Saturday, February 13, 2010


One of my favorite columns in the San Antonio Express-News is "The Country Scientist," written by Forrest Mims III, who lives about 20 miles from my house. His articles are full of commonsense practical information about our region.

On February 1st, he shared a little of his life story. I found it so inspiring that I've decided to share it with you here (copyright 2010, Forrest Mims III, quoted with permission): 

Twenty years ago, the editor of the Scientific American said that the columns I wrote for his magazine were "fabulous...great...first-rate." But I lost the column after the editors asked personal questions about evolution, abortion and the Bible.

This experience was so stressful that I decided to unwind by spending a year studying the sky with instruments I had developed for Scientific American.

Two instruments called TOPS (Total Ozone Portable Spectrometer) measured the ozone layer when pointed at the sun. Satellite and TOPS measurements closely agreed in 1990. But during 1991 they began to differ. NASA scientists explained the satellite was correct, because it was a multimillion-dollar program.

About this time the American Scientific Affiliation asked me to give a talk about the Scientific American affair at its conference in Hawaii. I visited the famous Mauna Loa Observatory to calibrate the two TOPS. The world standard ozone instrument was also there, and it, too, showed a difference in the ozone measured by NASA's satellite.

NASA finally acknowledged the satellite problem, which I described in an article in Nature, the prominent British science journal. NASA later hired me to measure the ozone layer during two field campaigns in Brazil.

Dr. Howard Malmstadt of the University of the Nations heard my talk in Hawaii and asked me to teach a short course at U of N each year. Thanks to this assignment, 2010 will be the 18th year my instruments have been calibrated at Mauna Loa.

In 1993, the ozone research earned a Rolex Award, which provided funds to hire engineer Scott Hagerup to design an advanced TOPS that we called Microtops. In 1997, an even more advanced Microtops was developed by an environmental monitoring company, and a few hundred Microtops are in use around the world....

Forrest Mims' account reminds me of what another practical scientist, Alexander Graham Bell, once said:  

“When one door closes another door opens.”
Successful people know that another door always opens, and unexpected opportunities are on the other side. It's a wonderful story of optimism and perseverance, about a local hero who's making a difference. 

You can catch more of his science at and

1 comment:

Rena said...

Sometimes it is a challenge to remain optimistic when it feels as though all the "eggs" were in one basket and that basket is no longer yours... great reminder that we should trust divine choreography.