It is with great sadness that we learned that our dear colleague and friend Michèle Auger passed away on October 29th, 2018, at the age of 55. She will be missed by all at Université Laval, as well as by the chemistry and biophysics communities across Canada and around the world.
Auger was born in Grand-Mère, QC and raised in Trois-Rivières. As a bright and dynamic teenager, she enrolled first in biophysics at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, only to later transfer to chemistry. After obtaining her BSc in 1985, Auger joined the group of Ian Smith at the University of Ottawa to pursue her PhD studies in biophysics. It is here where she developed her great passion in the use of solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study biological membranes. After graduating from the University of Ottawa in 1990, she continued research as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of Robert G. Griffin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she refined her skills in the use of solid-state NMR.
As a bright, talented and highly promising scientist, Auger received several offers, but it is at Université Laval that she decided to pursue her academic career. She joined the Department of Chemistry at Laval in July 1991 as an assistant professor and recipient of an NSERC Women’s Faculty Award. Highly successful, she was promoted to associate professor in 1996, then full professor in 2000. Auger's academic career is nothing but exceptional in all aspects.
Right from the start, Auger established a research program at the forefront of biophysics, exploiting solid-state NMR and other state-of-the-art techniques to study membrane interactions with proteins, peptides and drugs, as well as to study biopolymers such as spider silk. Her research projects were supported by substantial and continuous funding from several agencies. Her research achievements have received worldwide recognition, appearing in over 125 publications in peer-reviewed journals and presented on more than 500 occasions at various meetings around the world. For the quality and innovative character of her work, Auger received several distinctions, including the Barringer Award from the Spectroscopy Society of Canada in 2002, the Clara Benson Award in 2007 and Fellow of the CIC in 2010.
As an educator, Auger was outstanding. She developed and taught numerous courses and, as an exceptional professor, received only the highest ratings from students. Her excellence in teaching was recognised on numerous occasions with “Professeure Étoile” Teaching Awards from the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering at Laval. Auger was also a fantastic mentor. During her career, she trained over one hundred undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Gifted with superb interpersonal skills, she was able to adapt to the individual needs of each of the trainees she supervised to ensure their success. She always cared greatly for her students.
Auger was also very dedicated to making Université Laval a better place to study. She served as program director in chemistry, either at the undergraduate and graduate level, for over 12 years. Her impact at the undergraduate level was particularly significant, with the elaboration of four innovative BSc specialisations, four international exchange programs and the creation of a year-long industrial internship. In 2012, her exceptional contributions as program director were recognized by Universitè Laval with the “Prix d’excellence en enseignement– catérogie Direction de programme”. Auger was particularly proud of the Communication for Chemists course that she created from scratch. Anyone who knew her knew how close she was to students and how much she cared about them. She was part of the University Suicide Prevention Committee and designated “Sentinelle” for the Department of Chemistry. Her door was always open to students. In 2006, she co-founded a unique initiative: “Les 24 heures de la chimie” designed to promote chemistry and strengthen the sense of community in the Department of Chemistry.
Auger's involvement in the larger scientific community is also remarkable. Over the years, she served on numerous grant selection committees, notably at the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. She served for many years in the Chemistry Evaluation group, as member and as chair. Auger also dedicated countless hours of service to the Biophysical Society of Canada, and in recognition of her contribution, the Society created the Michèle Auger Award for Exceptional Service in 2016, of which she was the first recipient. She also organized various conferences and symposia, including the Meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance (ISMAR) in Quebec City in 2017.
Lastly, Auger was very engaged in promoting chemistry and sciences to the general public. Her passion for outreach started in 2007 with the organisation of an exhibit on the Chemistry of Odours at the Science Pavillon of ExpoQuebec. She established an interactive activity on perfume fabrication and a very popular lecture entitled "The Chemistry of Odours: From Skunks to Chanel", which she continued to deliver until very recently. Without doubt, her most notable contribution to scientific outreach started in 2011 for the International Year of Chemistry, when she co-founded “Attraction Chimique”, a series of interactive activities to promote chemistry to school children and the general public. To date, “Attraction Chimique” has introduced chemistry to over 400,000 people, mostly teenagers. She was particularly proud of her perfume making activity, extremely popular among kids, especially girls.
Brilliant, creative, dedicated to the scientific and academic communities, Auger embodied the perfect example of an accomplished university professor by all standards: professional, ethical and in leadership. Auger was a woman of values and great empathy, involved, passionate for books, sports, music and science. But most of all, she was an inspiring person. Everyone that crossed paths with her will remember her as a model to follow, an exceptional woman that passed away too soon.
Auger is survived by her spouse, Jean Larose, her greatest pride and joy, her daughter Frédérique, her mother, her sister and other family members. She will be sorely missed by many friends, former and present members of the Department of Chemistry of Université Laval and the Canadian scientific community.