Remembering Ken Standing, emeritus physics professor

Nationally recognized Winnipegger developed technologies for life-saving discoveries

Alumnus and professor Kenneth G. Standing [BSc (Hons)/48, DSc/09], recognized worldwide for designing and building tools to study large biomolecules, especially proteins, died Mar. 21 in Winnipeg. He was 93.

Standing and his team of researchers made important advances in the use of time-of-flight mass spectrometry—a scientific tool that can identify the chemical composition of compounds, especially proteins and peptides. In 2003, during the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Standing’s team was the first to describe SARS virus proteins. He also nurtured the careers of many young scientists from Canada and abroad.

In 2009, Standing received an honorary doctorate degree from the U of M. The following year, Standing and his colleague Werner Ens won the Manning Innovation Award, dubbed the “Canadian Nobel Prize,” for their advancements in time-of-flight mass spectrometry.

“Dr. Standing was a gifted scientist, teacher, and mentor,” said Dr. Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (Research and International) and Distinguished Professor. “His research innovations transformed science around the globe and provided the basis for life-saving discoveries.”

Standing’s innovations have made mass spectrometry more efficient and cost-effective. As a result, researchers are using equipment with higher sensitivity for more sophisticated protein analysis. This is enhancing the study of kidney transplant rejection, disease resistance in wheat, drug development, and biofuels, among other areas.

Kenneth Standing in the 1940s.


Standing distinguished himself early on, receiving scholarships towards his studies in math and physics. He took off 18 months to serve with the Navy during the Second World War, then came back to finish his studies. As treasurer of the Students’ Union, he controversially reallocated student fees across faculties to attempt to balance the budget.

In his graduating year, Standing was described as “one of our outstanding campus personalities… definitely most likely to succeed.” He proceeded to earn a PhD in Nuclear Physics from Princeton University and returned shortly after to launch his academic career at U of M. Standing designed, built, and commissioned a cyclotron, and directed the lab in which it was housed (1959-67, 1968-74) before turning his attention to time-of-flight mass spectrometry.

Apart from the Manning Award, he received the NSERC Bertram Brockhouse Prize, the NSERC Synergy Award, and honours from the American Chemical Society and American Physical Society. The flag at the U of M will be lowered on May 6, 2019 in honour of Kenneth Standing.

Apr 2, 2019