I thought that I'd like to be a lawyer when I entered Miami as a freshman. I had taken high school physics and enjoyed it, so I visited the Physics Department to see what was going on there. When I told George Arfken that I was thinking about pre-law, he put his arm around my shoulder and led me into his office to discuss physics. I became a physics major that day. At least that is how I remember it.
There was some sort of seminar course that I remember during that first year. We read scientific American-like articles about interesting things -- like why it gets dark at night -- because of the expansion of the universe. I still remember that discussion and thinking that I really had a lot to learn about this world of ours. It was very exciting to begin to think more deeply about the world we live in.
Following my junior year I applied for summer jobs listed in Physics Today and got a job at UCLA working with satellite data. Well, that was a fantastic adventure for a kid from rural Ohio. I ended up going to graduate school in geophysics and space physics at UCLA and have never regretted any of my decisions.
Well, when I started looking for my first job with my PhD, it occurred to me that there were a limited number of space research laboratories in a few locations around the country. If I had become a dentist, I could have worked anywhere. As it turned out I spent 10 years at Stanford in a research position. This was not a bad location to be stuck in. I later moved to the University of Michigan for another 15 years on the research faculty, and am now on the Academic Faculty at Virginia Tech as we build a new space science research and engineering program in the College of Engineering. Throughout this time, I have been studying the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field in one way or another. The aurora is perhaps one of the most incredible and beautiful phenomena that occur on the Earth.
Another aspect of space physics that I did not appreciate as a student was the international nature of the field. Geophysical phenomena do not organize themselves by political borders, and the field is small enough that I have become very good friends with people around the world. Geophysics happens in interesting places so I have installed instruments on islands in the Pacific and on the Greenland ice cap. This December, I will be going to the South Pole to test some equipment that we plan to deploy in remote regions (along the 40 degree magnetic meridian) on the Antarctic Plateau.
I sure am glad that I met George Arfken on that fateful day. I can see now that the world could use fewer lawyers and more physicists.
Bob Clauer B.A. Physics, Miami University, 1970.