User:David Shear

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David Shear died on April 21, 2007. See Deceased Wikipedians for further information. His user page is preserved here.


I got a B.A. from Swarthmore College (PA) in 1959 with majors in math and biology, and minors in chemistry and philosophy, and then a Ph.D. in biophysics from Brandeis Univ. in 1966. I did postdoctoral work at the State Univ. of NY at Buffalo, spent two years in the Physics Department at the Univ. of Georgia (Athens), then much too long in the non-mathematical biochemistry department at the Univ. of Missouri at Columbia. I escaped and am now in the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. My son and his wife are also faculty members in the same department (Chemistry and Biochemistry).

In 1965, my classmate and friend Theodor Nelson invented the concept of hypertext, described in his 1977 book "Computer Lib/Dream Machines". At Swarthmore, he used to distill ethanol in his dorm room over a candle flame and hide it in plain view as colored Lavoris.

I have wide interests and have taught courses on subjects from physics and biochemistry to creative writing and the Nuclear Arms Race (1985-87). I was art editor of my college yearbook and am an amateur photographer. While I was a graduate student in the early 1960s, I performed part time as a folksinger, and still play classical guitar.

My father was one of the pioneers in cancer chemotherapy and the study of carcinogenesis. He spent most of his career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, which is where I grew up.

I got into Wikipedia in Sept., 2005, after picking up information for a monograph I'm assembling on polymers, plastics and fibers (not my area of research). My interest in the history of science led me into writing about John Dalton and atomic theory, and about Semmelweis, Lister, Pasteur and Jenner and the origins of aseptic surgery and vaccines. My daughter-in-law, who teaches web design (as well as chemistry) urged me to post some of this material on Wikipedia, since I was putting so much work into it.

Mathematics remains a major interest. Glancing at the Wiktionary entries on asymptotes, integers, whole numbers, aleph-null and aleph-one, I was drawn into rewording them. Last spring, I sat in on graduate and undergraduate courses on complex analysis, a subject I hadn't worked at since 1957. This semester I'm sitting in on a physics programming course. My principal research interests are in the foundations of thermodynamics (the entropy of gases and "Gibbs Paradox") and nonlinear dynamics.

In 1972 I published a science fiction novel, Cloning, the first serious book on the subject since Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in 1932. I predicted everything that has happened so far (25 years before Dolly the sheep), including current attempts to grow replacement organs from stem cells. This short novel also examines the mind-body problem in philosophy and the nature of personal identity. There is an analysis of the criteria for death, and of the abortion issue, plus a sub-plot on the right for sentient androids to be considered persons under the law.

I have my own notions on the origin of viruses and on the clonal selection theory of antibody formation. Also (from the pen of Max Planck) on the fact that all light is heat, and that chloroplasts are small heat engines. By inclination, my attention turns to the logical foundations of a subject. I have a very direct way of explaining entropy — the most important concept that people are still ignorant of — based on nonequilibrium thermodynamics (going back to the "uncompensated heat" of Clausius circa 1870), and on the Shannon-Jaynes information-theoretic definition, whose math originated with Boltzmann and Gibbs.

I hadn't put much thought into systematic biology since I took a course on invertebrate biology in 1959. I did advance a new theory about how muscles develop force in 1969 & 1970. The cross-bridge thing can't be right because there are no thick filaments in vertebrate smooth muscle, nor in many other phylogenetic types, such as molluscan catch muscle.

My first Wikipedia posting was a revision of the article on Lake Pontchartrain, whose storm surge flooded New Orleans. I've added to articles on chloroplasts, the Calvin Cycle, Protista, genetics, reptiles, and I'm preparing an expansion of articles on cloning and hurricanes (tropical cyclones), trying to give a good word picture of convection-cell structure and the role of the latent heat of water condensation. I'll work on the one on free energy as well. Although I like writing, it's slow going, and I can't spend all my time on this. I hope Wikipedia attracts an increasing number of scholars who will do a good job, including people of my generation.

This all sounds so serious. I also write dark humor and political satire as a defense against the press of external events.

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