The Minute Experiment and the Large Picture

  • Ralph W. Gerard


My scientific career must surely begin with my father, a brilliant man with great intellectual curiosity who was a born, but frustrated, teacher. Coming to this country from Central Europe, after a stop in England, to obtain a degree in engineering, he made a career in industry but clearly should have been a university don. As an only son, and being apparently bright enough to ignite his hopes and ambitions that I would achieve what had been denied him, I was the beneficiary of his pent-up devotion to science and to learning. He had had a trying life and was not an easy man to live with, but above all else there came through clearly a passionate devotion to matters of the intellect and to communicating to his young son some of the golden understanding reverberating in his own mind. He was a great admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson, for whom I am named, and of Thomas Huxley, whose lay lectures in science were a model for his own teaching. Sunday morning walks always provided an opportunity for a Socratic examination of some phenomenon of nature ; I recall vividly his picking up a rounded pebble on the beach and leading me to formulate the action of waves and other natural forces in producing this shape. Surely my continued movement into a generalist role, my interest in teaching and use of the Socratic method, and my devotion to reason as a way of life trace back to these very early experiences with a gifted teacher.


Alpha Rhythm Large Picture Iron Curtain Sunday Morning Giant Fiber 
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© Birkhäuser Boston 1992

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  • Ralph W. Gerard

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