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Harvey Nininger

January 16, 2012

On a chilly autumn night in 1923, Harvey Nininger saw fire in the sky. The sight created a fire in his belly — a yearning to understand the bits of cosmic flotsam known as meteorites. That yearning led Nininger on a completely different path through life — one that led to the establishment of a new field of study: meteoritics.

Nininger was born on January 17th, 1887. He grew up on a family farm, where there was little time for books or formal education. In fact, Nininger didn’t complete the equivalent of an eighth-grade education until he was 20.

Yet he persevered in his studies, and earned a college degree in biology. By 1923, he was teaching at McPherson College in Kansas.

In August of that year, he read an article about meteorites in a scientific journal. The article was light on details, though, because few scientists considered meteorites a worthy subject for study.

But after a campus event that November, Nininger was walking home when a brilliant meteor known as a fireball lit up the night sky. Nininger wondered if any bits of the space rock survived their fiery plunge through the atmosphere. He calculated where they might have landed, and soon set out in search of them.

Nininger established a method for searching for the fragments that he used for decades. His methods led to the discovery of hundreds of previously unknown meteorites — and to a new field of scientific study.

More about Nininger tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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