A passion for science and much else

Shared by Bart Farell on February 17, 2016

I never got the sense that John divided his life between doing science and doing other things. The most mundane happening might trigger a scientific epiphany and any lab event might bring forth a story about his childhood, his travels, food, anything at all. He was always relating one thing of interest to another. He was a passionate guy and he had a passion for relating. This was one of the things that made it fun to work with him. Never a dull happening, never an uninteresting moment.

It didn’t hurt that he had great scientific instincts. He liked explanations that were simple and general. Reality isn’t quite like that, but the game is to try to make explanations that are. He was very good at coming up with simple explanations and elegant ways of testing them. He’d periodically revisit old topics, redoing experiments he had done a dozen years earlier, refining the techniques he had used, and refining his conclusions. A couple of what I thought were sudden departures into new territory turned out to be John returning to old studies that gave him an itch that needed scratching. He didn’t seem to stop thinking about the topics that interested him.

The playfully serious personality that made his science and the rest of his life intermingle as they did was constantly in action, so much so that it’s hard to pull out specific episodes to illustrate it with. I remember it as a continuous stream. But a few events stand out for no particular reason. Once in Sarasota, probably at one of the last ARVO meeting there, John put together a trip to Sanibel Island. He drove. Mary Hayhoe, Dave Williams, and I went along, maybe one other person. We got to Fort Myers and couldn’t find the bridge to the Sanibel. John had been there before, probably many times before, and he liked it feverishly, like he liked so many things. He couldn’t wait to arrive and you could see his frustration build when the bridge wasn’t where it should have been. He pulled the car over, rolled down the window, and asked two kindly-looking, middle-aged women how to get to Sanibel Island. They gave directions, quite explicit and detailed, but John interrupted them. “That’s not right!” he yelled out. He straightened them out. I think they were a little frightened. Then he sped off and we arrived soon afterward.

Limulus Polyphemus

Shared by Jill Krauskopf Gellene on February 11, 2016

Not surprising that Dad would be pointing out the limulus polyphemus (horseshoe crab) to his next generation of offspring. They're perfect for vision scientists. They have ten eyes!

When Dad was at Walter Reed, I remember seeing limulus polyphemus sitting in tubs of water in the hallways for use in experiments. I don't know if he used them, but seem to remember that Bob Chapman did. 

John's generosity to colleagues

Shared by Michael Barris on February 10, 2016

John was generous to his colleagues.  At the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the Americana Hotel in New York in January 1975, he presented a lecture on visual masking to a group of hundreds of distinguished vision scientists.  Among the many figures he presented was one I had drafted for a 1973 paper published with four other colleagues.  I was totally unprepared to see this figure in this context, but he said kind things about our work in his deadpan way that I saw over the following years, particularly at the Annual Meetings of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Michael C. Barris, Ph.D.

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