Today, we'll meet some parents and their children.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
A group of high-school math
teachers asked me to a recent meeting. They
wondered how to get more girls to study math. So I
went to astronaut Bonnie Dunbar for help. She did
her PhD in our department, and she's flown where
few of us will ever go.
She told us what'd led her to engineering. She grew
up on a Washington farm. She rode her father's
tractor with him. She helped him repair farm
equipment. He honored her natural ability. She had
no need to doubt herself.
That rang a bell. I went back through biographies
of creative people. Sure enough, behind one after
another I found parents who honored their
children's ability. You see it in famous people.
But you also see it in your friends and neighbors.
Meet Martin Symons. He was born a dirt farmer at
the end of the Civil War. He began as a laborer.
Then he found his way into a water treatment plant.
By 1909, he was the chief engineer.
Martin Symons became a distinguished sanitary
engineer with hardly any schooling. His son George,
born in 1903, was raised in the shadow of the
plant. He worked the night shift in the filtration
plant all through high school. It was the family
trade. By 1932 he'd earned a PhD in the subject.
George Symons did sanitary engineering and wrote
about it as well. At 70, he became president of the
American Waterworks Association. Today he's almost
90 and still active. He's written 500 articles on
George was still in school when his only son, Jim,
was born. Jim also grew up in the family trade. He
went into civil engineering. He hadn't meant to
study water quality. But the subject kept appearing
in his classes. It splashed over his mind and drew
him back to it. In the end, he also had a PhD in
Jim Symons now teaches at the University of
Houston. He's devoted his life to killing microbes
in drinking water without making it carcinogenic.
He holds the EPA Distinguished Career Award for his
Finally we reach the great-great-grand-daughter,
Linda. She did her PhD in cell biology. She has
come, at length, to the theory behind water-quality
So I honor two farmers. I honor their eye -- for
the beauty of the world and for the potential of
their children. One gave us an astronaut. The other
gave us a dynasty of environmental concern. Both
tell us that the inventive minds of our children
shape our world -- but only as long as we have the
wits to see how much is there.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds