Memories of Dr. Eyring
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“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.
Dr. Eyring speaks to graduate class at BYU
I am sorry I can’t give you the exact date, but when I was a graduate student and art instructor at BYU before moving to Boston to complete my thesis research, I was a graduate class student body officer. I invited Dr. Eyring to speak to the graduate class. He was gracious enough to come, speaking on faith and science. Bonnie Lach Oswald
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.
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