Life is about more than formulas and labs

Posted: Thursday, 27 February 2014

TROY - The quest to discover what it means to be human was the focus of a lecture to Troy University students by physics professor, and this lecture didn't include formulas or laboratory experiments.

Francis Slakey, a Georgetown University physics professor-turned-author, explained his journey into life to students as a part of TROY's Common Reading Initiative. His book "To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes" catalogs Slakey's global quest to learn the meaning of life, and was the subject of this semester's common reader.

Slakey told students that it was on the side of a California mountain - nearly falling to his death from a cot - where he decided "I wanted to break free from my boring job" as a physics teacher. The result: a personal challenge to climb the highest peak on each continent and surf each of the planet's ocean - a "surf-and-turf challenge."

A key to his self-discovery came climbing Mount Everest, with the gift of an amulet by a Lama. Ancient writing appeared on the amulet, but none of his guides could interpret - merely describing the amulet as being "full of life." It was a harrowing ascent and evacuation of the mountain's summit when he began to realize his search for detachment and independence precipitated by his mother's death years before may have sent him along the wrong course in life.

His quest that began in 1997 and concluded 12 years later in the Arctic Ocean on a surfboard ultimately showed him that a single person can make a difference - and that the amulet's secret may be the challenge to "do what I can do to create a better world."

Today a married father of twins and an engaged teacher, Slakey directs Georgetown's Center for Science in the Public Interest that helps students learn about science through direct engagement on critical issues rather than through labs and formulas.

Dr. Frances Slakey

Dr. Frances Slakey, a professor of physics at Georgetown University, spoke to Troy University students today about his life-changing experiences detailed in his book "To the Last Breath: A Memoir of Going to Extremes," which is the subject of this semester's Common Reading Initiative. (TROY photo/Keven Glackmeyer)