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Dr. Derek Jones: A life of many highlights

Posted by Cheryl Bell on January 3, 2017 in News
Dr. Derek Jones is named to the World Dental Federation List of Honour in Poland

Dr. Derek Jones has spent a lot of time travelling to collect awards in the last few months. In June, it was a 12-hour flight to Seoul, Republic of Korea, to receive the 2016 Distinguished Service Award from the International Association for Dental Research (IADR). In September, he made the journey to Posnań, Poland, to be made a member of the World Dental Federation List of Honour.

These are just two highlights in a career that has seen many honours for Dr. Jones, a professor emeritus in the Faculty of Dentistry.

Dr. Jones graduated from the University of Birmingham with his PhD in 1970. In 1974 he was teaching dental materials at his alma mater when the opportunity to go to Canada arose. Dean of the Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry at the time, Dr. J. D. McLean, wanted to make research a bigger priority and Dr. Jones was offered the chance to set up his own research lab.  “It was very exciting for me,” says Dr. Jones.

The move from Birmingham to Halifax

But first he had to make the move to Nova Scotia. Dr. Jones arrived for his interview in Halifax in February. It was -15 C and snowing. Undaunted, he stayed for a week and talked to “everybody” in the Faculty. He also spoke with a friend from the UK who was teaching at the University of Toronto. The friend advised him that opportunities for research were better in Canada than in the UK and recommended that he take the position.  

The advice was well received. In August, Dr. Jones, his wife Joy (a teacher), and four children aged between four and 12 flew to Halifax to establish a new home.

Dr. Jones set about teaching dental materials to dental students in all years. He brought in $3.5 million in research funding to look closely at amalgam, ceramics, polymers, and composites, and also worked on the development of standards for dental materials.

The mouth is a hostile environment

The research was driven by the performance of the materials, Dr. Jones explains. “I evaluated their properties and analysed how they perform and wear. The mouth is a pretty hostile environment. Why do some materials not perform well? What properties need to be improved? These were questions I tried to answer.”

Over the following years, research assumed an increasingly prominent role within the Faculty. Dr. Jones was appointed assistant dean for research, a new position, in 1987, and also served as head of the division of dental biomaterials and chaired the department of applied oral sciences. He wrote or co-wrote over 300 papers and abstracts and presented 143 papers in 15 different countries. As a recognised expert on dental materials, he led the international response to the 1990-91 media scare over the use of mercury in dental restorations.

Dr. Jones received many honours and awards for his work, among them the prestigious Wilmer Souder Award from the International Association for Dental Research in 1988, and an honorary degree for his contribution to dental science from the University of Umeå, Sweden, in 1992. He also served on an advisory committee on advanced materials for three different Canadian prime ministers.

Dr. Jones retired in 1999, but continued to write papers on standards and teach part-time – as so many “retired” Faculty members do – for several more years. A self-confessed “workaholic” during his working years, he is now enjoying his retirement playing tennis, bridge, and working out each morning on his treadmill.