Distinguished Alumni honoured for their accomplishments

By Wendy Hostein, December 3, 2008

    Thomas Mason and John Mighton received the Distinguished Alumni Award at Fall Convocation. (Pictured left to right: Thomas Mason, Peter George and John Mighton). Photo courtesy of the President's Office.
Two alumni with outstanding records of accomplishment in science and the arts are the recepients of McMaster's Distinguished Alumni Award. Thomas Mason was named in the category of science and John Mighton was chosen for the arts.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is granted to two recipients each year. The award recognizes McMaster graduates who have attained a high level of distinction and achievement through scholarship, research, teaching, creative contributions to the arts or sciences and/ or service to society.

This award is intended to honour alumni whose accomplishments and contributions are of national or international significance, or have had a seminal or transformative impact on their field of endeavour.

Thomas Mason began his research career while completing his PhD at McMaster in condensed matter physics under the direction of Malcolm Collins, currently a professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His PhD work focused on neutron scattering at Chalk River, a Canadian national laboratory 180 kilometres north of Ottawa.

After McMaster, Mason went on to develop his career completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey, was a senior scientist at Riso National Laboratory in Denmark and then accepted an associate professorship at the University of Toronto.

Five years later, Mason joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Located in Tennessee, Oak Ridge is one of the world's largest and most productive multi-purpose laboratories. Its history includes being the site of the world's first sustained nuclear reaction. Here, Mason went from director of the Experimental Facilities Division of the Spallation Neutron Source, to associate laboratory director for the Spallation Neutron Source, to associate laboratory director for Neutron Sciences, and was finally appointed laboratory director in 2007.

Mason is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. He has been named one of the "100 Canadians to Watch" by Maclean's magazine and was listed as one of Canada's Top 40 Under 40.

"Thom Mason certainly made his mark here at McMaster as a graduate student, publishing an impressive 17 papers from his PhD work," stated John Capone, dean of Faculty of Science. "He has gone onto great success making the Faculty quite proud. He is an obvious choice for this honour."

John Mighton, recipient for the Arts, earned his Bachelor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and then his Masters in Philosophy at McMaster in 1978.

After graduation, Mighton pursued his interest in playwriting and in 1992 he won the Governor General's Award for Drama for Possible Words & A Short History of Night. He also penned the film version, which starred Tilda Swinton and Tom McManus.

After establishing himself as a successful playwright, Mighton decided to pursue one of his passions - mathematics. In 1998, Mighton founded JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies), a program that helps children from lower income families improve their math skills.

"John Mighton represents all that is possible with a traditional Arts education," said Suzanne Crosta, dean of the Faculty of Humanities. "An accomplished philosopher, mathematician and playwright, he glides from writing awarding winning plays, to teaching the young an appreciation of mathematics and teaching philosophy as an adjunct professor. We are proud of our association with this remarkably talented alumni member."

For his contributions to mathematical education, Mighton was named an honorary Fellow of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences. In 2000, Mighton earned his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Toronto. Mighton has also published a best-selling book on his pedagogical approach entitled The Myth of the Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child, and was recognized with an Ashoka Fellowship as one of the world's most influential social entrepreneurs. In 2005, Mighton won a second Governor General's Award for Half Life and won the Elinore and Lou Siminivitch Prize in Theatre for that year.

He is one of Canada's most decorated playwrights and an innovator and activist in mathematical education.