Frank Zalar, Ph.D. aka Dr. Z
How did you first learn about the Children’s Science Center?
I learned a little about the Center’s work through a friend who was involved in the Ambassador Program. I then contacted the Center and began a dialogue with their volunteer coordinator, Kara Pascale. After visiting the Center a few times and participating in some of the activities and talking with various members of the management team, we developed ways in which I could best contribute to the overall objectives of the Center. It was a great experience and I met so many talented and dedicated people along my journey.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from, occupation, home life, etc.
I was born, raised and spent most of my adult life in and around Cleveland, Ohio. I attended John Carroll University and the Ohio State University, receiving a PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1966. I immediately went to work for the Lubrizol Corporation where I remained for 35 years. Lubrizol was begun in the Cleveland area by two brothers who were Professors at the then Case Institute of Technology. From modest beginnings, the company grew to a multi-billion dollar multi-national company engaged in the development and manufacture of additive for lubricating oil of all kinds. I was fortunate to have witnessed the exponential growth of the company and hope in some small way was part of its success. A few years after retiring, the company was bought by Warren Buffet. I am celebrating fifty happy years of marriage, this year, to my sweetheart Marjorie. We have two children and five granddaughters. We moved to Virginia seven years ago to be near our daughter and her family.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Center?
There are two equal aspects of my enjoyment. First are the students themselves. They never cease to amaze and amuse me with their wisdom, energy, vitality, enthusiasm and appreciation of the wonders of science. I never tire of hearing the “wow” when something goes right in a demonstration that energizes them. Second, but equal, are the many people who work so hard to make the Center a success. They love science, and they love sharing it. I feel very much at home in such an environment.
What scientist do you most admire and why?
Among those that are no longer living, there are so many giants its difficult to select. I enjoy reading about those who have made significant contributions scientifically, but also enjoy learning about what their personal lives were all about. They had lots of difficulties like all of us, but managed to overcome the obstacles. If you have read anything about the life of Mendeleev, you know what I mean. Among the living, again there are so many. I do appreciate those who can make the science understandable to the majority of us that don’t have the mathematical insights. Brian Greene is one that comes to mind. During his lifetime, Carl Sagan was another.
How can we inspire young people to become interested in science?
By simply sharing our love and amazement of the universe we live in, I believe, is most important. Science is not for everyone and those with the “talents” required to flourish will find us. Therefore it is important to have places, such as the Children’s Science Center Lab, available so that children at all levels of the economic circumstance can nourish their passion to know about the world around them. I was raised in very modest circumstances. But I had a driving thirst to learn about the world of science. I was fortunate that there were avenues available, even for me, to fulfill my dreams of becoming a scientist. We must make sure that such avenues remain open for all our children.
What is one scientific question you would like to see answered in your lifetime?
As I will be 80 years old this year, I must be realistic about what might yet be discovered in my lifetime. I have seen so much! We did not have any computers during my undergraduate and graduate years in school. My PhD thesis had to be typed by hand with carbon copies. Go figure! But realistically I think it might still be possible that life on another planet may be discovered while I am still alive. Now that would really be something!
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