Forrest Mims preparing an Estes Big Bertha model rocket for launch near Saigon, Vietnam in 1967.
|Born||Forrest Marion Mims III
1944 (age 69–70)
Houston, Texas, United States
|Known for||Amateur scientist, electronics writer and intelligent design advocate|
Forrest M. Mims III is an amateur scientist, magazine columnist, and author of the popular Getting Started in Electronics and Engineer's Mini-Notebook series of instructional books that was originally sold in Radio Shack electronics stores. Mims graduated from Texas A&M University in 1966 with a major in government and minors in English and history. He became a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force.
Although he has no formal academic training in science, Mims has had a successful career as a science author, researcher, lecturer and syndicated columnist. His series of electronics books sold over 7 million copies and he is widely regarded as one of the world's most prolific citizen scientists. Mims does scientific studies in many fields using instruments he designs and makes and he has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, often with professional scientists as co-authors. Much of his research deals with ecology and environmental science. A simple instrument he developed to measure the ozone layer earned him a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 1993. In December 2008 Discover named Mims one of the "50 Best Brains in Science."
Mims edited The Citizen Scientist — the journal of the Society for Amateur Scientists — from 2003 to 2010. He is also the Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science. He also teaches electronics and atmospheric science at the University of the Nations, an unaccredited Christian university in Hawaii. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the National Science Teachers Association and several scientific societies. Mims is an advocate for Intelligent Design and serves as a Fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design and the Discovery Institute. He is also a skeptic of global warming.
Early life and education
Forrest Mims was born in 1944 in Houston, Texas to Forrest M. Mims, Jr. (1923–1996) and Ollieve E. (Dunn) Mims (1924–1995). He was the oldest of five children, two boys and three girls. Mims' father was an Air Force pilot and the family lived on military bases from Alaska to Florida but their home state was Texas.
Mims was interested in science at an early age, and he built an analog computer as a high school science fair project in 1960. While memorizing his Latin class vocabulary words, Mims conceived a computer that could translate twenty words from one language to another. The input was six potentiometers (variable resistors) each having a dial with 26 letters. Entering the first six letters of the word on the potentiometers set a total electrical resistance. The memory of known words was a bank of 20 screwdriver-adjustable trimmer resistors. (Mims later referred to this as "Screwdriver-Programmable Read Only Memory", SPROM.) The memory was searched by a motor driven switch that compared the resistance of the input word with each memory resistor. When a match was found the motor would stop and one of 20 output lamps would be on. This was not a practical language translator, but it was an impressive science fair project for the early 1960s. Mims wrote an article for the December 1987 issue of Modern Electronics describing his homebrew analog computer complete with schematics and photographs.
Mims entered Texas A&M University in the fall of 1962 as a physics major. The mathematics courses convinced him to major in liberal arts. He graduated in 1966 with a major in government with minors in English and history. When Mims started at Texas A&M it was an all male military school. In 1964 the university began admitting women and membership in the Corps of Cadets became optional.
Mims pursued his electronics avocation while at A&M. His great-grandfather was blind, and this led Mims to create a travel aid for the blind. This device was similar to RADAR, except it used the newly developed infrared-emitting diode to send intense pulses of light that reflected from obstacles. The returned light was converted to an audio tone that increased in amplitude as the distance to the obstacles was reduced. The infrared diodes had just been introduced by Texas Instruments in 1965 and sold for $365 each. Mims visited Dr. Edwin Bonin of Texas Instruments and explained his project. After reviewing the finished design, Dr. Bonin sent Mims three infrared-emitting diodes.
Mims arranged to exhibit his prototype at the annual Texas Medical Association convention held in Austin in April 1966. Wearing his Texas A&M Corps of Cadets uniform, Mims demonstrated his "electronic eyes" to the convention attendees. Mims and his device were widely reported in Texas newspapers. The San Antonio Light wrote, "Although a political science major at A&M, Mims's second interest obviously is 'science and inventing things.'" Mims would continue to improve this device over the next several years. Popular Mechanics described how the device would fit on a pair of eyeglasses in August 1972
Air Force and MITS
After graduating from Texas A&M in 1966, Mims became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, Vietnam as an intelligence officer in early 1967. Mims had been interested in model rocketry since high school and brought a supply of rockets to Vietnam. He used a nearby horse racing track as a launch site to test his rocket guidance systems. After an Army helicopter gunship came to check out the rocket launches, Mims learned to notify military authorities before launching rockets at the race track. A night launch from the roof of his apartment house caused an alert at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Mims' rocket exploits were reported in the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
Mims tested his infrared travel aid at the Saigon School for Blind Boys and Girls in Saigon and the story appeared in many U.S. newspapers. Colonel David R. Jones of the Air Force Weapons Laboratory learned of Mims's experiments on a trip to Vietnam and arranged for Mims to be assigned to the Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Colonel Jones had to make special arrangements because Mims did not have the required engineering degree. Mims arrived at the lab in March 1968 and worked on various laser projects.
Mims organized the Albuquerque Model Rocketry Club to interest students in model rocketry. The club soon had 40 members and held meetings at Del Norte High School and the Albuquerque Academy. In July 1969 several club members attended the Southwestern Model Rocket Conference at Eastern New Mexico University. George Flynn, Publisher of Model Rocketry magazine, attended the conference where he interviewed Mims and some of the club members. The club president, high school student Ford Davis, gave a presentation on a miniature radio transmitter developed by the club that could relay data from a model rocket in flight. Mims, the club's senior advisor, told Flynn about the various sensors and telemetry equipment used by the club. Flynn invited Mims to write an article about his "Transistorized Tracking Light for Night Launched Model Rockets" and it was published in the September 1969 issue of Model Rocketry. Mims earned $93.50 for his first article as a professional writer and became a regular contributor to Model Rocketry.
Ed Roberts worked with Mims at the Weapons Laboratory and was also interested in electronics and model rockets. Roberts augmented his Air Force salary with an off-duty company, Reliance Engineering. Mims, Roberts and two other co-workers decided they could design and sell model rocket electronics kits to hobbyists. The December 1969 issue of Model Rocketry carried a press release written by Mims announcing that Reliance Engineering had formed a subsidiary company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. They designed and built the telemetry modules in their homes and garages but they were only able to sell a few hundred units.
Mims background in the new technology of light-emitting diodes allowed him to sell a feature story to Popular Electronics magazine. Their monthly circulation was 400,000 readers compared to Model Rocketry circulation of 15,000. The five-page article would give an overview of the device physics and typical applications; it would be featured on the November 1970 cover. Mims asked the editors if they also wanted a project story and they agreed. Ed Roberts and Mims developed an LED communicator that would transmit voice on an infrared beam of light to a receiver hundreds of feet away. Readers could buy a kit of parts to build the Opticom LED Communicator from MITS for $15. MITS sold just over hundred kits. MITS was not making money on the kits and magazine articles paid $400. Mims was out of the Air Force and wanted to pursue a career as a technology writer. Roberts bought out his original partners and focused the company on emerging market of electronic calculators. The January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics featured Roberts' Altair 8800 computer. Roberts asked Mims to write the Altair 8800 user’s manual in return for an assembled Altair, which Mims donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in 1987.
Les Solomon, the Technical Editor of Popular Electronics, liked to meet the magazine's authors. When he was on vacation in 1970 he visited Forrest Mims and Ed Roberts in New Mexico. Solomon gave them advice on selling project kits such as the "Opticom LED Communicator" but Mims was really interested in becoming a full-time writer. Solomon explained the magazine publishing business and helped Mims get articles placed in Popular Electronics. Mims also wrote for other magazines; "Experiment With a $32 Solid State Laser" was featured on the June 1972 cover of Radio-Electronics. In October 1975 Mims convinced Art Salsberg, Editor of Popular Electronics, to offer him a monthly column, the "Experimenter's Corner". He later added two additional columns, "Project of the Month" and "Solid-State Developments". Mims wrote for this magazine until it ceased publication in April 1985. Meanwhile, Salsberg had started another hobbyist magazine, Modern Electronics; and Mims wrote a monthly column and was a contributing editor.
In the 1970s, electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, transistors and even integrated circuits were common enough that interesting projects could be constructed at home with simple tools. The Radio Shack stores sold books that featured projects that could be constructed using the components that were being sold in their stores. In 1972 Mims wrote two hobbyist project books for Radio Shack. His books could be understood by hobbyists and were illustrated with hand-drawn schematics diagrams and hand-lettered text. This style proved popular and Radio Shack commissioned 36 books between 1972 and 2003. By the 1990s, components became smaller and it was difficult to assemble electronics projects with low-cost hand-tools. The interest in electronic kits and experiments declined, and in 2003 Radio Shack scaled back their project books and components.
Mims has written for wide variety of general-interest and technical magazines. In the 1990s he started writing about atmospheric science and his measurements of ultraviolet radiation and the Earth's ozone layer. More than twenty of his papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
In May 1988 Mims wrote to Scientific American proposing that he take over The Amateur Scientist column, which needed a new editor. Despite concern about his views, he was asked to write some sample columns, which he did in 1990. Mims was not offered the position, due, Mims alleges, to his Christian and creationist views. The ACLU of Texas offered to take his case, but he declined.
In 2006 Mims expressed concern with a March 3, 2006 lecture by scientist Eric Pianka. In this lectures at the 109th Annual Meeting of the Texas Academy of Science held at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Mims alleges that Pianka advocated genocide with a genetically enhanced Ebola virus with the goal of exterminating up to 90% of the human population. Pianka has stated that Mims took his statements out of context and that Pianka was explaining what would happen from biological principles alone if present human population trends continue, and that he was not in any way advocating that it happen.
Using LEDs as narrow band light sensors
Among Forrest Mims' many accomplishments, he was the first person to realize that light-emitting diodes (LEDs) had the ability to not only emit light, but also to sense light. This dual-action (emission/detection) of LEDs or “Mims Effect” was unknown before his discovery.
Mims' interest in LEDs began in 1962, when he was experimenting with photosensitive devices and discovered the inverse effect. In the "Backscatter" section in an online issue of The Citizen Scientist, Mims describes this himself:
While a high school senior in 1962, I first got the idea that light sensors should be able to double as light detectors. So I connected an automobile ignition coil to a cadmium sulfide photoresistor, switched on the power, and observed bright flashes of green light emitted by the semiconductor. The green flashes were distinctively different from the yellow flashes of an electrical arc.
Mims also continued his investigations into the dual use of LEDs while in college:
While studying government (my major) in college, I found that certain silicon photodiodes can emit near-infrared radiation that can be detected by similar photodiodes. I managed to send modulated tones between such photodiodes. In 1971 I demonstrated the ability of many LEDs to detect light while experimenting with an optical fiber communication system. By placing a single LED at each end of the fiber, it was possible to send signals both ways through the fiber with only a single, dual purpose semiconductor device at each end of the fiber.
In 1980, Mims demonstrated the dual use concept of LEDs by building a bi-directional LED voice-communication circuit that allowed two people to transmit speech optically through the air and also through a 100-meter section of optical fiber. This demonstration was done at 1325 L Street in Washington D.C. —the same site where Alexander Graham Bell invented lightwave communications 100 years earlier. Present for the demonstration, which was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, were representatives from National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution and Bell Labs. Bell first demonstrated his Photophone on 3 June 1880.
In addition to utilizing the dual-mode use of LEDs for communication, Mims decided to utilize the dual use of LEDs to perform measurements on specific properties of the atmosphere. In a paper published in Applied Optics (1992), entitled “Sun Photometer with light-emitting diodes as spectrally selective filters”, Mims describes how LEDs can function as light detectors. In 2002, Mims followed with another LED sun photometer paper, “An inexpensive and stable LED Sun photometer for measuring the water vapor column over South Texas from 1990 to 2001”.
Among his many electronics books written for Radio Shack, Mims developed several electronics kits for them. One kit in particular made use of the "Mims Effect" of LEDs, by utilizing 5 LEDs acting as narrow band light sensors to perform atmospheric analysis. Dubbed the Sun & Sky Monitoring Station, this kit — of which 12,000 units were sold — allowed the user to make sophisticated scientific measurements, including measuring the amount of sunlight, atmospheric haze, atmospheric water vapor, amount of PAR (Photosynthetic Radiation), and the ET (Extraterrestrial Constant). The Sun & Sky Monitoring Station is no longer carried by Radio Shack.
Mims discovery of the dual use of LEDs opened up a whole world of applications, including a commercially available instrument called MicroTOPS II  which uses narrow band filters and photodiodes as detectors.
Forrest Mims has participated in forming a science-focused team in his three children. Daughter Sarah used kite-held smoke-and-spore sampling to keep the collection high away from local ground and airs while verifying the remote conditioning of the wind. Forrest had participated in setting up a stand on the ground for sampling the winds, but Sarah wanted to remove local-air-and-ground influences.
- Mims, Forrest M (1986). Siliconnections: Coming of Age in the Electronic Era. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-042411-1.
- Jeter, Stephanie (April 2009). "Curiosity In Motion". True Maroon. The Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
- 'Country Scientist' starting column today in Express-News ForrestMims.org, October 30, 2006
- Schlesinger, Victoria (December 2008). "The Amateur Scientists Who Might Cure Cancer—From Their Basements". Discover Magazine. "There may be no amateur scientist more prolific than Forrest M. Mims III, 64, of south central Texas"
- Powell, Corey S. (December 2008). "The 50 Most Important, Influential, and Promising People in Science". Discover Magazine: 46.
- "Watchmen for the World" (PDF). Transformations 3. 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-12.
- "Forrest M. Mims III". The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID). Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- "Forrest M. Mims, Fellow — CSC". Discovery Institute. Retrieved 2010-11-16.
- Temperature doesn’t affect global warming Forrest Mims, Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, September 1, 1999. Publications, ForrestMims.org
- Questions and Answers About Climate Change at the Wayback Machine (archived February 4, 2011) Forrest M. Mims III. Citizen Scientist, Society for Amateur Scientists, March 11, 2005
- Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.
- Heard, Robert (April 20, 1966). "Glasses For Blind Developed". Amarillo Globe Times (Amarillo, Texas). p. 31.
- Mims, Forrest (December 1987). "A Homebrew Analog Computer". Modern Electronics 4 (12): pp. 39–41. ISSN 0748-9889.
- Mims (1986), 3-5.
- "New Device Helps The Blind". The San Antonio Light. April 15, 1966. p. 2.
- Gallager, Sheldon M. (August 1972). "Electronic 'eyes' let the sightless 'see'". Popular Mechanics (Hearst Magazines) 138 (2): pp. 86–88. ISSN 0032-4558.
- Mims, Forrest M. (January 1970). "Model Rocketry in Vietnam". Model Rocketry (Cambridge, MA: Model Rocketry, Inc) 2 (4): pp. 23–25.
- "There Is No Substitute For Talent". Pacific Stars and Stripes (Tokyo, Japan) 23 (291): p. 9. October 19, 1967.
- Winchester, James H. (October 12, 1967). "The World Around Us Today". Times-Bulletin (Van Wert, Ohio). Central Press Association. p. 14. Feature story on Forrest Mims' work at School for Blind Boys
- "Soldier Invents Seeing Aid". Cedar Rapids Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). June 25, 1967. p. 17A. Photograph of nine-year-year old Le Quang Manh of the Saigon School for Blind Boys with Mims' obstacle-sensing device.
- Mims (1986), 61–69.
- Carlin, Margie (January 30, 1970). "Want to Fly a Rocket? Albq Academy Is the Pad". The Albuquerque Tribune. p. B–10.
- Flynn, George J. (September 1969). "Southwestern Model Rocket Conference". Model Rocketry (Cambridge, MA: Model Rocketry, Inc) 1 (11): pp. 14–16.
- Mims, Forrest M. (September 1969). "Transistorized Tracking Light for Night Launched Model Rockets". Model Rocketry (Cambridge, MA: Model Rocketry, Inc) 1 (11): pp. 9–11.
- Mims (1986), 28.
- "New Product Notes". Model Rocketry (Cambridge, MA: Model Rocketry, Inc) 2 (3): p. 37. December 1969.
- Mims (1986), 27–32.
- Magazines sent through the U.S. Post Office were required to print a statement of ownership and circulation once a year. The January 1971 Popular Electronics stated the average circulation was 382,910 while the January 1971 Model Rocketry stated their circulation was 14,500.
- Mims, Forrest (November 1970). "Light-emitting Diodes". Popular Electronics (Ziff Davis) 33 (5): pp.35–43.
- Mims, Forrest; Henry E Roberts (November 1970). "Assemble an LED Communicator - The Opticom". Popular Electronics (Ziff Davis) 33 (5): pp. 45–50, 98–99.
- Mims (1986), 33-36.
- "MITS and Mims". Computers and Electronics (Ziff-Davis) 23 (1): p. 60. January 1985. ISSN 0032-4485. Dr. Uta C. Merzback visited Mims to request donations to the Smithsonian. "He [Mims] also has an Altair, which still runs and is in excellent condition, given to him by Ed Roberts in return for writing the machine's operating manual."
- "Altair Computer, 1975". Computer History Collection. Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Retrieved May 27, 2011. NMAH Object ID: 1987.0066.01. This Altair 8800 was displayed in the Information Age exhibit from 1990 to 2006.
- Mims, Forrest (June 1972). "Experiment With a $32 Solid State Laser". Radio-Electronics 43 (6): pp. 44–51.
- Mims (1986), 172, 199.
- Mims, Forrest (1972). Introduction to Electronics. Radio Shack.
- Mims, Forrest (1972). Introduction To Transistors & Transistor Projects. Radio Shack.
- Mims, Forrest (2003). Sun and Sky Monitoring Station. Radio Shack.
- David, Mark (December 18, 2003). "A Gift Of Hobby Electronics Inspires Future Engineers". Electronic Design 51 (28). ISSN 0013-4872.
- Campbell, Ralph; Mims, Forrest (September 1972). Semiconductor Diode Lasers. W.Foulsham. ISBN 0-572-00820-1.
- Roberts, H. Edward; Forrest Mims (1974). Electronic Calculators. Indianapolis: Howard W Sams. ISBN 978-0-672-21039-6.
- "The Amp Hour #171 - An Interview with Forrest Mims - Snell Solisequious Scientist". The Amp Hour. The Amp Hour. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
- FM Mims III, Sunspots and How to Observe Them Safely, Scientific American, 262, 6, pp. 130-133, June 1990
- FM Mims III, How to Monitor Ultraviolet Radiation from the Sun, Scientific American, 263, 2, pp. 106-109, August 1990.
- FM Mims III, A Remote-Control Camera that Catches the Wind and Captures the Landscape, Scientific American, 263, 2, pp. 126-129, October 1990.
- Sharpe, Patricia (January 1991). "Big Bang". Texas Monthly (Emmis Communications) 19 (1): 40–43. ISSN 0148-7736.
- Talk.Origins page on the Scientific American controversy
- Defending Darwinism: How Far is Too Far?. Origins Research 13:1. Hartwig, Mark
- Mobley, Jamie (2006-04-05). "The Gazette-Enterprise". Retrieved 29 November 2010. -broken link. Likeliest alternative:Academy of Science responds to critics
- Dziekan, Mike (6 February 2009). "Using Light-Emitting Diodes as Sensors". The Citizen Scientist: Feature. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
- "LEDs as Light Detectors". The Citizen Scientist: Backscatter. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
- "Photophone". A Collection of Historical Articles: Bell - The Photophone. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
- "Sun Photometer". Sun Photometer with light-emitting diodes as spectrally selective filters. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
- "Radio Shack". Radio Shack. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
- Greaves, Sheldon. "Sun & Sky Monitoring Station". The Citizen Scientist: Book Reviews. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
- Dziekan, Mike. "The Sun & Sky Monitoring Station's Calculation Worksheets". The Citizen Scientist: Feature 2. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
- "MicroTOPS II Ozonmeter". MicroTOPS II Ozonemeter. Retrieved 2009-11-19.
- A Scientific Family http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/SmokeSecret/smoke_secret4.php
- Forrest Mims's biography page
- Forrest Mims's science page
- Society for Amateur Scientists at the Wayback Machine (archived December 17, 2010)
- Mims is the author of a series of electronics puzzles
- PZ Myers comments on Pianka v. Mims on Pharyngula.
- Commentary on the Mims and Pianka controversy by James Redford.