I like to think that my discipline chose me. After studying biological and health sciences as an undergraduate student and completing teacher’s college, I discerned a call to vocational ministry. The intersection of the life of the mind, the work of the body, and the compelling beauty of the Lord have been a consuming interest for me ever since.
Maybe because I was accident-prone and had a number of hospital visits as a youth, I grew up with a strange disquiet about “What it all for?” This quest for meaning led me naturally to theology and philosophy, but such disciplines can seem oddly foreign, if not entirely abstract. In my undergrad years I stumbled into the writing of the sociologist Peter Berger, who explained how our philosophies have a social location—in fact, he said our worldviews are socially constructed. Having grown up in church, this made intuitive sense to me, and I went on to get graduate degrees in sociology and religious studies, seeing my studies as a form of grounded philosophy, or a worldview with legs. Since then I continue to ask about the history of certain religious perspectives and their connection to social structures and lived experience, what is now more formally called Practical Theology. This sort of interdisciplinary approach—of social science and theology—is what keeps me asking questions and listening for the wisdom hidden in the cacophony of academic voices today.
I have always enjoyed chemistry as far back as I can remember. After six years as an optician in Vancouver, I decided to attend Calvin College (now Calvin University) to pursue a career in chemistry. Calvin was followed by Penn State University where I became intrigued by analytical radiochemistry and obtained my PhD on neutron activation analysis of silicates. An offer from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) led my American-born wife, Evelyn, and me to the newly opened Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment (WNRE) in Eastern Manitoba. We planned to stay in its then-five-year-old company town for no more than a few years and then look for teaching positions at a small college. However, our plans changed, and I spent 35 interesting years at WNRE, the first nine years supporting the development of the only operating organically cooled nuclear research reactor. When AECL embarked on a research program on deep geological disposal of used nuclear fuel. I was asked to join that team. My research focused on the interaction of dissolved radionuclides with geological materials and contaminant transport in fractured granitic rock in a surface laboratory and in the nearby Underground Research Laboratory at a depth of 200 metres. Towards the end of my career at AECL, I became involved in the US Yucca Mountain Project and performed similar studies in volcanic rock. However, with the impending closing of WNRE, I found a part-time position as an adjunct professor at Providence University College where, among other topics, I developed and taught courses in environmental and earth science. Through my involvement in an international conference, I was invited to collaborate, pro bono, with scientists in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan under the Global Partnership Program on environmental remediation projects.
I chose to study biochemistry because of the mysteries surrounding the functioning of proteins within cells, which are crucial for sustaining life. The intricate network of interactions among all proteins leaves me in awe of the wisdom of the Creator, particularly when contrasted with what humans are able to comprehend even with countless years of research. Within the area of cell biology, I focus on understanding how protein interactions make normal cells cancerous. While the proteins in cells function cooperatively so we can live, cancer introduces a different level of collaboration among these same cells that jeopardizes health. As we understand more about how prostate cancer initiates through biochemistry research, we can promote human flourishing through developing early and accurate cancer diagnoses that do not put patients through unnecessary treatments, which not only decrease quality of life but also offer no therapeutic benefits.
Probably the best answer is that I was motivated by the desire to do something interesting while I earn my living. I was partway through my studies in electrical engineering when I decided to emigrate from Eastern Europe (partly to avoid the compulsory military service and to see for myself what the imperialist West really looked like). I was offered one year of credits in Physics and zero credits in Engineering in Waterloo, so I chose to continue my studies in the Physics dept. My employment eventually led me to work at the interface of Physics, Chemistry and Engineering to extract metals such as nickel, iron and cobalt economically and environmentally responsibly from various mining and secondary sources – metals and materials, which are becoming known in the new electric era as the “battery materials.”
When I was a kid, I always loved problem solving. Originally, this led to my favourite subject being math. As I got further into math, I realized that I preferred problems that had clear-cut applications. I still enjoyed math, but I wasn’t passionate about it. Instead, I veered towards biochemistry for my undergraduate program. There, my absolute favourite courses were analytical chemistry and biochemistry. I loved the statistics and methodology of analytical chemistry and the applications of biochemistry, so I looked for graduate research opportunities that did a bit of both. Bioanalytical chemistry, specifically mass spectrometry, just sort of seemed natural, and so far, I’m loving it.
I almost feel that my scientific discipline chose me. My interests in university were biology and chemistry, but I always had a side interest in physics and astronomy. These eclectic interests developed into the field of Occupational Health and Occupational Hygiene, which relies on the knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics to reduce exposures to chemical and biological agents and ionizing and non-ionizing radiation to prevent occupational diseases. This also included occupational epidemiology and environmental management in industry. My hope is that it has improved the lives of workers and the community.
I chose mathematical physics, and later atmospheric physics, for a discipline since I’m fascinated by the ability to model physical reality using elegant mathematics, and I am passionate about stewardship of the earth.
I had a great high school Computer Science teacher who arranged to send my FORTRAN programs on punch cards for nightly runs on an actual computer (thanks, Mr. Brown). I find it rewarding to understand a problem well enough to solve it with a computer program. And even more rewarding to possibly see deep structure in the problem to solve an instance of it a million times faster by using a better algorithm.
As a kid, I voraciously read computer and business magazines, so it felt natural to progress from a degree in Commerce to become an accountant, IT consultant and then IT manager. In my volunteer work over the years, I’ve built or enhanced websites and social media accounts for my church and other charities. By using technology to connect with each other and share stories of all kinds of challenges and successes, I believe that we can promote peace and understanding.