Theodore J. Smayda, A53
HOME: Jamestown, Rhode Island
PROFESSION: Biological oceanographer, focusing mainly on phytoplankton, the micro-algae that are the basis of marine food webs (started the Narragansett Bay Plankton Time Series, a weekly measurement of plankton abundance that is the longest data set of its kind in the world, beginning in 1959)
POSITION: Professor of oceanography, University of Rhode Island
PROUDEST HONORS: The Yasumoto Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on harmful algal blooms; induction into the Norwegian National Academy of Sciences; and, in 2012, a Festschrift from his students—essays and other works on his contributions to science
KEY RESEARCH ADVANTAGE: Knowledge of languages, including German, French, and Norwegian. “There’s a wealth of scientific literature I never could have used if I were limited to English. I also would have been deprived of friendships with colleagues who, coming from a different culture, offer insights I never would have been capable of myself.”
LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT: The first time he looked at phytoplankton under a microscope. “Anyone who has been stunned by the beauty of snowflakes viewed close up will be even more moved by the cellular design of phytoplankton, particularly the diatoms, with their wide range of geometric shapes that have evolved to help them survive. What’s just as awe-inspiring is that without a delicate balance between these tiny but architecturally exquisite life forms and their environment, our planet’s biosphere would collapse.”
EPIPHANY AT SEA: That the deepest understanding often comes from rejecting either/or propositions and accepting paradox. “Surviving a hurricane—witnessing the terrifying power of the waves and the calm blue sky the next day—I gained a new appreciation for the French idea that ‘the extremes touch,’ that opposites like fear and serenity are somehow connected.”
DEFINING TRAITS: A drive to unlock nature’s mysteries; unabashed aesthetic passion and a willingness to go wherever it takes him.
HIS EDUCATION: B.S. (biology), Tufts; M.S. (biological oceanography), University of Rhode Island; Dr. philos. (marine phytoplankton), University of Oslo, Norway
Salim Akhtar, G69
HOME: Ellicott City, Maryland
PROFESSION: Engineer, writer
HAS PLIED HIS TRADE IN: Ninety-three countries, including Pakistan, where, at age twenty-four, he served as a senior engineer on the Mangla Dam, still one of the largest in the world; Britain, where he helped design the U.K.’s first commercial nuclear power plant; and the United States, where he helped design and manufacture the country’s first nuclear breeder reactor. He also wrote the first-ever industrial master plan for Malaysia while working as a principal advisor for the United Nations, and traversed every country in Africa, pursuant to drafting the first-ever continent-wide environmental policy for the African Development Bank.
DRAWS INSPIRATION FROM: His own mentors, among them Tufts professors Percy Hill and James O’Leary, who taught him all he knows about creativity in design, and the design prophet Buckminster Fuller, who reviewed his master’s thesis and spent hours with him on weekends discussing design ideas. Then there were the “British trainers with whips” who demanded the best from him during his five-year apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce.
STAUNCH ADVOCATE OF: Women in engineering. “With the economic challenges we face now, how can we afford to overlook the contributions they are bound to make?”
IN THE WORKS: A proposal for a “skills academy” that would help U.S. manufacturers set up on-the-job training for young engineers who are still in college; a nonfiction book, Reengineering Design, which helps engineers tap their creativity; and a romantic novel, Lady Frances Price, which tells the story of a thirty-year-old man whose jealous sibling tricks him into forsaking his true love and forces him into an arranged marriage (American publisher wanted)
DEFINING TRAITS: Creative, energetic, always open to innovations. Fondly embraces the upbeat philosophy behind Tap Dancing to Work, by Warren Buffett and Carol J. Loomis: “I walk the walk and talk the talk, even if I have yet to achieve Buffett’s financial success.”
HIS EDUCATION: M.S. (engineering design), Tufts; Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London