Ed grew up in Seattle in the 1950s, the son of a Boeing aerospace engineer and a mother who was passionate about gardening. He loved to swim, play the accordion, and conduct “science” experiments in the backyard, most of which involved something that might blow up if handled wrong. He invited his grade school friends to his parents’ basement to watch what liquid nitrogen did to common household items (it exploded them), and he spent hours in the summer collecting varieties of plants and insects and looking at them under a microscope. He was on the swim team in high school, and entered and placed highly in science fairs every year. When it was time to go to college, he chose a local private school with a strong biology program as well as an excellent swim team, and did well. He went to the University of California at Berkeley for his master’s degree and doctorate in biology, and graduated in 1972 with more than a dozen job offers both in business and academia. But staying in the US was not even on the table.
In his second to last year at Berkeley, he met Lilia, a doctoral student in inorganic biology from Chile. He was 24 and deeply in love; she spoke English with a charming accent and was beautiful with her long dark hair and graceful movements. She was his most serious relationship ever, and there was no question in his mind: he would follow her home to Chile. She didn’t want to stay in the States; she had a job waiting for her as a full professor in the biology department at a Santiago university. It was the most exciting city in the world, she told Ed; besides, she was from Santiago and all her family were there. She said he could easily land a job in at the university, teaching graduate students. She was right. He got an assistant professor job before they landed in Santiago, and had six months of intensive language study before his first class. They had a Catholic wedding, and got an apartment near the university in a lively neighborhood where musicians and artists lived and worked.
It was exhilarating to be in Santiago. Lilia’s family was welcoming, and his students were engaged and dedicated. The scientific community worldwide published in English, and English was the language of international conferences or from his international colleagues. Ed did not feel isolated from the latest discoveries in his field. The university encouraged his field work and experiments, and gave him time, resources, and space to devote to them. He published extensively in biology journals.
Ed and Lilia’s first child arrived in 1976, and their next in 1980. They moved to a larger apartment, and had live-in nannies and maids. They loved their children, and spent what time they had, apart from their work, with them. But it was clear that their passion was their work. Lilia was a highly-regarded teacher, and even more in demand as an international conference speaker. She published articles frequently in international biology journals, and had steady stream of income from consulting work with manufacturing companies and governments regarding the environmental effects of manufacturing by-products. She traveled extensively throughout the world.
Ed’s career was quieter. He loved the curiosity and intelligence of his students, and got inspiration from working with them on research projects. He sometimes was invited to speak at international conferences, but he was content to be home with the children while Lilia traveled, and to focus on his laboratory at the university, and his students. He delighted in her success, and didn’t feel that it took away from his. He took the long trip to Seattle to visit his parents and sisters once every summer for a month or so, and took the children. Lilia sometimes came for a few days or a week, too. In this way, the years went by.
Ed mostly didn’t miss living in Seattle or the States. His world was his family and his students and his research. He told himself that he could live anywhere, as long as he had Lilia and the kids, and his work. The wild swings of the Chilean economy in the 1970s leveled out in the 1980s and 1990s, and his and Lilia’s salaries continued to increase. He was happy, and even happier when he could go with some of his doctoral students to his mountain cabin in Cerro Arenas, a few hours away from Santiago, and conduct yeast experiments.
One day in 2000, when Ed was in his fifties and the children were grown, Sergio,
his university department head, met with him regarding his research and his teaching. It’s a new day for us, Sergio said, what with the recession and cutbacks in our government funding, we don’t have the money we used to have for theoretical research. We are going to have to show some practical application for your research if we want to keep getting it funded. I’ve been under a lot of pressure from the university president, he said, and I’ve been shielding you from it for a couple of years now because students like you and your classes are popular.
Sergio said Ed needed to choose research that had immediate practical application, publish his research results much more than he had been, and change his curriculum to focus on the Science Ministry’s new guidelines for master’s degree students in biology. Ed had seen the guidelines, and had dismissed them as simplistic and so directed to practical applications that the underlying science was given very short shrift.
Sergio gave Ed three months to “turn things around” as he called it. And then what? Ed said. What if I don’t, or can’t? Let’s talk about that in three months, Sergio said. He turned to his computer and started reading email. Ed was still sitting in front of Sergio’s desk, staring at his intriguing sculpture of the periodic table. It was the work of a well-known Chilean sculptor, given to Sergio by the CEO of one of the country’s large oil companies. The company had also given the university a large grant to work on improved chemical means of purifying crude oil.
“That’s all, Ed,” Sergio said. “Let me know if you need anything from me as you go through this.” Ed got up and left the office. He knew he couldn’t do what Sergio wanted, and he knew that Sergio knew it too. His work was over here, and it was over far sooner than Ed wanted it to be. His work. He had been naïve to think that his delighted playing with experiments, his sharing with students, his enthusiasm for the pure job of doing science, could last in the new Chile, the international economic powerhouse Chile. Yes, he had a state-protected job until he was 65, but he wouldn’t be teaching. Sergio would hire someone else who could bring in grant money, and Ed would lose his lab and his students. Sergio would say that he was looking for a position for Ed, but there wouldn’t be one; he would be counting on Ed just to leave.
To be continued...