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Dazzling Dr. Spilhaus

Sharon Moen is the author of With Tomorrow in Mind: How Athelstan Spilhaus Turned America Toward the Future. The biography profiles a man that some called a "gadfly" and others "the flywheel of the machine of American science." Spilhaus conceived of the National Sea Grant Program to focus science research and public outreach on water issues, with 33 coastal offices around the country. The program is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The biography spans an era of history that includes WWII, the "Roswell Incident," the founding Sea Grant and the space race. Spilhaus invented the Minneapolis and St. Paul skyway systems, served as Dean of the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota for 20 years and UNESCO's first ambassador to the UN, and was responsible for the success of the Seattle World's Fair. He wrote a weekly comic strip about science, Our New Age, for the Minneapolis Tribune for 20 years that was syndicated around the world to 5 million readers. With Buckminster Fuller, Spilhaus designed a model city, MXC, for northwest Minnesota to house 250,000 residents with no cars or schools, waterless toilets and abundant farms, parks and wilderness.  "Spilly", as he was known, was an oceanographer, educator, inventor, diplomat, artist and visionary.

“Spilhuas is an inspiration for our time,” says Moen. “When I started the project, I only had the vaguest of notions that Spilhaus was an oceanographer who somehow became misplaced in Minnesota and invented the Sea Grant program.” Over the seven years that it took to bring With Tomorrow in Mind to press, she become keenly aware of what many others grasped before and what a generation could be poised to forget: Spilhaus was the “ocean community’s Michelangelo.”

Moen has a bachelor’s of science in biology from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s of science in ecology, evolution, and behavior from the University of Minnesota. Well into her second decade with Minnesota Sea Grant as a science writer, Moen believes, like Spilhaus, in pursuing diverse interests. When she is not at her desk, she can be found at the potter’s wheel, larking about outdoors (preferably in a canoe), or standing motionless, transfixed by birds.

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