The Unexpected Scientist

By Denyse O'Leary, Copyright Christianity Today International

The Unexpected Scientist

Over the last few summers, high-school student Sarah Mims was spending a lot of time driving around, testing the air. Friends wondered why she was so immersed in science that she had little time for the Christian praise concerts and social outings that she loved. In 2003, they were amazed to learn that she had made a major discovery that was later published in a major science journal and featured on two NASA Web pages.

"How can people look around them and see all creation and have their faith dimmed?"

With her parents' encouragement, Sarah started to study the atmosphere in Texas in 2001. She discovered that some of the airborne dust had blown all the way from the Sahara Desert in Africa. But in 2002, she discovered something even more remarkable: Dust from nearby regions was full of soot, and the soot carried bacteria and fungus. These life forms, she found, had escaped from faraway fires. In other words, contrary to what many think, fire did not kill them, it actually spread them. Sarah confirmed her findings in 2003, and they were published in Atmospheric Environment in 2004. If other studies confirm them, the use of burning as a method of clearing fields may need to be rethought. And Sarah, now 18, will be celebrated worldwide for her revolutionary research.

'Are you a real scientist?'l

Not many fathers have a teenage daughter who contributes an article to a peer-reviewed science journal. But for Forrest Mims III, a renowned science scholar, his daughter's achievement stirs more than the usual fatherly pride. Her work, together with his own, is a powerful witness for Christians in science who persevere despite attacks on their faith.

"How can people look around them and see all creation and have their faith dimmed?"

In 1989, Mr. Mims was interviewed to write the column "Amateur Scientist" for the prestigious Scientific American. The deal was pretty well sewn up—until Mims happened to mention, in a list of publications for which he had written, some Christian magazines. The editor asked bluntly, "Do you believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution?" Mims said no. Suddenly, the temperature in the room plunged.

The editors pestered Mims frequently during the following months about his religious beliefs. Ironically, as Mims later told the Associated Press, he had never written about creationism and did not claim to know how old the Earth is. As a man who calibrates instruments as part of his work, he is skeptical of some scientific dating methods but still hasn't made up his mind.

One editor worried that a public relations nightmare might ensue if the magazine published the work of a serious Christian like Mims. The editor was right. When the story broke, a nightmare did ensue—but it wasn't Forrest Mims who was condemned; it was the magazine. While media are not always friendly to Christians, they are not fans of censorship either. Still, while Mims appreciated the wide support, his prized column had evaporated.

p>It was a hard blow because Mims has always been interested in science. Perhaps the defining event was when his father built a crystal radio for him and his brother when he was 11. He recalls, "My brother and I spent our summers reading National Geographic and The Book of Knowledge when we weren't exploring in the woods."

After college, he pursued electronics and atmosphere studies. He became an instrument designer, science writer, and science consultant. He is probably best known for the books and lab kits on electronics projects that he has developed for Radio Shack over the years. He even had a claim to minor historical fame as a co-founder of MITS, Inc., which introduced the Altair 8800, the first microcomputer, in 1975. He also published several hundred articles in science publications. But did any of that matter? he wondered.


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