Two scientific mentors, gone but not forgotten

Alas. Today I learned about the passing (a few days ago) of two great men who were mentors to me in both science and life, each of whom had a dedication or salutation in one of my novels. Professor James (Jim) Arnold and Professor Harold (Hal) Zirin.

Jim Arnold had been one of the great pioneers in cosmochemistry – probing the chemical and isotopic composition of meteorites and lunar rocks, in order to reveal secrets about the origins of the solar system. Working with Harold Urey and others, he helped turn UCSD’s sleepy little La Jolla campus into one of the world’s greatest centers for chemistry research.

Jim was chairman of my doctoral committee at UCSD and I later worked for him as a post-doc when he ran the California Space Institute, analyzing exciting spacecraft concepts and proposing (much better) alternative space station designs.  Jim’s gentle wisdom and humor epitomized gracious style.  His breadth and depth of scientific insight was exceeded only by his insatiable curiosity.  Jim passed away at 88, a ripe and full life… and not enough for those of us who are greedy for a world filled with wonder.

Also today I learned that Hal Zirin died.  Zirin was a leading solar astronomer whose work probed the nature of the solar photosphere, chromosphere and corona. He founded Caltech’s famous Big Bear Solar Observatory, where I worked for two summers as an undergraduate observer and where I learned much of what later went into my first novel, SUNDIVER.

Hal was a beloved figure around Caltech, known as Captain Corona, the redoubtable sun-powered superhero. At least, that was his monicker in a pair of hand-drawn comic books, one by Dick Trtek and the other by… me. Every time a new building went up on campus, someone would paint a Captain Corona figure on the fence surrounding the construction site.

That’s love.


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