Story and photo
by ERIK MEDINA
For 16 years, John Reynolds has been teaching geology and geography at Pima Community College.
Reynolds came to Tucson because of his wife’s job at Texas Instruments transferred her. This was around the time Reynolds was retiring, so they took advantage of that.
Q: Did you always see yourself wanting to teach?
A: “I taught when I was a graduate student in astronomy. My real love was being in industry but once I retired, I looked around, I thought ‘I am not the rocking chair type.’ I like to stay busy. I like to stay active and I like doing things that are meaningful. I remember a story back when I worked in Mobil where one of the best petrophysicists in the field retired from Mobil at his retirement party he told everyone, ‘I don’t under want to hear from any of you again. I don’t want a phone call. I’ve solved all your problems.’ And I thought, ‘How sad to take that kind of knowledge out of the room and die with it.’
“I got far more satisfaction out of actually watching people in the room have this ‘Aha’ moment, when all of a sudden they took fact A and fact C and realize that B linked them together.”
Q: As a geophysicist, what career opportunities did you have?
A: “I got hired by major oil company Mobil Oil and worked for them for almost 22 years. I started out processing seismic data, which is acoustic energy you put into the ground and then recover it through receivers and kind of massage it a little bit to get the equivalent of a sonogram of the subsurface. And after doing the actual processing and learning those techniques, I went into a data interpretation, and my main role was creating maps that would position drilling and so look for oil and gas around the world.”
Q: From your travels, what have been the most memorable places?
A: “I have been on every continent except Antarctica, standing over top the Great Rift Valley and realizing you could drop the Grand Canyon in it, and realizing that’s the dawn of really hominids turning into man, and walking out of that continent and starting to populate the world was pretty sobering.”
Q: When you’re not teaching at Pima, what are you doing?
A: “I spend a lot of time over in New Mexico. My wife and I have acreage there. And so, I still have my interest in astronomy and it’s some of the darkest skies in the world in central western New Mexico. So, we spend a lot of time viewing the sky.
Q: What is the difference between geology and geography?
A: “Geography and geology overlap because you talk about plate tectonics, different kinds of rock formation, mountain building, volcanos, etc. Geology gets more into mineral identification, structuring of the atoms within the mineral. Geography gives you more of a broader picture and actually goes into atmospheric physics. So, the weather.”
Q: What’s a quick fact an individual should know about geology and geography?
A: “That most of the timeline, most of the history of the earth, we are virtually lifeless. So, the first 87 or 88 percent for 7/8ths of earth’s history, the only thing running around was a virus, bacteria, maybe a little fungi equivalents, but life itself is really a late addition to the Earth.
Q: What’s something about astronomy wows you?
A: “Galactic structure and interactive galaxies, how they inner finger and intertwine and steel material from each other. And I’ll be the first to admit that when I got my astrophysics degree as an undergrad, I came out of school thinking I knew probably about 80 or 85 percent how the universe worked. No one knew what dark matter was. No one knew what dark energy was. So, in a way, we’re all back to square one again. It’s easy to be wowed by the structures you see in the sky, especially if you had something a little bit big enough to a view them with detail. And so galactic structure is always been an interest of mine.”
Q: What do you think about the public being more concerned about our environment?
A: “The first time I ever saw recycling was in another oil firm. They actually had little bins set up and I saw a guy empty out his yogurt cup, clean it out, and then put it in this recycle bin. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really an interesting concept.’ In my generation, I’ve seen recycling pickup quite a bit. A lot of how a product goes from creation to usage and then disposal is an economic process. And so, they’re hopefully through the years to come, there’ll be more of an economic incentive to make sure that bottle goes where it’s supposed to go and not in some whale’s stomach.”
Q: What’s interesting about Tucson’s geology?
A: “A lot of the mountains around here are recent creations. The fabric of the rock can be very, very old but the actual uplift of the mountain ranges around here is relatively recent, 20 to 30 million years ago, for much of it. They won’t be around forever, so what I like to tell people, especially after living in Flat Dallas for years and years, that enjoy the topography. You’ve got the Tucson’s, you got the Catalinas, you’ve got all the canyons to hike.”
Q: What is something people should know if interested in pursuing a career in geology, geography and other sciences?
A: The easy thing I could say is that it pays well, but the more meaningful thing I would say is that, if you select a career path in STEM or specifically geology or geography, that basically, it’s not a job. It’s a career. I mean, I can’t believe looking back on my 40-plus years working that it’s gone as fast as what it has. It has been very, very few days that I didn’t want to go to work.”
Q: What do you admire from the students here at Pima?
A: “Pima itself is an absolute jewel coming from the Midwest. We have a junior colleges, but you don’t really have a system like Pima where you’ve got a major university in the same city and then you’ve got selected sites of campuses around town here to have the access that you have and what I am happy about seeing is the eagerness and people of all ages who utilize this facility to better themselves.”