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Science improves quality of life, says prize-winning author

Science has made the nation healthy and prosperous, yet many Americans see it as a source of threat and future risk, said Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Deadly Feasts.

Rhodes discussed what science has meant in this century during a presentation, part of the program Celebrating Faculty Research, Creativity, and Publications, at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Wednesday.

He referred to research showing that many people are alive today because of improvements in public health such as clean water, pasteurized milk, vaccinations and improved medical care.

He said that 137 million Americans - approximately half the U.S. population - would not be alive now if it had not been for advances in public health.

"When one thinks that the total number of deaths in war in the 20th century for the entire world is about 120 million, the fact that 137 million Americans are living out a full lifespan - and we are only a portion of the total population of the world - begins to offer some quantification of what just one part of science and its embodiment in technology has meant in this century," he said.

Few Americans are aware of public health, even though it is by far the most successful science of the 20th century, Rhodes said. He said he was struck by the potential for applying public health methodology to dealing with human violence, noting the division of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) devoted to looking at issues of violence, such as teenage suicide and how it might be reduced.

Discussing the discovery of nuclear energy, Rhodes said, "Over the last 60 years it is interesting to look at which countries went nuclear and why," rather than holding on to the sense that there is some great advantage to be gained. In every instance, the decision was made primarily because that country's enemy seemed to be a nuclear threat, he said.

Rhodes, who lives in Connecticut, is the author of 15 books. His book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction and the National Book Award.

A reception and exhibit of publications and other creative scholarly works by faculty, emeriti and staff was held at the William Benton Museum of Art following Rhodes' talk.

President Philip E. Austin said he is proud of the contributions of the faculty and staff, adding that their work defines the University.

The event was supported by the Office of the President, Office of the Chancellor, AAUP, University Libraries and the UConn Co-op.

Sherry Fisher