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John C. Lahr
a tribute to the "Gentleman" Scientist

Influential and giving people like John Lahr live on through the actions of those they have touched. Surely we are better for having known and learned from John Lahr. And we will share his ideas and inspiration with many others, so his goodness and wisdom can multiply into the future"  (Robert Butler)

John Lahr

John's World

Click HERE to see a photographic montage of John's life created by his son, Nils Lahr.


 John the Man

John Lahr was a loving husband and father, and an engaging and gracious scientist.   Though he was extraordinarily creative and bright, his real legacy lies in the lives of those he touched.  His friends and colleagues will always remember him as the "gentle scientist". 

John wife, Jan, often speaks of John’s sense of humor and gentle personality. Those traits permeate John’s many contributions to science education and are treasured by his collaborators and the many K-12 teachers he has helped to learn about earthquake seismology.  When John Lahr brought his sense of humor and gentle personality to educational seismology workshops for K-12 teachers, wonder and delight filled the room and inspired everyone to learn the science of earthquakes with a smile on their face.

You may wish to start by reading John's own words about himself as he responded to questions from a student who was completing an "interview" assignment for school.

What follows are brief summaries about many aspects of John's life.  You will read tribute after tribute that echoes John's selflessness, his gentle nature, his enthusiam, his intellect, his keen sense of humor and an almost childlike enthusiam for all he saw around him.  Please enjoy this tribute as we are reminded of how he changed our lives.

Click HERE to read John's obituary

Feel free to submit a tribute to this page by emailing the WebMasters.


The John C. Lahr Educational Seismology Fund

The Lahr family and Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) are pleased to announce the establishment of a fund to support Seismographs in Schools (SIS), within the IRIS Education and Outreach program.  In the last several years of his life, John Lahr became very involved in supporting this program.  It was the perfect opportunity for him to use his knowledge and skills in teaching workshops, traveling to schools throughout the country, supporting teachers, and helping to develop equipment and software.  John felt strongly that the earth sciences are being seriously neglected in the U.S. educational system, and he was pleased to be a part of a program that is working to correct the problem.    

The John C. Lahr Educational Seismology Fund will provide funding toward seismographs and teacher training through the SIS program.  Schools and teachers that receive equipment and training through the fund will be expected to show how they will actively incorporate the seismograph into the classroom.  Currently, the cost of a seismograph is about $600, and the cost of teacher training is about $950.  At present, these services are provided by IRIS through National Science Foundation funding at no cost to schools or teachers, though it is likely this will change in the future.  The fund could then be available to provide scholarships.  By providing additional resources for the SIS program, the hope is that the fund will enable the program to expand to serve more schools throughout the country.  Seismographs that are paid for by the fund will have John’s name on them in tribute to him.    

John truly loved working with the Seismographs in Schools program, and he would be honored to know that friends, family, colleagues, and others will be supporting the program through a fund in his name.  Please consider making a donation in John Lahr’s memory.    

Checks should be made payable to IRIS, Reference John C. Lahr Seismology Fund, and mailed to IRIS, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC  20005.  Donors will receive a confirmation letter, identifying their tax-deductible contribution.

IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology ) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in the state of Delaware with its primary headquarters office located in Washington, DC.

For more information about the IRIS Seismograph in Schools Program, please click HERE.


John the Family Man  


John's Career with the USGS

For more information on John's work at the USGS see the website at
http://www.iris.edu/seismo/quakes/1987-1988gulfofalaska/

John Lahr was always interested in science, probably due to the influence of his father,  who was a physical chemist.  He attended Rensselear Polytechnic Institute for a B.S. in Physics and continued at at Columbia University's Lamont Observatory (now called Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) for his Ph.D. seismology .  From 1971 through 2003, John worked as a research seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.  For most of this time he was Project Chief of the Alaska Seismic Studies Project.  He worked at he USGS office in Menlo Park, California, until 1993, then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, for four and a half years to complete the integration of the USGS's seismic network in Southern Alaska with the network run by the University of Alaska.  From 1997 through his retirement in 2003, John worked in Golden, Colorado, at the USGS National Earthquake Information Center.

One of the highlights of his career was the study of the eruption of  Redoubt volcano, which is located along the shore of Cook Inlet, Alaska, and within the southern Alaska seismic network of stations. With the aid of enhancements to the earthquake location program, HYPOELLIPSE, that he authored, he was able to shed light on the source of many of the signals emanating from this active volcano.

Since retiring, John has continued to be active in seismology education as a USGS Emeritus Scientist.  He has visited with many teachers around the U.S. who are running classroom seismic stations provided by IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology) and has consulted with museums about interactive seismic displays.

John Lahr was educated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (B.S., Physics, 1966) and Columbia University (Ph.D., Seismology, 1975). He served as a Geophysicist and Research Geophysicist, U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. (1971-1993), College, AK (1993-1997), and Golden, CO (1997-2003). Much of his career centered on investigating the seismicity and tectonics of southern Alaska and developing and improving computer techniques for locating earthquakes recorded by a sparse regional network of seismographs.

John's professional Resume' is at http://jclahr.com/rsr/John%20resume%202007.doc

John's publications are at http://jclahr.com/rsr/rsr2002.html

Tribute by Randall G. Updike (Mar. 18, 2009)

It is indeed with a heavy heart that I must share with you the loss of our long-time colleague, Dr. John Lahr, who passed away yesterday morning, March 17, at his home. He has endured a long battle with brain cancer that slowly drained the energies from his brilliant and creative mind. John was a long-time scientist contributing to the Earthquake Hazards mission in the USGS, devoting his career to seismology and communicating that science to the citizenry of this nation and the world. That commitment to science education continued after his retirement as he shared his zeal and in-depth knowledge for earthquake phenomena in various public venues. He especially focussed on youth and expressed to me how exciting he found working with the young fertile minds of children. Over the decades that I have known John, I found our discussions both exhilarating and exhausting because he was so tireless in his quest to know more, to question what we think we know, and to celebrate new discoveries. His work surely contributed to improved safety for the human environment of the United States and many other nations. The world was fortunate to have known John Lahr. I will never forget his infectious laughter nor compelling wisdom.


John's Contributions to Amateur Seismology

Tribute by Randall Peters (Feb. 28, 2009)

Thelogians in my experience believe strongly in the unique significance of every human life. What I see as unusual about the unique qualities of John Lahr, that sets him apart from so many, is the breadth of his influence. . On the one hand, he has brought professionals of differing disciplines to a much-needed, better place of dialogue and understanding of one another. On the other hand, he has generated considerable enthusiasm in non-professionals, to think about and even engage in science activities. Success like this is truly rare, even though academicians give constant lip-service to what John has been about. Whereas others have talked about the great need, John has been doing something about it.

By means of humility rarely exhibited by those with great expertise, John has clearly 'left his mark' on both professional seismology, and also physical science in the public interest. It is the latter of these his contributions, and especially his close relationship with public seismic networks (PSN's), that occasioned me to meet John. Following some detailed email discussions with him, over issues concerned with how to build better seismometers of inexpensive type; I was finally able to meet John in person during a trip to San Francisco (around an AGU meeting). Our conversation at a restaurant dinner table convinced me that here was a "seismologist who knew how to talk to a physicist". In a few weeks that followed, I engaged John on an issue that has been of great concern to me personally, involving confusion factors over "power spectral density"(PSD) calculations.

Using what was told him from my physics perspective of how a seismometer functions; John proceeded from first principles to calculate a theoretical expression for the power (or 'acceleration') spectral density. He engaged this problem in the manner which characterizes good physics training. Did I also 'leave a mark' on John concerning my quest to bring greater clarity about PSD's to the seismology world? To what extent I don't know, but am pleased to see that he subsequently added to his web-pages an algorithm for computing the PSD. Tailored for use with the AS1 vertical seismometer that is central to the science project in schools overseen by IRIS, John’s algorithm and the graphs that it produces are described at http://jclahr.com/science/software/psd/

My ‘bone of contention’ has involved the units m2/s4/Hz that are usually associated with the PSD, when graphed versus log frequency. I was pleased to see that John’s graph at the above URL avoids this controversy. It is labeled “PSD”, while at the same time the ordinate for the dB values includes the word “acceleration”. I see this as just one more example of how John Lahr has served as a minister of reconciliation, in a world too-prone to too-much fighting over too-petty differences. 

Tribute by Chris Chapman (April 21, 2009)

I was very sorry indeed to learn of the recent early death of Dr. John Lahr. I had a great affection and respect for him. He will be sorely missed. We have worked together on various projects since 2002. We both recognised the educational value of measuring real seismic signals in schools, which students can then associate with large seismic events all over the world - Do Real Science with Real Signals!

John Lahr trained as a physicist and a research seismologist. He worked on seismic arrays in California and Alaska until 1997 and then in Geological Hazards at the NEIC in Golden, Colorado. He joined the Iris Education and Outreach Board in 1999. In cooperation with Denny Ambrisco, he built a successful Lehman type seismometer in 1999 - one of his many 'hands on' projects.
 
John was involved in the Princeton Earth Physics Project for schools (PEPP) and started experimenting with an AS1 on loan from Iris in 2000. He took an active interest in the EPICS project at the Colorado School of Mines, in the fall of 2002, to encourage students to explore the design of seismometer systems. We exchanged EMails on 'how to' topics and developed a co-operative relationship. We seemed to be able to complement each other's thoughts and ideas to push forward practical projects.
 
After John retired in 2003, he took a strong practical interest in the Iris 'seismometers for schools' program, visiting many schools, solving practical problems and helping teachers to get better results. He has been hugely influential in promoting the use of seismometers in schools, in the understanding of Earth Sciences and in the awareness of Geological Hazards. He is the author of the Hypoellipse advanced earthquake location program. John has also been a frequent contributor to the Amateur PSN Network Letters, giving help and spreading enlightenment to many experimenters.
 
John quickly identified the practical problems involved in setting the damping correctly on the school AS1s and of the effects of temperature on oil damped systems. If the damping is too low, the shape and amplitude of the seismic signal is distorted, but if it is too high you may not be able to record any signals at all! John suggested two mixtures of motor oil and STP additive to better suit AS1s with different spring and mass systems. He developed a portable battery amplifier + ADC module to measure the damping accurately. 
 
I became involved in developing a seismometer suitable for school use in the UK, where most of the earthquakes detected are of teleseismic origin. I quickly realised the serious practical limitations of oil damping and designed a Copper Plate + Quad Magnet damping system. John then sent me a 'used' AS1 to  experiment with. We tried out prototype magnetic damping attachments, which seemed to work very well indeed. We agreed on a design, which was then made commercially in the USA and distributed by Iris. It is easy to set up and immune to variations in the room temperature, so it enables at least twice as many quakes to be recorded!
 
John and I then turned our attention to the other limitations of the AS1. It was designed as a 'demonstration' seismometer with a response flat with velocity from only about 1.5 to 4.5 seconds, which is a bit limiting if you want to record real seismic quake signals from several Hz to 20 seconds period. We have designed and tested a prototype amplifier which extends the period to 20 seconds to pick up the Rayleigh surface waves. John put two AS1s on line for comparison, both using the improved magnetic damping. CHOR was a standard AS1, CEOR was the extended period system.
 
In a message dated 24/05/2008, JohnJan@lahr.org writes:
Re: Modified AS-1 enhances teleseismic signals.
Hi Chris,
The M6.4 mid-Atlantic Ridge event of 5/23/08 at 19:35 UT demonstrates the advantage of your modified AS-1 circuit. If you catch this in time, compare:CHOR with CEOR
Cheers, John (back in Corvallis)
 
John and I were taking a step by step approach to school seismometer improvement, until we could find someone to manufacture a satisfactory replacement instrument. We want a practical working apparatus which also visually demonstrates the seismometer components, the pendulum, the damping system and the inductive sensor. Kids can then 'see, understand and remember' how their own seismometer works.
 
I hope to complete the project shortly so that these developments can form the basis of an inexpensive broad band seismometer (3.5Hz to 20 seconds). The provision of a new vertical school seismometer could be a fitting practical tribute to John.
 
With many happy memories of working with John,
 
             Chris Chapman


John's Contributions to Educational Seismology

John's interest in educational seismology began early in his career.  In 1978, he even wrote a white paper to USGS proposing an idea to put seismometers in schools called "Seismic Recording in an Indigenous Earthquake Prediction Program".  He was convinced that it would lead to a greater public awareness of seismological problems and reduce the mystery surrounding earthquakes.  This was over thirty years ago!

He was still thinking about his dream in 1990 at the AGU meeting in San Francisco.  At the USGS booth, Alan Jones was demonstrating his program, "Seismic".  When Alan came back to the booth later to check on things, there was a note from John which said something like, "I really like your program. Can we meet?" He later sponsored Alan on a trip to the USGS office in Menlo Park and thus began a great friendship and collaboration. 

In 1999 John attended an IRIS E&O workshop in Yosemite entitled "Seismologists Learning to Teach the Teachers".  At this workshop IRIS provided seismologists with information on K-12 science education and demonstrated and practiced hands-on activities for learning about earthquakes, seismology and related Earth science.  Of course, John was one of the most experienced and enthusiastic participants.  By that time, several members of the IRIS E&O committee were regularly attending the annual NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) meetings and conducting an all day workshop ("Earthquakes: A one Day Workshop for Teachers") as well as presenting one or more one hour seismology related workshops at the meeting.  John was a presenter at the 2001, 2002 and 2004 NSTA workshops. 

In 2000-2001, the IRIS Seismographs in Schools program was established using the AS-1 educational seismograph.  John's good friend, Alan Jones, was asked develop the software for display and analysis of the AS-1 data.  Alan did a great job and still supports and updates the software.  During the initial development of the software (and beyond), John was one of the people who tried out the software and made suggestions to Alan for improvements and new features.  John also became one of the presenters at the IRIS AS-1 workshops that supported the Seismographs in Schools program in Seattle, Boston and Baltimore.  John's testing and development, particularly related to the damping and calibration of the AS-1, have also been critical to the success of the Seismographs in Schools Program. 

Of course John's own educational seismology and related activities that he developed and put on his web pages have been very useful to many teachers and geoscientists interested in enhancing their Earth science education strategies.

John's involvement with the IRIS Seismographs in Schools program continued throughout the rest of his life.  He took the time in 2004 and 2005 to visit dozens of schools over the US who had an IRIS sponsored AS-1 seismometer.  He was able to provide onside diagnostics of the seismometers as well as provide one-on-one instruction about how to use it in a classroom to the teachers he visited.

In the fall of 2002 John collaborated with Tom Boyd at the Colorado School of Mines to sponsor that year's EPIC course.  All of the freshmen at the Colorado School of Mines take a course called EPICS which is designed to enable students to work as teams integrating their various scientific skills.   During the Fall of 2002 all 350 freshmen at Colorado School of Mines worked on designing an inexpensive seismic system. They worked in 70 groups of 5 for this effort, which was sponsored by the IRIS Consortium Education and Outreach Committee. Because the goal was to design an inexpensive instrument (less than $150) specifications were less strict than for a professional instrument.  Items that could be sacrificed included linearity and single-axis sensitivity. The $150 limit (exclusive of a PC) was established to make this instrument a potential candidate for the seismology in schools effort.

John collaborated with Bob Butler and Jenda Johnson on several educational seismology workshops in Portland and southwest Washington State. Bob had a background in college teaching and plate tectonics, John had a wealth of expertise in earthquake seismology and operation of seismometers, and Jenda had wonderful skills in computer illustration and animation as well as videography.  This was a magical combination of complementary knowledge and skills. There was wonder and delight when John, Jenda, and Bob would brainstorm ideas for new computer animations of earthquake processes or set about organizing a workshop for teachers. We were having far too much fun working together on ways to help learners understand earthquakes and Pacific Northwest plate tectonics

John was a major contributor and advisor to the Oregon Shakes program. The program's director, Kay Wyatt, was one of John's early pupils in the IRIS seismology in schools effort,.  John and others such as Chris Chapman in the UK, worked with Kay to construct a new seismometer design to be used in the public schools along the Central Oregon Coast.  And, with John's help, the program has developed over thirty packaged activities for middle school teachers.  The teachers just "check out" the activities as you would a book in a library.  This way they needn't spend hard earned money at the local hardware stores to build an activity that they will only use once a year.  As an advisor, John helped the program grow and become successful.

And one of John's favorite activities was to haunt various exploratoriums throughout the US.  He would head straight to the earth science exhibits to see how they presented the subject.  Often John would introduce himself to the exploratorium coordinator and suggest new ways to present earth science topics to budding young scientists.  It didn't take long for them to recognize the extraordinary qualities in John.  Thus began many good friendships. 

It is fair to say that John had an extraordinary impact on so many people in his life.  Bob Butler explained it this way:

"Influential and giving people like JohnLahr live on through the actions of those they have touched. Surely we are better for having known and learned from John Lahr. And we will share his ideas and inspiration with many others, so his goodness and wisdom can multiply into the future".

Click on the photo below to see John demonstrate the assembly, setup and calibration of the AS-1 School Seismometer.

Tribute by John Taber, IRIS Education & Outreach Program Manager

John Lahr's love of science education
Thoughts presented by John Taber at John Lahr's Celebration of Life, 4/19/09


John loved to help others.  We have heard a lot about his warm family life and scientific accomplishments and now I'd like to share just a few examples of how John has touched many teachers and students through his love of science education.

John helped me long before I knew him, through his earthquake location program that Bob mentioned.  I had no idea then how much I would come to depend on John later when we both focused on education. 

The IRIS Seismographs in Schools program owes much to John.  When I joined IRIS, John was a member of the committee that guides the E&O program and from my first meeting I was impressed by John's quiet but insightful ideas and suggestions.  He was there when the first educational seismographs where distributed to teachers, which was in some ways the result of a paper he had written 30 years ago on how to engage the public in recording earthquakes.  He figured out how to have the teachers share their recordings, improved the mechanics of the system, and provided suggestions for countless improvements to the software. 

At the same time he helped with science fairs, family science days, and science museums, and I got many emails about the places IRIS should also be attending.  This also taught me how persistent John could be. 

All of this occurred while John was still at the USGS and I also learned how careful John was to save anything of value.  Whenever the USGS was about to throw old equipment away, John would call me, and knowing John, you probably won't be surprised to hear that we now have a trailer full of old but potentially useful recorders and sensors.

John developed and installed a museum display that inspires groups of children to jump up and down as they make their own earthquake.  In typical John fashion it is inexpensive, and involves bits and pieces found around a lab, or in John's case, his basement.

He was always looking for opportunities and one year he convinced an entire freshman engineering class of 350 students at the Colorado School of Mines to design a simple seismograph as part of their course.  The project provided the students with a unique educational challenge, and there was the possibility that it might provide John with a new low-cost sensor. 

For me what really demonstrates John's love of helping teachers, and Jan's encouragement of his pursuit of his passion, is the story of their cross-country trips, where every few days John would stop to visit a teacher with an IRIS seismograph.  As they crossed the country, they left a trail of inspired teachers, engaged students, and a pile of articles from local newspapers, which talked about the wonderful scientist who had visited their town.

Of course John couldn't make a personal visit to every Earth science teacher in the country, though I think he would have liked to, so he also worked with groups of teachers at workshops.  He would arrive at university labs or hotels from San Diego to Boston, with a suitcase full of tools and he would set up shop and start making modifications on the new seismographs.  Then the teachers would arrive and you would see the glint in his eye as he shared his sense of wonder and curiosity about the world.  He always used simple and practical explanations, whether it was squeezing a rock, breaking spaghetti to teach about faults, or measuring and photographing and recording online how fast his fingernails grew for 500 days to teach how fast tectonic plates move. 

After the workshops he kept in contact with teachers by running our email listserve, providing help over the phone, sending spare parts, and providing information on his web site.

Then came John's seizure and diagnosis of brain cancer, but the day after he was home from the hospital he was judging at a science fair.  Later on he kept working with teachers even while he was in the hospital. 

Last September was the first workshop that he missed and we were worried how we would cope without John, but John had already figured that out for us.  He had inspired Kay Wyatt, a retired geophysicist who is here today, to carry on his engagement of teachers and students through seismology, and he was still helping her prepare for the workshop on the way to one of his hospital stays.  So John was there in spirit that workshop as he will be for our future workshops.  When John said goodbye to his teachers via email, what seemed most important to him was for the teachers to know that there were others to continue to help them.  John is still helping, via videos of him explaining seismographs and some of his teaching tools that are posted on the Web. 

And finally, teachers will be able to continue to benefit from John's love of science through the educational seismology fund that has been established in his name.  I'd like to thank the Lahr family, particularly Taya, Jan and Nils, for suggesting and promoting the fund that will provide additional teachers with seismographs and training.  I'd also like to thank those who have already contributed to the fund.

John also left a long list of ideas that he thinks we should implement, and Nils Lahr is working on new software will help ensure that many more students will experience the excitement of recording their very own earthquake.

I'll miss John, but I, along with many teachers and students, am lucky to have known him and experienced his gentle and inquisitive spirit.

  

Tribute by Kay Wyatt, Director, Oregon Shakes Program

I met John early in 2004 and it was a day that changed my life!

My husband and I are both exploration geophysicists.  After nearly 30 years in our professional lives we decided to retire in 2002 to the coast of Oregon in a little town called Depoe Bay.  We both jumped into our retirement lives feet first.  Steve set up a machine shop in our garage where he worked with robotics.  My vision, however, was to help children discover the exciting world of science.  I volunteered to teach science at an after school enrichment program, The Kids Zone, that was free to all children in the Depoe Bay area.  In 2003 I applied to the IRIS Seismographs in Schools program for a seismometer for the Kids Zone.  In early 2004 we received the seismometer and I quickly set it up.  But the "now what" phase started.

Fortunately for me I received an email one day out of the blue from a man named John Lahr who stated that he was helping the schools who have received seismometers by providing hands on training.  After a few more emails, I learned that he and his wife, Jan, were traveling over the US on this venture.  My husband and I invited them to stay with us during my "training period".

The minute they arrived at the door, we were met with a strong handshake from John and a hug from Jan.  The four of us hit it off immediately.  Jan's vivacious and infectious laughter was accompanied by John's gentle smile and the sparkle in his eye every time we talked "science".  With embarrassment, John handed me his bio and "credentials" so that we would know he was "ok" and we shouldn't worry about them staying with us for a week.  I often smile when I think about his gesture.  It was typical for John to want to make others feel comfortable, but embarrassed lest we would think he was "boasting" about himself.

That was a wonderful week.  We treated them to the beautiful geology of the Oregon Coast, and John gave me intensive training on activities associated with the new AS-1 seismometer.  I was inspired!  He had a gentle teaching style,  but the twinkle in his eye showed the excitement he felt about the subject.  He was patient, but encouraging.  No question was "stupid".  Rather, he made me feel like I was "brilliant" just to be asking such a question.  Never intimidating, always making me feel as if the world revolved around me.  That was John's way.  He just naturally made others around him feel special.

 

Then I brought John in to meet "my kids".  That is when the real John Lahr came to life.  He was the proverbial Pied Piper of seismology land.  To this day, I can't explain it.  The kids were thrilled to meet him.  They wanted to be near him.  They were always underfoot as he talked about the seismometer and showed them the "magic" behind it.  They hung on his every word.  It was magical to watch.

By the time that John and Jan departed for the remainder of their US tour, we had become fast friends.  It is no exaggeration to say that John changed my life.  After seeing the excitement of the children when they recorded their first earthquake, I was hooked.  I made it my goal to put a seismometer in every school on the central coast of Oregon.  John encouraged and advised me all the way.  When my supplier for seismometers failed, John encouraged me to build my own.  With his help (and others like Chris Chapman of the UK) I have been able to build seismometers for the schools and am on my way to meeting my goal (www.OregonShakes.com).  Absolutely none of this would have been possible without John's help and gentle guidance. 

John Lahr was a vital part of the IRIS Seismographs in Schools program and had assisted in their workshops for several years.  In September of 2008, when John's illness prevented him from attending a workshop, he recommended to IRIS that I take his place.  It was heart wrenching for all of us.  John worked hard to provide me with files and information that I would need.  In fact, in the car on the way to the hospital for an upcoming surgery, he called me by cell phone to give me some last minute advice.  He wasn't worried about himself.  Instead, he only thought about the teachers that would be attending the workshop and how he could help them.

That was typical of John.  Scientific research is a competitive business.  Most scientists feel a great ownership of their ideas and contributions to the world.  But John was different.  His life was not about him.  Rather, his life was about others around him and what he could do for them.  What a golden person he was.  There will never be another John Lahr.

 

Tribute by Robert Butler, Professor of Geophysics, University of Portland

Although I only met John Lahr a few years ago, he quickly became a good friend and an inspiring collaborator on educational seismology projects. Jan Lahr often speaks of John’s sense of humor and gentle personality. Those traits permeate John’s many contributions to science education and are treasured by his collaborators and the many K-12 teachers he has helped to learn about earthquake seismology. As I sat down to write this note about John, I spotted a book titled “Wonder and Delight, Essays in Science Education” on my bookshelf. When John Lahr brought his sense of humor and gentle personality to educational seismology workshops for K-12 teachers, wonder and delight filled the room and inspired everyone to learn the science of earthquakes with a smile on their face.

John Lahr, Jenda Johnson, and I collaborated on several educational seismology workshops in Portland and southwest Washington State. I had a background in college teaching and plate tectonics, John had a wealth of expertise in earthquake seismology and operation of seismometers, and Jenda had wonderful skills in computer illustration and animation as well as videography. For me, this was a magical combination of complementary knowledge and skills. There was wonder and delight when John, Jenda, and I would brainstorm ideas for new computer animations of earthquake processes or set about organizing a workshop for teachers. We were having far too much fun working together on ways to help learners understand earthquakes and Pacific Northwest plate tectonics to worry about who came up with good ideas first. I think one of the reasons our workshops were enjoyable and effective for teachers is that our delight at working together was evident and teachers got swept up in the wonder that a simple little instrument like the AS-1 could detect strong earthquakes worldwide.

John Lahr put his gentle nature and his sense of humor to good use in his educational seismology work. He was always nurturing with people who were interested in earthquakes and gently assisted them along their path of learning. He would throw in a pun or joke to lighten the burden when his learners were struggling and needed a boost. Over and over, I was one of those learners when John and I started developing earthquake notices for K-12 teachers, an effort that I never would have tackled without John’s contributions and support. Whenever I work with Tammy Bravo on a new earthquake notice, memories of John’s sense of humor and gentle personality are an inspiration. As with other educational seismology initiatives that John Lahr started, earthquake notices will continue on as a modest tribute to the wonder and delight that John Lahr brought to seismology education.

Influential and giving people like John live on through the actions of those they have touched. Surely we are better for having known and learned from John Lahr. And we will share his ideas and inspiration with many others, so his goodness and wisdom can multiply into the future. Every time I work on an earthquake notice or other educational seismology projects, I will feel his presence.

 

Tribute by Jenda Johnson

This is so heart wrenching, and yet, a year ago John made me feel ok with his death. He taught me a lot about facing the end of life.

I met John when he and Bob Butler were holding a two-day AS-1 workshop here in Portland in 2005 for a dozen middle-school teachers. I had just been hired by the USArray project through IRIS to figure out what they needed in terms of public outreach.  I joined the Bob&John twosome and decided that with all the handouts and and pages of links to websites that it would help teachers to have everything in one place, on a cd.

Thus began the Middle School Teachers Guide to Earthquakes and Seismology. John was very active in the early days of the yet-evolving DVD. He helped me find a focus and gave much feedback on my animations. He tried to keep  me scientifically sound in an area of geoscience where i had little confidence. And i could always tell if i was off as he would tighten his chin, suppress a smile, tilt his head, and then proceed to tell me a better orientation. He was a careful editor on my hastily scribbled Animation of the Month series. The last one I sent to him he said, "you are going to put seismologists out of business. You are taking the mystery out of it."
Bob, John, and I had a very productive relationship.

I always felt an innate warmth toward the man as he has such a sense of calm and a twinkle in his eye.

 

Tribute by Alan Jones, State University of New York at Binghamton

I met John at the 1990 AGU meeting in San Francisco. I borrowed a computer from IBM that was broken. My colleague, Francis Wu, took me over to the USGS booth and talked them into letting me exhibit "Seismic" on one of their computers. I came back to the booth later to check on things and there was a note from John which said something like, "I really like your program. Can we meet?" He later sponsored me on a trip to the USGS office in Menlo Park and the rest, as they say, is history. IRIS, along with USGS, CBS News, Union Pacific Railroad, and the Smithsonian paid for future development of Seismic/Eruption and Seismic Waves.

I think it was about 1999 or so that I was asked by IRIS to write a program for the AS-1 which IRIS was beginning to distribute. The neat thing about the contract was its simplicity. I think it said something like, "Develop software for the AS-1." No specs, no guidelines. That's the way I like to work.

All through the development of those programs plus EqLocate which Larry Braile got me started on, John was always there with suggestions, bug reports and encouragement.

He was always great to work with and, in addition, a really great guy. I have been suffering with him over this last year.

 

Tribute by Michael Hubenthal, Science Education Specialist, Education and Outreach, IRIS Consortium

I personally first worked with John in 2002 at a one-day workshop  held in conjunction with the National NSTA meeting.  I was new to  IRIS at the time, so I didn't recruit John to participate in that  session but think Larry Braile may have as I am pretty sure they had  already been collaborating.  Shortly there after I provided IRIS  support for John and Tom's work on the seismometer design challenge.   I attached the article from EOS that described the effort.  After 
this we had the opportunity to collaborate regularly on professional  development workshops.  John's participation has shaped the format  and flow of the AS1 workshops, and provided many unique instructional tools that could only be developed by someone with a deep  understanding of the content and in interest in education.  Here we  frequently collaborated on incorporating these into the instructional  processes that enhanced his sessions.  John was genuinely interested  in instructional strategy, as well as content and was always  enthusiastic to try new instructional approaches and worked to  develop his "style" in front of teachers.  These instructional tools  (e.g sliced granite cores, or asperieties box) are part of his legacy 
that will continue to be apart of IRIS E&O well beyond his direct  participation.  In fact, one thing I am hoping to do (me personally  or us as a community), is to write a bunch of these "tools" up to  help attribute them to him and disseminate them more broadly.  The  NESTA journal is the perfect place for them.

 

Tribute by Alan Kafka, Director of the Boston College Educational Seismology Project, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Boston College

I have known John Lahr for a very long time, but like others who have  responded here, I am not sure exactly when I first met him.

Like others, I started using John's earthquake location programs when  I was in graduate school in the '70s, and I remember meeting him  personally at some point after that. I can definitely remember the  event (but not the exact date/location) when we first became friends,  rather than just seismology colleagues. It was about a decade ago,  after a dinner at some seismological meeting (I am almost sure it was  an Eastern Section SSA meeting), when John and I spent a long time  talking together after everybody else left the dinner room. I  remember that being the point in time when I realized that John was a  terrific person in so many ways in addition to being a terrific  scientist, and when I realized that (in the words of others who  responded here) "gentle personality" describes John well.

Another wonderful John Lahr experience that I (and my colleagues at  Weston Observatory) remember fondly was when John attended and gave  presentations at an AS1 Users Workshop that we conducted at Boston College.

John Lahr will always be an inspiration to me as a terrific scientist  and a terrific person, particularly when I need to remember that it  is possible to accomplish great things and still be a person with a  gentle personality and a sense of humor.

 

Tribute by Tom Boyd Dean of the Graduate School Graduate School Colorado School of Mines

I have known John for a long time -- although we only worked closely together for the EPICS project. I first became aware of John as a graduate student at Virginia Tech working on an analysis of error estimates produced by a variety of earthquake location algorithms - John's being one of them. When I went to Lamont and started working on Aleutian seismicity for my PhD dissertation I got to know the work that John did in Alaska. For us graduate students at Lamont, John was considered one of the elder statesmen of Alaskan seismology. While I did not work closely with him during this time, I did interact with him at several meetings (AGU and SSA). My interactions with him were always positive. He was always interested in what we were doing, where the science was leading and open in providing helpful suggestions to help guide us in our work.

I believe the genesis for the EPICS work came out of the IRIS E&O committee -- John may have proposed this to the Committee -- I know I didn't. If recollection serves, we had about 400 students working on designs for affordable classroom seismometers. Although John and I worked together, John definitely took the lead. One of the students who did exceptionally well, ultimately worked down at the PASSCAL center for the summer. I've attached an abstract, seismometer photo, and seismogram record for an instrument built by another student, Margo Rettig. It's pretty cool. After working on the project, Margo was written up in the Grand Junction Free Press (03/30/2005) as she donated her working seismometer to her old high school. Again, pretty cool....

 

 

Tribute by Larry Braile, Department Head, School of Earth & Atmospherics Sciences,
Purdue University

I don't know exactly when I first met John Lahr.  It must have been in the 70's or 80's at an AGU or SSA meeting.  I was certainly aware at that time of John's work in Alaska and his efforts with earthquake location software including documenting the hypocenter programs.  While I was chair of the IRIS Education and Outreach Committee from 1996-2001, we conducted two workshops (1997 in Breckenridge and 1999 in Yosemite) entitled "Seismologists Learning to Teach the Teachers".  At these workshops, associated with the IRIS annual workshop, we provided seismologists with information on K-12 science education and demonstrated and practiced hands-on activities for learning about earthquakes, seismology and related Earth science.  The activities are appropriate for use in K-16 education.  John attended the 1999 workshop (see photo).   Of course, he was one of the most experienced and enthusiastic participants.  By that time, several of us on the IRIS E&O committee were regularly attending the annual NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) meetings and conducting an all day workshop ("Earthquakes: A one Day Workshop for Teachers") as well as presenting one or more one hour seismology related workshops at the meeting.  John was a presenter at the 2001, 2002 and 2004 NSTA workshops. 

In 2000-2001, we started the IRIS Seismographs in Schools program using the AS-1 educational seismograph.  We asked Alan Jones to develop the software for display and analysis of the AS-1 data.  Alan did a great job and still supports and updates the software.  During the initial development of the software (and beyond), John was one of the people who tried out the software and made suggestions to Alan for improvements and new features.  John also became one of the presenters at at the IRIS AS-1 workshops that supported the Seismographs in Schools program.  I'm quite sure that John was a presenter at AS-1 workshops in Seattle, Boston and Baltimore.  He may have also presented at other AS-1 workshops.  John's testing and development, particularly related to the damping and calibration of the AS-1, have also been critical to the success of the Seismographs in Schools Program.  Of course John's own educational seismology and related activities that he developed and put on his web pages have been very useful to many teachers and geoscientists interested in enhancing their Earth science education strategies.

John was also instrumental in the development of the earthquake machine lite concept that we have used with teachers to teach about the earthquake cycle and possible approaches to earthquake prediction.  John also provided valuable feedback and suggestions in the development of the EqLocate software (http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~ajones/#EqLocate#EqLocate, http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~braile/edumod/eqlocate/tutorial.htm).  I am also grateful to John for first suggesting the use of the "This Dynamic Planet" map for a plate puzzle activitiy.  That suggestion resulted in the very popular hands-on activity called Plate Puzzle (http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~braile/edumod/platepuzz/platepuzz.htm).

Of course - no surprise to anyone who has ever met John Lahr - my interactions with John have always been intellectually stimulating and fun!  It has been an honor and a pleasure to know John and to share some experiences with him.

 

Tribute by Bill Storm, Teacher and Coordinator for Instructional Technology, Davis Joint Unified School District

First of all, I join with all of you at IRIS in sadness of the passing of our friend, John Lahr.  We wouldn't have been able to do what we did with IRIS here in Davis without his friendship and assistance.  Before becoming IT Coordinator here, I was in the classroom working with the AS-1, and so became his direct beneficiary.  What a wonderful soul he is/was.

 


John the Magician

Tribute by Ray Hyman

I first met John Lahr in the summer of 2005. He and his wife, Jan, had recently moved from Colorado to Corvallis, Oregon. John met Jerry Andrus at the Da Vinci Days celebration. They instantly became close friends. Jerry was a  world famous creator and performer of magic. He only performed magic that he had personally created and, as a result, was the only magician who could consistently fool other magicians. Jerry was also an inventor, a
creator of many outstanding optical illusions, a poet, a self-taught philosopher, and a person with an insatiable curiosity. He instantly recognized John as a kindred spirit. John and Jerry obviously had a bond with their mutual interest in magic. Even more important, however, they both had wide ranging interests including all sorts of things from science to rationality and more. John and Jerry were strongly committed to promoting a rational approach to all matters.

John came upon the scene just at the right moment for Jerry. Jerry had reached the age where he no longer felt safe driving at night. However, Jerry did not have to miss his regular attendance at magic meetings in Portland and Eugene, because John drove him to them. As Jerry's prostate cancer began causing problems, John made sure that Jerry could travel to
conventions and meetings. John even roomed with Jerry so that he could help Jerry with his various physical and medical problems.

The comfort and help that John provided was more than that of a caretaker. Even more important to Jerry's last years was the intellectual companionship that John was able to provide. I know that Jerry enjoyed the fact that John, like Jerry, was a polymath. Like Jerry, John valued reason, inquiry, and the benefits of the scientific quest.  As John's wonderful
website illustrates, John not only was an expert on earthquakes, but he was involved with many other pursuits involving science, science education, toy making, etc. Jerry and he had many rewarding exchanges.

In person, John always struck me as an unassuming and modest person.  Unlike Jerry, he did not-nor did he try to-seek attention or dominate a social setting. Yet, in his quiet way, he projected an image of confidence and competence. Somehow, you always knew that when you were in his company, you were interacting with a very special individual. I was a close friend of Jerry Andrus for 50 years. My life has been immensely enriched by this friendship.  I had only a few years to benefit from John's friendship.  In his quiet and unassuming way John has enhanced the quality of my life as I assume he has that of many, many others.

Click on the photo below to see a brief video that Ray Hyman made of John Lahr at a magic meeting in Eugene on September 25, 2006. The person on John's left is Jerry Andrus.

Below is another photo submitted by Jeanine DeNorma of John and his friend, Jerry Andrus.


John and the Oregonians for Science and Reason (O4SR)

Below is John (a board member of O4SR) receiving an an Outstanding Services Award  at the 2009 annual meeting of Oregonians for Science and Reason in Portland for all he has done for the organization over the past few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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