Geology & Geophysics News

Physicist and Former Congressman Vernon Ehlers Dead at 83

A staunch supporter of science, Ehlers worked as a research scientist before going into politics.

By

Vernon Ehlers, a moderate Republican who represented a district in western Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2011, died on 15 August. As a congressman, Ehlers was a vigorous proponent of science, environmental protection, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

In 1998, as vice chairman of the House Committee on Science, Ehlers led a comprehensive review of the nation’s science and technology policy and the government’s role in funding scientific research. The report that emerged from that review, entitled Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy, included dozens of recommendations to help the United States maintain and improve its science and technology leadership and utilize science for meeting societal needs in the country and abroad.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who served in Congress with Ehlers, said in a statement, “They don’t make them like Vern anymore. He was so well respected on both sides of the aisle, hard-working, and always a teacher at heart. He committed his life to the service of others—ensuring our students were well prepared for careers in math and science and raising awareness for protecting our environment and Great Lakes.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) tweeted, “Saddened by the passing of my former colleague Vern Ehlers. He was respected on both sides of the aisle and represented W MI w/ distinction.”

Rush Holt, a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives who is now chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fondly remembered Ehlers as a fellow physicist serving in Congress. “With his good humor and consistent smile, Vern welcomed me as the second member of the bipartisan physics caucus, saying we could meet anywhere—even in a phone booth—as long as it had a blackboard where we could discuss such things as the quadrupole moment of the nucleus, or impedance matching of simple machines, or congressional debates,” Holt said.

Ehlers’s son Todd, who is a member of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), which publishes Eos.org, followed in his father’s footsteps to the sciences. Todd Ehlers is a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Tübingen in Germany and former editor in chief of the AGU journal Tectonics.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), Physicist and former congressman Vernon Ehlers dead at 83, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO080269. Published on 21 August 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0