April 2019 President Message

by Steven G. Zylstra

You might say Clyde Tombaugh was literally starstruck when he worked to help put Arizona on the map in the world of astronomy. 

What? You’ve never heard of him? His was a story filled with persistence and alertness. 

Although he wanted to pursue astronomy after an uncle loaned him a telescope, a lack of funds kept Tombaugh out of college and forced him to build his own telescopes. Drawings of the planets Mars and Jupiter that he made with the help of those homemade telescopes caught the attention of staff at Lowell Observatory. As a result, Tombaugh was hired to conduct planet-search photography in Flagstaff, with a focus on finding “Planet-X” at the edge of the solar system. 

Did he find anything? We recently marked the 89th anniversary of his discovery that came to be known as Pluto, at the time considered the ninth planet. Tombaugh did this just a few weeks after his 24th birthday. (You can bet getting a scholarship to attend college wasn’t a problem after that.)

Regardless of Pluto later being reclassified as a dwarf planet, there is no discounting Tombaugh’s discovery still was a breakthrough of major proportions. In fact, he was recognized recently by members of the Arizona Senate as an example of the tremendous contributions that the state’s scientific community make.

In their resolution, the senators cited Arizona’s rich history of scientific discovery and excellence that now is sustained by a new generation. They include scientists ranging from those who make major contributions that support the health and well-being of our citizens through biomedical and clinical research to those who explore and protect Arizona’s history through their work in the field of archaeology.

In addition, innovators involved with water conservation, one of the most pressing issues facing Arizona’s citizens and economy today, were credited with thinking of new solutions. Also, the state’s scientists and engineers are helping make the state safer through infrastructure research and construction.

The legacy established by Tombaugh and other pioneers continues with nearly 100,000 scientists and engineers working in Arizona as of 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The resulting culture of excellence has become a draw credited with more than 4,000 technology-sector jobs being added here in 2017. 

The resolution cites that all scientific work done in Arizona benefits our citizens directly and indirectly since the strong relationship between scientists and the state improves life for everyone. More specifically, while Arizona’s scientific community fuels economic growth through innovation, the results of scientific inquiry also promote health and prosperity. Take a look at Arizona’s thriving economy as proof.

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