John Leibacher
National Solar Observatory, Tucson, Arizona

Here I am with a friend in the air, just east of Paris.

On a personal note

I live on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona at the base of the Catalina Mountains, with my wife Lise - who is a professor of French Literature at the University of Arizona, and a very patient person to put up with my working and playing long hours, but then she works even harder and plays less - and several hundred quail and rabbits, a few dozen wild boar, and the occasional bobcat. It's really a beautiful place, although it does get a BIT warm in the summer. BUT, that's great because in my spare time I race sailplanes, which soar upwards in the rising currents of hot air - air that has been heated [you guessed it] BY THE SUN.

I got into aerial sports when I was in college, and started parachuting - which certainly was a rush - and have made 755 jumps over the years.
Here I am waiting to take off in my glider "2E", "two echo" on the radio, but which we call "too easy" (although it isn't always at the national championship at Albert Lea, Minnesota in 1997. The pilot in the glider behind me went on to fly in the world competition that year.

While I was in graduate school, I helped a friend study for his private pilot's written test, and since I had that out of the way, a year later when I got an income tax refund and my friend was already a flight instructor I started flying powered aircraft. From there, I got into flying aerobatics, and flew a few contests, and then gliders while I was living in Colorado. Things were more difficult while I was living in France, but I still managed to fly aerobatics in a very old, open cockpit biplane once a month or so, and make a few parachute jumps. When I returned to the US, and lived in California, I got a hot-air balloon named "Leo" which we flew lots of different places, including the mega-balloon rally in Albuquerque a couple of years. Parachuting from Leo was really a thrill! But, by far and away the most fun and challenging for me is racing sailplanes, which has to be the ultimate Peter Pan fantasy, BUT it's really, really real! AND it's physics, whether we're climbing with the eagles over the Arizona desert in a "thermal" or surfing upwards in the "wave" behind the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada or down on the deck at 140 mph running the 'ridge' in the Appalachias.

If there is a bottom line, it's that scientific research is a wonderfully exciting personal adventure (OK, a game, if you will), but at the same time it's a really important, really human, activity that - while it is hard work - is a tremendous amount of fun!