The Hall

Sylvia Fedoruk 1927-2012

I was raised in Canora, Saskatchewan. Growing up, my parents always encouraged my talents for sports and mathematics. In 1946, I enrolled in the University of Saskatchewan’s Physics program. I was an accomplished student, winning three awards for my work including the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the most distinguished graduate. I was also an accomplished athlete—a member of 12 intervarsity championship teams.

An invitation to lunch at the home of Dr. Harold Johns, a physics professor, had a profound impact on my career. His wife, Sybil, had heard about my academic talent. She wanted to encourage me to continue my studies—possibly pursuing the new discipline of medical physics. Her passion and encouragement really impressed me—I enrolled in the Master’s program.

As a graduate student, I worked with Dr. Johns’ team developing the Cobalt-60 therapy unit, also known as the ‘Cobalt bomb.’ At this time we had been treating some cancers with lower-energy machines, but the Cobalt-60 unit let us penetrate deeper into the body without damaging skin tissues. Once the Cobalt-60 unit was completed, I went on to calculate the dosage and exposure times needed for various treatments. With the unit’s success, its plans were copied worldwide. The Cobalt-60 unit soon set the standard for radiation therapy.

After my work on the Cobalt-60 therapy unit, I went on to develop an early nuclear scanning system used in medical imaging. I continued working in radiation oncology until 1986, when I was appointed Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. After leaving the University in 1988, I was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. I was the first woman to hold both of these positions.

Back to top