By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Specialist, Society for Science & the Public
After seeing a photo of himself with Eleanor Roosevelt during the Science Talent Search on the back page of the Spring 2011 SSP Newsletter, Ken Ford (STS 1944) recently joined and reconnected with SSP. “It was a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful experience,” he says of the week where he met 39 other like-minded Finalists along with scientists who inspired and encouraged him. He became a Finalist after writing an essay on the passage of charged particles through gases.
Decades later, Ken is still writing about science and recently published a new book, 101 Quantum Questions: What You Need to Know About the World You Can't See, to help lay readers and scientists alike better understand quantum reality. According to Publishers Weekly, “By using humor and straight talk to answer questions that often bedevil the non-scientist who attempts to grasp this knotty subject, Ford has created an entertaining read and an excellent companion piece to more detailed popular treatments of modern physics.”
Ken is no stranger to physics or to writing books. After earning his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton, he stayed in academia, teaching and researching. However, his career then took some unexpected turns as he served as the President of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, President of Molecular Biophysics Technology, Inc., and the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics, among other positions. “I like to say I had a checkered career,” he says, joking that his varied career is a result of his inability to say the word “no.”
Even in retirement, he has kept busy. “In order to fill this gap of time and build my energies to something after retirement, I started writing.” He collaborated with a friend, the physicist John Archibald Wheeler, on Wheeler's autobiography, published a book on quantum theory that has since been translated into five other languages, and even wrote a memoir, In Love with Flying, covering his 50 years of flying small planes and gliders.
“The idea of doing nothing, or just relaxing, or just traveling, or just reading, has not been at all appealing to me,” Ken says, which is why in addition to writing, he also continues to teach through online tutoring. “Working with students is the most rewarding thing in the world,” he says, adding that it doesn’t matter what kinds of students he is working with, “from 14-year-olds in ninth grade to graduate students working on their dissertations, they are all different but they are all wonderful.”
He also often shares his wisdom from his many years of experience across different fields, advising his students: “Follow your heart, follow your passion. Don’t think about where the jobs are, don’t think about where the money is, think about what really interests you and go for it.”