Memories of Dr. Eyring
“May I please see your belly button?”
Early in 1962, I was a full time Seminary Teacher at the East Seminary next to East High School in Salt Lake. I was teaching 10th grade New Testament and had a 6-8 minute devotional session to begin each class period. Debbie, a student who had responsibility for that day’s devotional, came early to class. I asked if she was ready for her devotional, and she said: “I guess so.” Her response was unexpected, since she was an unswervingly dependable person. She then told me she had asked her neighbor a question about science and religion, which was part of her devotional presentation, and that the man had then offered to come and present the devotional to our class.
“Debbie, as a class officer, you know that visitors who present in Seminary must be approved by Brother Grant Hardy, our Principal,” was my reaction, with some small apprehension. About that time, Dr. Henry Eyring came in the door and said: “Debbie, is this the place?”
Debbie assured him this was the right place, and that she was happy to see him. He then came to me telling me that he was Brother Eyring, Debbie’s friend and neighbor, and he had agreed to come and give an eight minute devotional to our Seminary Class and was that okay? “Certainly!” I said in absolute amazement.
The other students came into the classroom. We only had about eighteen kids in the group; however, it was an excellent class, and they loved learning—not a real slacker among them. Debbie called on someone to pray and then introduced her neighbor, Brother Eyring. She mentioned he was a famous scientist, a fact most students seemed to know and appeared to be not overly impressed. She said that she went to the house next door to ask about evolution for her devotional assignment and Brother Eyring had quickly offered to come to her aid. After his comments to her, she expressed that she wished he could come and talk to the class. Dr. Eyring asked what time it would be, and finding out the class was at 10:15 AM the next day, said he thought he could do just that.
He spoke earnestly with a very quick review of his childhood and the scientific and religious questions that come pretty much to all human beings. In doing so he connected with the students. He said several times, “Like you, I wondered about this and that…” He then spoke of his scientific studies and how that each array of new knowledge that came to him strengthened his testimony of God, The Eternal Father, and the prophetic role of Joseph Smith. He was tremendous in connecting with those 15 years old kids! They were engaged and gave him full attention.
Winding up his eight minutes, he had the students as well as me enthralled in his message and in him. Hands were up with inquires from many students, and he looked at me, questioningly. It was clear that he loved this experience.
“Dean Eyring”, I said, “we would love for you to take as much time as you have or wish to take with us.” Good grief, he stayed the whole hour and kids stayed afterwards some going late to their next classes over at the high school in order to be around him longer. He took everyone’s questions—deep and profound, silly and ridiculous. He always dignified the asker. Furthermore, he was so tuned in that he said on two or three occasions, “Now this student has a question, I can see it in his/her eyes…” (they hadn’t raised their hands), and then he would pause waiting for the student to speak.
Among other things, he stressed time and time again that this is God’s creation and that all that God does is reasonable and logical. Life is the process of discovering not only what is, but why it is logical. Don’t be impatient, eventually true religion and true science will merge and become one comprehensive truth was his message. Just hold on for a few hundred years.
He said that the first thing he hoped to do after greeting family and friends in the hereafter, and after expressing appreciation for his life here upon the earth, would be to seek out Father Adam. He would express personal appreciation for Adam’s work and example and then ask: “ PLEASE, may I please see your belly button?” “If Father Adam has a navel, it will tell me so much,” said Dr. Eyring with a huge smile. “It will also bring a host of new questions. That is the way science and religion is. That is what eternal progression is all about!”
You Don’t Need Equations When You Know the Subject That Well.
I attended a lecture by Henry Eyring given at Washington State College in Pullman, WA on the subject of chemical kinetics. He was sponsored by the American Chemical Society, and the lecture was for faculty and grad students at WSC and the University of Idaho. I was surprised by his presentation in that he didn’t use the chalkboard and lots of equations. Instead he had a flannel cloth over the chalkboard on which he moved pink elephants and grey clouds to describe how chemicals reacted with each other. It reminded me of Junior Sunday School. I was amazed at how easy it was to understand the rather complex subject. When I commented on the unusual method of presentation to a fellow faculty member, he replied, “You don’t need equations when you know the subject that well.”
Henry Eyring and the Nobel Prize
I’ve known for much of my life that people thought Henry Eyring was deprived of the Nobel Prize because of his religous beliefs. The archivists at the Nobel committee’s own web site seem to be flummoxed by the question of why Erying did not recieve the prize. They have explained the apparent oversight this way:
“Nobel’s will laid down that the prize should be awarded for work done during the preceding year, but in the statutes governing the committee work this has been interpreted to mean the most recent results, or for older work provided its significance has only recently been demonstrated. It was undoubtedly this rule that excluded Stanislao Cannizzaro from receiving one of the first Nobel Prizes, since his work on drawing up a reliable table of atomic weights, helping to establish the periodic system, was done in the middle of the 19th century. A more recent example is Henry Eyring, whose brilliant theory for the rates of chemical reactions, published in 1935, was apparently not understood by members of the Nobel Committee until much later. As a compensation the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences gave him, in 1977, its highest honor, other than the Nobel Prize, the Berzelius Medal in gold.”
I Should Have Been Walking Too
Henry’s wife Mildred was my mother’s first cousin, although a bit older. My father, who came to the U of U in 1951 from Los Alamos, as Director of Research, worked closely with Henry and always had the greatest admiration for him.
Henry was always solicitous, kind and gracious to me. I used to try to give him a ride home when I saw him walking from work but soon learned that it was an offer in vain, and it made me feel like I should have been walking too. When he was on the high council in Bonneville Stake, I was serving as executive Secretary to President Frank Gibbons, and Henry was such a refreshing delight to have on that body. Great man and great story to tell.
A Man Who Got Things Done
Henry Eyring was the one responsible for my going to the University of Utah. I had gone to Texas A&M for 2 1/2 years before my mission. When I returned from my mission, I was working at the Romney Implement Co. in El Paso, Texas, a business involving Gordon Romney and Edward Vernon Turley (my father). Henry had come to visit his cousins, Gordon and Vernon, and I happened to be at the store.
Henry wanted to know what I was planning to do about my schooling. I sounded a bit uncertain; so, Henry invited me to come up to the U. I told him I would like that. Within in two weeks he had me registered into the University, he had reserved a dormitory room for me, and he had found me a part-time job! He was a man who got things done, and I shall never forget him.
The Janitor Presented the Seminar
I was blessed during 1967-68 to attend a seminar for undergraduates by Dr. Eyring at the U. of U. College of Mines and Mineral Industries. At the time I was a practicing Mormon, but was totally oblivious to who and what this great man was. I was blown away by the seminar, in which I understood almost nothing, but recognized a great intellect, kindly man, and inspired teacher.
I’ve often wished I had known who Professor Eyring was during the seminar. I remember his voice. I remember him whimsically and futilely attempting to demonstrate molecular vibration rates with his fingers—and talking about “Old Man de Broglie” and Professors Bohr, Born, Einstein, Planck and others. And relating how Einstein “didn’t know beans.” Otherwise, his efforts were all but wasted on the biggest dullard to ever sit in one of his classes.
In the hallway prior to seminar, I had passed a rumpled, kindly smiling and somewhat elfin gentleman whom I thought, with juvenile condescension, might have been the janitor. Making deliberate eye contact with this skinny perfect stranger, he offered a genuine warm “hello.” Imagine my surprise when the janitor presented the seminar. I was subsequently pleased to read and be influenced for a while by “The Faith of a Scientist.”
I am a former Mormon who ultimately left Mormonism when I left Christianity, not because of science, but with study of the Bible. I am grateful, however, to still enjoy my associations with my Mormon family and friends (one of whom gave me this book). I’m grateful for an expanding appreciation of human life and experience that includes an awareness of the positive role religious belief can have in the lives of individuals and communities of all faiths.
Going the second mile for a humble undergradduate
When I was still an undergraduate at the University of Utah in 1952 I got a note from the secretary of my major department saying that Graduate School Dean Henry Eyring would like to see me. With some fear and trembling that there was a problem with my major or with my graduation plans I showed up at the Dean’s office.
Dean Eyring told me he’d been going over my transcript and found that I had many more classes than needed to graduate. Moreover, several of these were Upper Division classes in which I ‘d gotten A’s which could count as graduate classes. If I took a couple of more summer school classes I could graduate with a Masters as well as my B.S. This meant that when I joined the US Diplomatic Service after graduation I was inducted one grade higher (with a higher salary) than others of my group of new Foreign Service Officers.
I wondered at the time why Dean Eyring would spend time going over the records of a humble undergraduate. I now realize he took seriously his objective of turning the University of Utah into a major graduate university and was rounding up every student eligible for a graduate degree. But I wonder how many other U students he gave such an important leg up in life.
David Brighton Timmins; BS, MS, University of Utah; PhD, Harvard; US Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
The Recipient of the “Doctor of Letters”
My grandfather Arthur H. Aamodt was the recipient of the Doctor of Letters that was mentioned in the Friend section of Mormon Scientist. I remember my grandfather talking about Dean Erying many times and the great respect he had for Dr. Eyring. He had such respect for him that he was the only speaker at my grandfather’s funeral.
Freshman chemistry class
We had assembled for our morning chemistry class when it appeared the instructor was not coming. We were meeting in the large lecture room in the chem building on the circle at the U, and suddenly, in walks Dr. Eyring, to substitute in a freshman chemistry class.
We were studying atomic matter and he taught us about the electrons circling around the nucleus. What I remember best was how he described the nucleus as the furnace in an apartment building and the electron orbits as the different floors of the building. His point was that the outer orbits were not as stable as the closer ones, much as the tenents on the first floor were warmer and more comfortable that those on the top floor. I will never forget that lecture, and the fun he had teaching us this principle.
Henry Eyring – Inspiring Teacher
My wife, Joan, and I just finished reading “Mormon Scientist”. The book brought back many wonderful memories. We both attended Utah State University. Joan graduated in mathematics in 1965, and I graduated in physics in 1966. I enjoyed studying physical chemistry, and during this period I had the privilege of attending several lectures from Henry Eyring that were taught in Widstoe Hall.
During one his lectures Dr. Eyring sensed that many in his audience including myself were not following some of the technical points he was making in his presentation. He immediately stopped his discourse on chemical kinetics and made a provocative statement to the effect that his experience in teaching the chemistry faculty and students at USU had just provided another piece of evidence for his faith in the existence of God. He said that some of people in the lecture hall had clearly demonstrated that they were more intelligent than the other people in the room. He then stated that a gradation in intelligence could be observed in any collection of people who were now living on the earth or who had ever lived. Professor Eyring concluded his comment by stating that the God whom he believed in was the most intelligent person who exists in the entire universe.
I found no evidence that would refute Dr. Eyring’s testimony of the existence of a living and personal God during the six years I studied theoretical and applied physics at UCLA or during the forty-two years I worked on the collection, processing, and analysis of National Intelligence as a research scientist for the United States Navy.
A Family Home Evening with Henry Eyring
While I was attending Stanford University President Henry B. Eyring was bishop of the Stanford Singles ward where I attended. The family home evening group I belonged to surprised Bishop Eyring by flying in his father from Salt Lake City. I give others the credit for making these arrangements. When I came to family home evening Henry Eyring (scientist) was already there. After a short lesson the curtain was drawn and the lights were turned on in the backyard where many from the ward were waiting to be part of the evening.
I sat next to Henry Eyring (scientist) for much of the evening. I knew of his reputation. I knew that he had won virtually all awards given in the field of chemistry. I was frankly in awe sitting next to him. But what I remember most was his unpretentious nature. He reminded me more of a grandfather than anything else. It was refreshing to be with someone who has done so much but has no need to remind everyone of his accomplishments.
Lunches with Henry
At some point in the late 70’s I wandered up to Henry’s office door. I was greeted with, “Where did you go on your mission?” I tried to explain that I didn’t go on a mission but I had five older brothers who did. Henry could see I was squirming and said, “Me neither, but I’ll tell ya where I did go; I went to hell and I decided I wasn’t going back.” Henry later told me this was a reference to his job with the steel mill blast furnaces. “Hell on earth” was how he described it. Henry said that was the reason he got an education, so he didn’t have to work in such a place.
We hit it off and I started to drop by Henry’s humble office and we would eat lunch together. Henry would tell me stories and patiently answer my seemingly endless questions about anything and everything. I had a new best friend.
On a number of occasions Henry’s son Ted, whose office was down the hall, would race past and Henry would call out, “Hey Ted you need to meet this guy.” I never met Ted, but I remember one day Henry rolling his eyes and saying, “Kids,” as he chuckled to himself. Henry then started telling me stories about each of his kids: “Ted’s like me and Hal’s more like his mother and boy that’s a blessing if there ever was one.”
Over the next few years I can’t think of too much we didn’t talk about. I admired Henry’s fine mind and his commitment to his work. What lives on in me all these years later and is emblematic of Henry’s life was/is his unique understanding and application of love. To me that was Henry’s example, that was his perfection.
I love Henry, I miss him, and I think about him all the time.
“Praise the Lord…”
Although Senior Brother Eyring was from a generation well in advance of my own, I studied Quantum Mechanics from a little green textbook written by the Senior Brother Eyring that had survived usage for almost 50 years, as I recall. A textbook that lasts for a decade is extraordinary, but one that lasts for 50 years is phenomenal. All this is intended to give you the background to say that President Eyring’s father had a reputation that was remarkable.
In 1984, while sitting in a lecture hall at one of the more renowned universities (UCLA), I had been listening to a guest speaker share a discourse on his research. These weekly lectures were often tinted with the strong egos of the presenters and/or the audience. However, the speaker this evening had been highly unusual. Throughout the hour and a half of presentation, he had repeatedly “praised the Lord” for His goodness in allowing this advance or that advance in his research progress. It has been too long for me to remember the emotions I had that night, but I can easily recall that it felt different and refreshing to have someone with this openness and humility. The professor under whom I was doing my research at the time was also the host for the presenter that evening and thanked the speaker. His remarks included the comment, “Tonight we have heard the name of Deity praised with more frequency that I have heard in these halls since Henry Eyring, a Mormon bishop, spoke here many years ago.
“When Senior Brother Eyring praised the Lord for his accomplishments, I do not believe it was an insincere or perfunctory thanks that he was giving. He was wholeheartedly admitting that the Lord was behind His success. That he had been given extraordinary blessings that allowed great things to materialize. And he blessed the hand that made that possible.