Monday, February 12, 2007

RIP Jim Luhr

Jim was the director of the Mineral Sciences division when I did my post-doc at the Smithsonian in 2002. After four years in a small inland Australian city, post-9/11 Washington was a very strange place indeed. It was a city motivated by fear and righteousness; the comfortable and relaxed mantra of the Australian Prime Minister was in all senses on the other side of the world. I remember riding my bike home from work to my grandfather’s house one day. Riding through NW Washington, it suddenly dawned on my that all the traffic had disappeared. There were no cars going either way, and I suddenly noticed that there were police and soldiers at every intersection. Nobody ever hailed me, or asked me to leave- it was just so eerie that I turned off a side street all on my own.

As a result of the Anthrax attacks, the entire US government mail was getting sterilized with 2 MeV electron radiation. For the museum, that meant that researcher’s precious photographic slides, fragile samples, and floppy diskettes were coming into the mailbox completely destroyed.

And just to make matters really disturbing, in October a Jihadist wannabe and his teenage hanger-on decided to terrorize the entire metropolitan area by randomly shooting total strangers in parking lots in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Amidst this metropolis of madness, Jim was the epitome of calm. As the lunatics running the world’s only superpower fulminated and blustered, he would come to work in sandals and Hawaiian shirt, relaxed as a craton. We didn’t interact much scientifically, but when he did ask about my project, it was with keen and curious questions, whose only purpose was to clarify our knowledge of the problem. He was a kind man and an inquisitive scientist. The world will miss him.

The following obituaries are available online:
The Smithsonian Institution
The Washington Post
His friends

In addition, there is a college fund for his children.

I apologize for the lateness of this posting.

1 comment:

ScienceWoman said...

Oh no. I knew him by sight, although he would not have known me. I interned at NMNH in the late 90s. And I know well the DC you describe - very incongruous with the man.