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Recognition for Carolyn's brother Robert

PEOPLE ON THE JOB
Robert Freedman - Project Manager/Scientific Advisor

July 31, 2009

A recent winner of the Society of Petrophysicists and Well Log Analysts' Distinguished Technical Achievement Award, which recognizes his "significant technical contributions in formation evaluation," Bob Freedman has spent a lifetime helping develop the high technology that has kept Schlumberger at the cutting edge of the oilfield services industry.

Science at the highest levels, like those at which you've spent your career, can seem boring to the average person. Can you explain why you find science so interesting and how it has enriched your life?

You might be surprised, but I was not always interested in science, or even school for that matter. When I was young I often found school boring. I did like to read, however-especially books dealing with the history of western civilization, military history and biographies. I was also interested in mechanical things, particularly the design of high performance engines and fast cars. I worked part time at an automotive engine machine shop during my high school years. This gave me an opportunity to build high performance engines to install in my own cars. I definitely had the fastest car in my high school. Once I started to take some interesting mathematics and science courses my junior year of high school I found that these subjects were fun to study.
My interest in science has always been driven by two main factors-the desire to understand how nature works at a fundamental level and a love of problem solving. My wife always told me I should have been a detective because I usually figure out the plot or villain in a movie well before it is revealed in the script. Scientists are a lot like detectives because Mother Nature always provides scant information and our job is to unravel her secrets using our creativity and problem solving abilities.

As an undergraduate at the University of Houston I liked the science and math courses but I also worked hard in other subjects and was fortunate to graduate summa cum laude. This helped me get scholarships for graduate school. Many of my professors were from MIT and wanted me to go there. I was interested in solid state physics-an area of physics where MIT was not particularly strong in the late sixties, so I decided to go to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), one of the top solid state physics research centers in the world. My studies at UCSD and later as a physics post-doc at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and the University of Chicago gave me an opportunity to meet and interact with many world class scientists, some of whom remain close friends.

I find it fun and rewarding to try to find simple and robust solutions to challenging technical problems and to contribute to an engineering team developing new technology. I consider myself fortunate to work at Schlumberger, where there are so many challenging problems and talented people. I really enjoy going to work each day because for me it is like playing an interesting game.

Climate change, rising sea levels, overpopulation, pollution... In your view, how will mankind deal with these and similar problems and what will our world be like 100 years from now?

The key for the survival of mankind will be to recognize the clear and present danger posed by these threats and to change how we live. Hopefully, we will be able to reverse the climate changes and warming caused by pollution of the atmosphere and oceans by globally reducing our energy consumption and finding cleaner-burning energy sources. Of course, conservation has to be undertaken worldwide in order for this to succeed. The hardest challenge will be to reconcile national interests with those of the planet as a whole


Overpopulation can be controlled by mandating smaller families. The Chinese have been doing this successfully now for 30 years and it has worked to limit the growth of their population. It is not always easy for governments to persuade the populace to limit the number of children per family. In India I have read that many people especially in rural areas are strongly against government interference in their sexual practices. Unless population growth is curbed voluntarily it will eventually be reduced by famine and disease, which are nature's way of reducing overpopulation.

If we can survive such existential threats, then advancing technology will make life 100 years from now unrecognizable. Imagine you were living in the United States in 1909 riding your horse to work and someone told you that an American would be walking on the moon in 1969. You would have thought he or she was crazy. There was unbelievable scientific and engineering progress made in 60 years! One thing that worries me is that the advances in genetic engineering will lead to humans becoming more like robots. Genetic engineering has benefits including populations with fewer birth defects and better overall health, but we must be careful not to destroy the randomness of gene shuffling that has produced extreme geniuses like Newton and Shakespeare. Perhaps it is time to write an Orwellian sequel entitled "2084."

What do you do for fun and how would you sell the idea to non-believers?

I like to stay in shape. It gives me energy and relieves stress. I try to go to the gym at 5:30 AM each morning before work. I usually run for 20 minutes and then lift weights, do some push-ups and pull-ups, etc. I have been consistently following my current workout regimen for more than four years.

I really enjoy snow skiing and usually go to Colorado a couple of times each winter. I like cruising down the slopes and then enjoy apr├Ęs ski activities at the end of the day. I find that a ski vacation is a good way to clear my mind and get new ideas when I am stuck trying to solve a problem at work.

Another sport I enjoy is golf. I have played some beautiful courses around the world. The allure of golf is the beautiful scenery and the opportunity it offers for camaraderie with close friends.

I still enjoy high performance cars and racing. I visited the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina twice in 2008 so I could do some high speed driving on their track and practice driving in wet conditions.

Albert Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." Do you have anything to add?
Einstein was a religious man but not in the traditional sense of organized religions. He argued against quantum mechanics' non-deterministic view of nature by saying "God does not play dice." Einstein spent much effort arguing with the founders of quantum mechanics over this issue and trying to develop a unified theory of nature. As far as the second half of the quote, I agree that literal interpretation of religious teachings is blind because it is based on faith and ignores scientific evidence. For example, the fundamentalist religious view against evolution is difficult to defend in light of modern science. Of course, everyone should be free to believe whatever they want.

© Carolyn Farb. All rights reserved 


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