At age 18, while his classmates planned their weekends “and complained about the Maine weather,” Paul Todd ’58 (a native Mainer) attended a guest lecture by Robert Brent, after which he decided to become a biophysicist. His decision was a slight deflection from his original intent to become a chemical engineer since day one of his Bowdoin career; however, it did lead to a unique educational experience that included a physics degree from Bowdoin, botany and zoology classes at Harvard, and a bachelor of science degree in quantitative biology from MIT (1959).Thanks to the teaching efforts of Bowdoin Professor William “Doc” Root, Paul was able to skip an entire semester of physical chemistry at MIT. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley just five years later, with a stop for a M.S. at the University of Rochester in 1960 (Dr. Brent’s university, as it turned out).
Before his involvement in the company now known as Techshot, Paul taught at Penn State University for about 20 years then, at the age of 53, became a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Colorado. His career in biophysics did not really end, and in 2000 Paul accepted a position at Space Hardware Optimization Technology (SHOT), a small engineering firm in Indiana specializing in space shuttle instruments used in life sciences experiments. SHOT, whose only customer was NASA until 2001, provided equipment for seven shuttle flights from 1988 until 2003 and developed several robotic miniature laboratory systems, most about the size of a lunch box, in which the work of an entire laboratory could be done in outer space on a few watts of power. Seven years later, a lot has changed for Paul and his company, which was forced to diversify its products after a sharp decrease in government funding for space technology. Now known as Techshot, Paul and his team of about 30 “professional inventors” have expanded their services to include a myriad of technologies in fields such as stem cell research, diabetes, cancer, area lighting, concrete sealing, and warehouse inventory management. Today, only three of Techshot’s current 17 projects are space related. In contrast to many researchers who remain tightly focused on specific areas of study, Paul says he enjoys the challenge of inventing products for markets that have not been fully developed. “I have always been pulled toward applied science where the reward is seeing one’s own work as a contribution to the pioneering of a whole field that barely existed at the outset,” he says.
The success of Techshot has reflected well on Paul, who recently shared (with three co-authors) the Meriam-Wiley Award of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for the best engineering textbook in a two-year interval. He was also elected president of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology (about 400 members), from which he recently completed a one-year term. While he appreciates the recognition, Paul insists he is not in the business to win prizes. “I never really considered that a goal, especially in view of the fact that most significant achievements in science today are extensive collaborative efforts,” he says. Paul’s most fulfilling moments occur in the laboratory, where his work between 1960 and 1985 enabled the use of accelerated particles in cancer radiotherapy. The process of discovery continues to both challenge and fascinate Paul, who has grown accustomed to the technical problems that come with new territory. “Scientific research is full of false starts,” Paul says, “but sometimes there is satisfaction in being permitted to embark on a road with an unknown destination.” Fittingly enough, he has found the solutions to many of his current research problems in saved research notebooks that date back to his post-grad days.
Although Paul recently turned seventy-one, he shows no signs of slowing down. “To quote my Bowdoin acquaintance Rod Forsman ’59, ‘I have failed retirement twice already,’” he says with a laugh. With eight grandchildren scattered across the U.S., and with a cottage in Maine, Paul and Judy, his wife of fifty years, hope to set aside some time for travel in the near future. But does this mean that Paul is finally ready to abandon his work? To this he replies, “It’s a profession, not just a job.”
Posted February 01, 2007