The 1972 U.S. President's Australian Science Scholars

In early 1972, I was informed -- totally out of the blue -- that I was a finalist to be one of the 1972 U.S. President's Australian Science Scholars. This was a program, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Science Foundation for Physics at the University of Sydney, whereby 10 high school seniors would travel to Australia to attend the two-week "International Science School" at the University of Sydney. There were, of course, some 200 attendees from Australia and New Zealand, as well as five each from Japan and the United Kingdom. The method of selection for the U.S. Scholars was unclear, but after no more than an interview, I was awarded the scholarship. What was clear, after we studied the list of past Scholars, was that the NSF wished to spread the award to the maximum number of states. The program was two or three years old, I believe, and no state had been repeated. Anyway, we had an initial orientation trip to Washington, DC, during the summer of 1972, and then in mid-August we traveled to the International Science School. Incidentally, we took the long way back and completed a round-the-world trip!

Well, here we are at the NSF headquarters in Washington. This is one of the worst pictures taken by a professional photographer that I have ever seen! I know that the photographer asked us to smile in some photos, and we did, so why was this the official picture? I can only guess that he hated nerds, and when he saw the most people with vacant stares he snapped the shutter! For the record, these are the subjects.

Standing, left to right: H. D. Black, Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Leonard F. Herk, Theodore E. Guth, Michael A. Buxbaum, Robert A. Pascal, Jr., Eric Gomoll, and H. Guyford Stever, Director of the National Science Foundation.

Seated, left to right: James M. Small, Kathleen B. Lowry, Leslie D. Robinson, Robin J. Edison, and Jane A. Talvenheimo.

A much better picture was taken in Australia; it includes the British and Japanese Scholars, as well as all of the chaperones. The photographer at least understood that laughing, happy subjects more than compensate for the twit whose head has poked into the lower right foreground!

The remaining 30 photographs on this site (selected from 200 taken on the trip) are a very partial travel log of our visit to Australia and trip around the world. We visited lots of tourist spots in Honolulu and the Big Island of Hawaii; Bangkok, Thailand; New Delhi and Agra, India; and Rome, Italy; but in Australia the scholars were mostly stuck in Sydney while our chaperones (Mr. and Mrs. Young) traveled to the Great Barrier Reef!

Unfortunately, all of my photographs were taken with a Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera, which was very convenient, but had serious optical limitations and used negatives only one-quarter the size of standard 35 mm film. The resulting photos can never be more than snapshots. But . . . I learned my lesson, and since that time I have used only full-sized cameras and suffered the extra weight, even on 25-mile hikes in National Parks. The original prints are a bit too light, so for this project I decided to scan the negatives. The negatives are grainy, and the colors have faded during the past 40 years, but the worst offenses are the scratches and Moire patterns (the latter resulting from the sandwiching of the negatives between glass for scanning). Well, here they are!

The Big Island of Hawaii

After meeting in San Francisco, we took a plane to Honolulu and then immediately rode an inter-island flight to Hilo. From there we took a bus to the Volcano House hotel in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano House, which has been in existence for more than 100 years (Mark Twain stayed there), has the most spectacular location of any hotel in the USA: on the edge of Kilauea crater, the most active volcano in the world! Here is your humble photographer standing just outside the hotel. (Just for reference, here are photos of me on the Big Island in 1985 and 2000.) The smoking crater in the back is Halemaumau, a half-mile-wide subsidiary crater within the main Kilauea crater, which is about two miles wide. Occasionally Halemaumau overflows and adds more lava to the floor of Kilauea. The drop to the crater floor from Volcano house has become obviously shorter since this visit in 1972.

The highlight of the Hawaii trip was a hike to the then-active vent of Kilauea, Mauna Ulu. The hike was over lava only 90 days old. (I visited this area again in 2000, and it was covered with vegetation.)

As we approached the site of the eruption, the guide said, "The sound you hear is not the surf." It was, in fact, the splashing of a river of lava against the walls of its confining chasm. If I recall correctly, the chasm was 700 feet deep, but a piece of paper hurled toward the molten river burst into flame when only half way down!

Later on, we visited the Kipuka Puaulu on Mauna Loa. This is an area where lava has not flowed for a long time, and the vegetation is much older than in surrounding areas. However, it has been said that before the volcanoes of the Big Island become extinct, every square inch of the Big Island will be covered by lava at least once more. Telescopes on Mauna Kea (dormant for 4500 years), beware!!

Honolulu, Hawaii

We flew back to Honolulu for a couple of days before departing for Australia, and basked on Waikiki in the shadow of Diamondhead.

I snapped a picture of the British scholars on the beach, and one of the Japanese scholars near the hotel gift shop.

British scholars, left to right: Dorothy Palmer, Michael Wickstead, Virginia Alun Jones, Timothy Sanderson, and Abigail Fowden.

Japanese scholars, left to right: Hiroshi Maeda, Yoko Sueoka, Yoko Jibu, and Jun-ichi Sato. Yuji Suda is standing.

Sydney, Australia

We arrived in Sydney on a Pan Am Boeing 707, which made the softest landing of any plane that I have ever been on, and the passengers erupted in applause. Minutes later, I learned from my host that we had almost overrun the runway, stopping only a few feet from Botany Bay! My nicest view of Sydney was from the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) at sunset. The Harbor Bridge is prominent, with the Sydney Opera House visible at the far left under the span. The tall cylindrical building is the Australia Square Tower, Sydney's first true skyscraper. This photo brings back wonderful memories, but I really wish that I had had a proper camera!

To me the most remarkable natural wonders were not the kagaroos and koalas and orchids, of which there was no shortage, but rather the giant Norfolk pines that grew in Sydney, here by the beach. I had always thought that they were modest indoor potted plants, but these were indeed giants!

The International Science School consisted of lectures by a series of scientists working in the subject area of that year's school. Our topic was rather ominous: "Brain Mechanisms and the Control of Behavior", but the school was great. Still, I did wonder what it was like on the Great Barrier Reef while we sat on the hard wood benches of the lecture hall. The school was nationally televised in Australia; here is "our" cameraman.

More significantly, here is Professor Harry Messel, founder of the Science School, who each day thanked the eight Sponsors, one by one. I can still recite the sponsors instantly and perfectly at a moment's notice! "And how many large, multi-national corporations do you see on that board?" said Professor Messel, "Well, I'll tell you -- none!"

I have not included any photos taken with my hosts, the Duffys, but they took me on some wonderful expeditions, particularly to be Blue Mountains. I recall especially the fabulous orchid farms and the small restaurant where we stopped for lunch, which served absolutely the best steak I have ever eaten! Regrettably, I have not kept in touch with Peter Duffy, who also attended the Science School, but it would be very interesting to know what he is doing now.

Bangkok, Thailand

After the Science School was over, we flew to Bangkok via Singapore. Bangkok is truly the "Venice of the Orient", and the scenes of life on the water were especially interesting. The upper photo is just someone's house with a coconut palm in front; the lower is of "the floating market". The standard of living did not seem to be especially high, but in contrast to other less developed countries that I have visited, almost everyone seemed healthy and happy. Only two years later, Bangkok would be the setting of the James Bond adventure "The Man With the Golden Gun"; many of its scenes looked very familiar to me!

We visited numerous temples and palaces. Here we are outside of Wat Po, most notable for its giant reclining Buddha, to which innumerable devotees have pressed small squares of gold leaf as offerings. I have a rubbing of a carving of a battle scene from Wat Po hanging in my living room.

Without question the most spectacular object in Bangkok is the 15-foot-tall, five-ton golden Buddha at Wat Trimitr. This statue is some 700 years old, but spent several hundred years covered in clay to disguise its value. The treasure was hidden in plain sight, but none knew its secret until the monks decided to move the statue in 1957, and some of the clay chipped off to reveal the gold underneath!

New Delhi, India

New Delhi, with its pressing crowds, massive poverty, and semi-ruined buildings, stood in stark contrast to Bangkok. Most revealing to me was the fact that even teenage children of the various ambassadorial staff (whom we visited) were not allowed to travel outside the diplomatic compound without an escort. Today, this would seem a commonplace precaution in almost any country, but in 1972, the risk of assault or kidnapping was negligible in most other places in the world.

For a chemist, the most remarkable object in New Delhi is the Iron Pillar near the arches of Rai Pithora. This pillar was fashioned about 400 AD, and has proved remarkably resistant to corrosion for 1600 years! We were told that it was an (accidental) early example of carbon stainless steel, but apparently the corrosion resistance is really due to a layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate formed from the high-phosphorus wrought iron of the pillar. Times have indeed changed; if you look at a recent photo of the pillar, it is surrounded by a fence!

Agra, India

We traveled to Agra on a slow, primitive train that seemed right out of "The Man Who Would Be King". Sadly, it was a rainy day. Our first visit was to the famous Red Fort, until then known to me only as an important setting in Conan Doyle's "The Sign of the Four". It is indeed a rambling structure with innumerable rooms and halls as described in the Sherlock Holmes story.

Here is a view from the Red Fort toward the Taj Mahal, which is barely visible in the center of the photo. This scene captured much of what I felt while in India.

Even in the rain, the Taj Mahal loses little of its lustre.

However, the smaller, darker "outhouses" next to the Taj Mahal made everyone wonder whether the Taj would have been more spectacular in black marble!

Rome, Italy

We flew to Rome via Beirut; even then, long before the Lebanese civil war, the plane was surrounded by submachine gun-wielding guards on the tarmac at Beirut. I had lived in Rome for a year when I was 9-10 years old, so it was a homecoming for me. I pushed hard to see as much as possible once again.

Here we are at the Forum.

And at a cafe near the Colosseum.

Fontana Trevi was on the schedule.

Leslie and Kathy tossed in the requisite coins!

I believe that the last day was spent at the Vatican. Here is St. Peter's Square.

Here are the Youngs at St. Peter's.

I was much younger and thinner: 6' 3'' and 145 lbs as opposed to 6' 3" and 200 lbs today! I wonder what Len looks like?

Finally, here is most of the crew on the steps of St. Peter's.

We returned to New York and split up after a month of travel. It was an amazing trip! THANKS, NSF!!