Seminar Series

Peter W. Hochachka Memorial Lecture


Peter Hochachka was without peer in Canadian Biology. With nearly 400 publications, 7 books, and service on local (Science World, Vancouver), National (NSERC) and International (I.U.B.S., I.U.P.S.) committees his impact was enormous. His contribution was recognised with the highest science awards given in Canada: the Canada Council Killam Memorial Prize in Science in 1993 and the NSERC Gold Medal in 1995 (since renamed The Herzberg Medal). In 2000, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. In addition, he received many other prestigious awards such as Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada (1983, Flavelle Medal,1990), Guggenheim (1977), Queen Elizabeth II (1983), and U.B.C. Killam (1982) Fellowships, the U.B.C. Killam Research (1987 and 1988) and Biely Prizes (1993), the B.C. Science Council Gold Medal (1987), the Fry Medal from the Canadian Society of Zoologists (1995) and in 1995 was BC’s inaugural Academic of the Year. In 1988 he was given an Honorary Doctorate by St Francis Xavier University (Nova Scotia, Canada). In 2003 he received posthumously the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Peter was born on March 9th, 1937, in Bordenave, Alberta, and died at his home in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on Sept 16th 2002. He obtained his B.Sc. from the University of Alberta (1959) which was followed by an M.Sc. from Dalhousie ( Nova Scotia, Canada) and Ph.D. from Duke University in 1964. Following brief spells at Duke as a post doctoral fellow and the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor, he moved to the University of British Columbia in 1966. On his retirement in 2002 he was University Professor and Professor of Zoology with cross appointments in Sports Medicine, Radiology, the Brain Research Centre and the Prostate Centre, all in the Faculty of Medicine.

A combination of imagination and determination allowed Peter to develop entirely new lines of research concerned with the way animals survive extreme environmental conditions. The world was both his laboratory and lecture hall, as he was the most peripatetic of scientists. He led, or participated in, at least 9 research expeditions on the RV Alpha Helix, an N.S.F. (USA) programme, to regions as diverse as the Amazon and the Arctic. He also participated in 6 research expeditions to the Antarctic, four to the high Andes and one to the Himalayas.

His initial work in the 1970s served as an intellectual “jump start” for the field of comparative physiology and biochemistry, acting as a catalyst for an explosion of research around the world, and establishing the new and exciting field of adaptational biochemistry. Since then, his pioneering studies advanced the understanding of the metabolic mechanisms underlying environmental adaptations, demonstrated weaknesses in existing theories of metabolic control, and proposed new models to explain how the supply of energy to tissues is regulated.

In recent years, he and his students focussed on uncovering the exact molecular and metabolic defense mechanisms against oxygen deprivation. This work captured the interest of the medical community because of the implications for diseases caused by or complicated by lack of oxygen. (Peter is probably one of very few zoologists - if not the only one - to give lectures at the refresher course in Critical Care Medicine sponsored by the Department of Anesthesia at Mass General Hospital of Harvard Medical School.) Of special interest to physicians was his work on adaptations to chronic high altitude oxygen deprivation in native people. Peter’s research team was the first to study Quechuas from the Andes and Sherpas from the Himalayas in modern university and hospital laboratories. The team identified certain heart, brain and muscle adaptations that allow Quechuas and Sherpas to function normally, even thrive, at very high altitudes. He also explored the hypoxia connection in prostate cancer cells and published a paper with his surgeons as co-authors!

Peter’s research work was not confined within narrow discipline-linked boundaries. Through his syntheses, essays, reviews and books, and also directly in his research papers, he made an enviable impact on fields far beyond adaptational biochemistry: it is not at all uncommon to hear about his work at clinical symposia and in hospital laboratories; in ecological symposia and field expeditions; in exercise physiology/biochemistry conferences, and sports medicine testing laboratories. Peter was a scholar’s scholar. He was a deep and profound thinker and his intellectual field of play was enormous. There can be no doubt that his work put Canada on the map for the life science community of the world.

This has been exemplified by the success of the international journal “Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology” which he edited for many years. Establishment of a rigorous review system raised the journal’s credibility. Simultaneously, a new world-wide audience was reached through Peter fostering the formation of societies for Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry in South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. Interaction between these new societies and the well established ones in North America and Europe will ensure a successful future for the field.

Peter had a friendly, charismatic personality which, combined with his acute research mind, led him to attract an impressive cadre of Graduate Students over the years. Many of these are now highly successful scientists working around the world. In fact, a measure of his impact can be obtained at any international scientific meeting by noting the number of papers delivered by students he trained.

Peter is held in exceptionally high esteem by colleagues around the world for it is true to say that none of his success was gained at the expense of others. Furthermore, in spite of his achievements, he managed to maintain an admirable balance between his professional and private lives. He was happily married for 32 years and was a fine father to his three children Claire, Gail and Gareth.

Friends, colleagues and family are honouring the memory of Dr. Peter W. Hochachka by establishing an endowment in his name. The purpose of the endowment is to pay tribute to Peter’s rich legacy and to promote scientific discussion among students with a passion for Adaptational Physiology and Biochemistry. Contributions will support an annual lecture series in his name, and will provide inspiration to students through exposure to national and international researchers working in a field pioneered by Peter. Please consider joining the others who have supported the establishment of the Peter W. Hochachka Memorial Endowment Fund.

Donations to the Peter W. Hochachka Memorial Endowment Fund will honour his contribution to an exciting field of study where he was both a founder and a catalyst. It will also serve to engage and inspire students to research and explore this exciting field of adaptational physiology and biochemistry.

Individuals and organizations interested in making a donation to Peter’s Memorial Endowment are encouraged to contact the Faculty of Science Development Team at or 604-822-3404.

Previous Hochachka Lectures

2003 Professor George Somero (Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University): Biochemical adaptation to temperature: "Footnotes" to Peter

2004 Professor Ken Storey (Carlton University): Peter W. Hochachka and Oxygen

2005 Professor Eric Shoubridge (McGill University): When mitochondria go wrong:
A tale of two genomes

2006 Dr. Hans Otto Pörtner (Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research): Physiological limits to biogeography and biodiversity? A climate change perspective.

2007 Dr. Steven Hand (Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University): Biological Stasis in Nature: Metabolic Arrest, Avoidance of Apoptosis, and Cell Stabilization.

2008 Dr. Michael Dickinson (Cal tech)

2009 Dr. Göran Nilsson (Department of Molecular Biosciences, University of Oslo): Anoxia tolerance in crucian carp.

2010 Dr. Helga Guderely (Department of Biology, University of Laval): Metabolic mechanisms underlying trade-offs between locomotion and reproduction: Lessons from lovely scallops.

2011 Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai (Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin): Waging Peace: Establishment and Maintenance of a Beneficial Animal-Bacterial Association.

2012 Dr. Jerome A. Dempsey (John Rankin Laboratory of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Wisconsin): Humans in Hypoxia: A Conspiracy of Maladaptation.

2013 Dr. Raul Suarez (University of California, Santa Cruz): Pursuing biochemistry’s most noble aim.

Last updated 11 September 2013