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James S Trefil
Clarence J Robinson professor of physics at George Mason University in Virginia

I can think of three important early influences that got me into science.

  1. The Chicago museum system When I was growing up, a kid could get on the Chicago L alone and ride all over the city. My friends and I used to go down to what is now called the Museum Campus on the lakefront, and just hang out all day. In those museums, I found a world of quiet order unlike anything in my blue-collar neighbourhood. When I found out later that I could be part of that world, there wasn’t much left to talk about.
  2. A high school teacher My high school chemistry teacher, Willard Muehl, was the first person to say: ‘Hey kid, you’re good at this. You can be a scientist.’ He encouraged me and a couple of friends (now all PhDs), let us mess around in the laboratory after hours, and gently guided us through the college application process.
  3. Science fiction During summer, I used to hole up in my room for days on end, forsaking the baseball diamond for the old Groff Conklin science fiction anthologies and Isaac Asimov. I mean, how could baseball possibly compete with the lost knowledge of the Krell in Fred M Wilcox’s film Forbidden Planet?

James Trefil is author of books including Human Nature: A Blueprint for Managing the Earth - By People, for People (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and ‘The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from Before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).