Conrad Johanson '60
How was your experience at Christian High School?
My academic experience at CHS in Cambridge was short (just 2 years, as a junior and senior) but impactful in shaping my lifelong personal and professional philosophy (world view) and decisions. Opportunities in athletic and social activities, in a Christian context, also helped to fulfill a variety of needs in a wholesome manner. Overall I have very positive memories of my time at CHS and it was an important time in my life.
How did your teachers prepare you for a career in science?
Solid courses and laboratories in chemistry and physics, as well as thorough geometry exercises, prepared me well for the college years. The modest CHS facilities at 20 Garden Street, Cambridge for science laboratories (in the basement next to the student lockers) was a challenge creatively met by the faculty with limited resources. A speech course, taught effectively by Leon Pippin, was rigorous but a much needed discipline to help prepare students for later presentations in professional life.
Who was an influential faculty member during your time at CHS?
Miles Strodel, as my teacher of New Testament, presented a meticulous and demanding course that effectively balanced the critical spiritual thinking with the scientific, mathematical and literary coursework taught by others. Headmaster Strodel also provided encouragement and challenges when coaching baseball and basketball, and on weekend work/study trips to Camp Brookwoods in Alton Bay, NH where he and Grace graciously hosted and mentored both the workers and conference attendees.
Do you ever look back on a particular experience at CHS that shaped who you are?
Traveling by public transportation to and from CHS in Cambridge, while living on the south shore, involved 2-3 hours daily commuting time on trains and buses. However, the extensive commuting time was worthwhile to obtain the valuable and enjoyable educational and social experiences. Moreover, because CHS did not have its own gymnasium, we took physical education at a gym in Central Square where the Boston Celtics practiced; this meant traveling by subway (MTA) between the gym and school. However, we students generally enjoyed doing this and made the best of the situation. These experiences taught the need for being patient in certain ways in order to reap benefits in other areas.
What are you doing currently?
Currently, and for the past 30 years, I have been a neuroscience professor at Brown University Medical School in Providence, RI. While my research activities have now been cut back considerably, I spend substantial time writing neuroscience manuscripts: reviews, critiques and original research papers. Also I consult for NASA on a brain fluid imbalance problem that besets some of the astronauts on the International Space Station. My professional lifetime of research (40 years) on cerebrospinal fluid dynamics dovetails nicely with the information that NASA now needs to correct this problem with intracranial hypertension in the microgravity of spaceflight. My wife Nancy and I enjoy traveling to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for the consultation work. It has been rewarding, as part of a team, to work with the space physicians, scientists and astronauts on biomedical issues occurring in space flight. Other neuroscience research efforts and interactions have taken me to Europe, Asia and South America, to share research findings and conduct investigations with other scientific colleagues.
What are some challenges to your job?
The biggest challenge for the contemporary scientist is to keep up with the vast amount of new knowledge that is continuously being generated. It is a humbling experience to realize that each person, no matter how intellectually capable and hard working, can only know a very tiny fraction of all the extant knowledge. Still, with the aid of computational devices and programs to cope with the huge knowledge base, we must try our best to collaborate as research teams to improve the health and well being of humankind.
How does your faith impact your career?
My faith as a Christian provides motivation to pursue research with a definite purpose: to glorify God in his remarkable creation and to share the beauty of the human brain with those who are interested in complex physiologic systems. It is remarkable that of all the millions of species on earth, only the human species can study his own bodily being and brain. This amazing capacity concurs with the Biblical statement that man was fashioned in the image of God, i.e., potentially possessing great capability and power. Another positive aspect of my purposeful faith is to try to help find cures or improvements for human diseases, e.g., hydrocephalus, brain edema and intracranial hypertension.