Tom's Blog

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Scientist in Yellowstone National Park: A Memoir

Scientific research is a glorious occupation, and probably no category is more fascinating than field work in a National Park such as Yellowstone National Park. It was my good fortune to have been able to carry out research in the Park with a dedicated group of students and research associates for over 10 years and to remain associated with the Park for much longer.

This work is described in detail in the memoir I have just written: “A Scientist in Yellowstone National Park”, which is available for download at the following link:

Although what we did was basic research, a major practical application came from it, due to the discovery by Hudson Freeze and myself of the bacterium Thermus aquaticus. This became the source of the enzyme Taq polymerase, which made the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) practical, thus revolutionizing research on DNA.

The research discussed here depended greatly on financial support from two federal agencies, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (now subsumed under the Department of Energy). It also depended greatly on support in numerous ways from the two universities where I was employed, Indiana University-Bloomington, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Finally, since its inception Yellowstone National Park has recognized and encouraged scientific research in the Park, and without the Park’s permission, none of this work could have been carried out.

It is a truism in science that basic research is the foundation from which applications arise. My Yellowstone research is one of the best examples of this truism, and has been so recognized in many news media and publications.

Although this book might be called a “memoir”, I emphasize that it is not based on memory, but on documents that were created at the time. It is thus closer to “real” history of science than to a memoir. In the same way, the numerous photographs reproduced here were taken at the time of the events.

Thomas D. Brock


Blogger FrankOnABike said...

I have to admit Tom, when I first heard about your involvement in the foundation of what is one of the most important fields of scientific inquiry in the history of humanity, I was in a bit of awe of what you had accomplished.

It seems like in this day and age with the sudden skepticism and disregard for science, this is a perfect example of why studying and learning about our world can have profound implications for humanity. The study of bacteria in hot springs in Yellowstone seems so obscure, but it, surprisingly lead to DNA analysis which is arguably, along with vaccines and antibiotics, one of the most important advancements in the history of medicine, the use of which will no doubt save millions of lives over time and improve our lives immeasurably.

March 6, 2017 at 11:08 AM  

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