Research with far-reaching implications.
Clair C. Patterson, PhD’51, is the subject of this issue’s Legacy (“Immeasurable”), but for him we could have used the plural: the iconoclastic geologist had twin legacies, both of them enormous.
His first was to identify the age of the earth, work that began when he was a graduate student at UChicago. In the course of that research, Patterson came to suspect that high levels of lead were poisoning the atmosphere, and poisoning people. His conviction growing as he investigated, Patterson became a singular, determined force against the use of the harmful metal in gasoline and other consumer goods. His efforts led to legislation, and the reversal of the deadly accumulation of lead around us and in us. Read the whole story. You may find yourself, like me, with a new personal hero.
At the University of Chicago Patterson befriended Saul Bellow, X’39, who fictionalized him in the 1983 novel The Dean’s December as Beech, a scientist seeking public support for his campaign against lead use. “You would never have divined that this dry, long, stooped cactus, this scientific Beech, would at last cough up so large and exquisite a flower,” Bellow wrote. A lonely voice against a whole industry, Patterson appeared scholarly and unassuming. But both as a scientist and as a public advocate, he proved fearless.
In such cases, the battle for hearts and minds, Bellow observed, is uphill. “It wouldn’t be easy,” he wrote of Beech’s campaign. “The public was used to doom warnings. Seasoned, hell—it was marinated in them.” Some things don’t change: the welter of crises vying for our attention only grows.
One crisis has caught the attention of scientists at UChicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering and their international partners: the growing demand for clean water, against shrinking supplies. Like the lead crisis that Patterson battled, water raises problems that are both scientific and social. Here, however, the search for solutions is far from lonely. In “Thirsty Planet” you can read about some of the six project teams in the Institute for Molecular Engineering’s Water Research Initiative and the new technologies they’re developing to generate, clean, and manage fresh water. Their work, like Patterson’s, has life-sustaining potential.
As we sent this issue to the printer, the Magazine staff also said goodbye to Jason Kelly, who will begin as associate editor for Notre Dame Magazine this month. We’ll miss the wit and eloquence he brought to stories like “Immeasurable.” In six years as associate editor, Jason wrote many memorable stories: “The Fighter Still Remains,” about an alumnus overcoming addiction through boxing (July–Aug/09); “Back to the Future,” profiling College dean John W. Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75 (Nov–Dec/12); and “Point Man,” on the UChicago origins of the point spread in gambling (Sept–Oct/13). We could go on—for Jason, we definitely have to use the plural.