory Thammaiah Viswanatha and Jim Kalbfleisch, Waterloo professors who played important roles in Bill’s journey from aspiring scientist to successful entrepreneur and cutting-edge researcher.
Bill was Professor Thammaiah Viswanatha first Chemistry PhD graduate student at the University of Waterloo. More than just a professional colleague, Thamaiah was a friend, a mentor, and a role model.
Thammaiah not only assisted Bill with his research, but also helped Bill secure a NATO Science Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Carlsberg Laboratorium in Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the most renowned institutions for protein chemistry in the world. It was while at the Carlsberg Laboratorium that Bill began to realize the many entrepreneurial opportunities that were open to scientists, thus planting the seeds for his eventual creation of Labstat.
"Thammaiah was a shining example of what I think a human being should be,” says Bill.
Bill struck up a friendship with Jim Kalbfleisch in 1970 when Bill became a professor in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, and Jim was the Department Chairman at the time. Jim was incredibly supportive when Bill decided to launch Labstat while still an active professor at the University of Waterloo.
"Jim was very progressive for his time,” says Bill. “He realized the importance of Labstat to my research and he made it possible for me to carry on teaching and conducting research while also being an entrepreneur.”
With the support of these two professors, Bill was able to translate his scientific knowledge into real-world impact, making important and lasting contributions to the realm of harm reduction. By creating the WS Rickert Graduate Fellowships in Science, Bill is hoping to offer the same support for a new generation of scientists.
In particular, the WS Rickert Graduate Fellowships in Science are intended help Waterloo advance research in biomedicine, biotechnology, and nano-medicine—fields of study that Bill feels will lead to important health and wellness breakthroughs in the near future.
He is also excited about the ways that the University of Waterloo is transforming science education by incorporating experiential and entrepreneurial components. Ultimately, he hopes that gifts like his will not only strengthen Waterloo’s unique approach, but also enable it to catch on elsewhere.
"I feel that Waterloo once again has demonstrated the way the way forward for science education,” says Bill. “The world has a lot to learn from what is happening here.”
Bill’s generosity to the University of Waterloo is exceptional, but perhaps not surprising given his lifelong commitment to helping others, whether through harm reduction or inspiring teaching, and his belief in the power of teamwork.
"Whatever success that I have attained in my life is dependent upon those around me,” says Bill. “I feel that I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to recognize talent in others which is critical to the success of any company.
The student recipients of Bill’s generous awards will surely be thankful to have Bill on their team.
On November 15, the University of Waterloo will share more stories about donors like Bill as part of National Philanthropy Day. Join the celebration by visiting uwaterloo.ca/national-philanthropy-day.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within our Office of Indigenous Relations.