State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Measure of a Man: Jerome M. Paros ’63GSAS’ Life of Invention and Philanthropy

Inventor and philanthropist Jerry Paros, pictured in his office holding a Paroscientific's first Seismic + Oceanic Sensors (SOS) circa 2015.
Jerry Paros holding one of Paroscientific’s first Seismic + Oceanic Sensors (SOS) circa 2015. These sensors have been transformative for the scientific community because they can make short-term measurements of earthquakes and tsunamis as well as long-term measurements of geodesy and sea-level changes.

The Pacific Northwest is home to the Cascadia megathrust fault, where the Pacific Ocean crust “subducts” beneath North America. It runs 600 miles from Northern California up to Vancouver Island in Canada, spanning several major metropolitan areas including Seattle and Portland, Oregon. It is also home to Jerome M. (Jerry) Paros ’63GSAS, the prolific inventor of highly sensitive and precise geophysical instruments, who has spent decades finding creative scientific methods to address some of humanity’s most challenging problems. Jerry’s life’s work and transformative philanthropy are directed towards science, education and public safety, including geohazard disasters from Cascadia. Jerry is the Founder, President, and Chairman of Paroscientific, Inc., Quartz Seismic Sensors, Inc. and related companies that use the quartz crystal resonator technology he developed to measure pressure, acceleration, temperature, weight and other parameters. These products have improved the measurements of geophysical phenomena such as tsunamis, and enhance our ability to understand the complex earth, air and ocean processes that produce climate change.

Jerry holds more than 50 patents and has authored many papers and articles about scientific instrumentation. “Measurements have always played a huge part in my scientific life because good science comes from good observers making good experiments with good sensors,” said Paros during his 2022 commencement address to the University of Massachusetts College of Engineering. “Those of you who might want to become multimillionaires and save humanity, listen up,” he joked. The comment drew laughter, but Paros—a self-described measurement nut—has made a serious difference, funding trailblazing geoscientific research that promises to predict the extreme events that are currently impossible to forecast.

“Precision measurements are the fundamental basis of experimental science and commercial applications of experimental science are the main drivers of technological progress. To succeed in business, we needed to have proprietary technical advantages,” explained Paros.

The precision pressure sensors he devised arrived by a stroke of ingenuity. In the 1960s, when he began his professional life, the world of sensors was based on analog technology. Paros developed and patented digital, time-based sensors using quartz crystals and changed geophysical science, enabling researchers to listen to the deep ocean and to track signals that can inform early warning systems. Paros’s proprietary, leading-edge innovations brought him great industry success and wealth.

“I never wanted to be wealthy,” said Paros who, true to form, explained his philosophy by describing its measure. “If you made a graph of happiness versus wealth, it would not be a straight line going up. A point further up on the graph would be financial security. The further on you go beyond that, wealth becomes a burden. I wanted to give it away, but I wanted to give it away usefully.”

Among the beneficiaries of Paros’ generosity are his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, as well as the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, which is close to where he lives and works, and Columbia University, where he earned his master’s degree in physics.

The Paros Legacy at Lamont-Doherty and the Columbia Climate School

Paros’ impactful support to Columbia began with the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. His gifts to Lamont-Doherty began in 2007 with the Paros-Palisades Geophysical Institute Fund for Engineering Innovation. Jerry then established an endowed Senior Research Scientist of Observational Geophysics and the Paros Fund for Geophysical Instrumentation.

“Columbia has brilliant scientists and hard-working engineers. Spahr Webb and his team at Lamont developed something called a remote bottom pressure recorder, which has been transformative for the ocean sciences,” said Paros.

The Paros Fund for Geophysical Instrumentation has been pivotal to his work, said Webb, who holds the Jerome M. Paros Senior Research Scientist of Observational Geophysics position at Lamont. Webb’s work led to the deployment of deep-sea instruments with highly sensitive absolute pressure sensors to measure seafloor vertical motions and triaxial accelerometers to measure vibrations. Also important for his research has been working with oceanographers to develop methods to gauge and distinguish between terrestrial and oceanic signals.

“I’ve always been an instrument builder working on designing equipment for studying earthquakes and oceanographic signals. I’m working these days in a field called geodesy, which is basically looking at very slow deformation of the Earth, mostly focused on subduction zones where we’re watching strain build up before a large earthquake,” said Webb. “The gift allowed us to build the first fleet of seafloor instruments dedicated to observing and perhaps anticipating large subduction zone earthquakes by observing subtle movement of the seafloor in the weeks before the earthquake.”

Webb relies on a newly developed calibration method to eliminate sensor drift that otherwise would obscure the long-term Earth movements (called “slow earthquakes”) that may precede “megathrust” events. These most powerful earthquakes, which occur along subduction zones, can cause huge tsunamis and widespread damage.

“Jerry’s contributions have allowed for a lot of synergistic developments,” said Webb. “We’ve gone from measurements that weren’t quite good enough to, suddenly, measurements that are good enough to do a whole bunch of great science.” Importantly, Webb’s work has included the development of powerful tools for monitoring long-term changes in oceanic currents related to climate change.

Paros and Webb are fascinated with reading the hidden language of planetary warning signals. This work, made possible by Paros’ generosity, has helped Webb move science closer to accurately assessing extreme hazards and devising early warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis.

Investing in Support of Carbon Management and Geohazards and Climate Mitigation

Last year, Paros began a new chapter at Columbia, building on his previous contributions and expanding his philanthropic legacy. Paros’ new gift established the Paros Lamont Research Professorship in Climate Science Research and Carbon Management and drew upon a matching gift challenge opportunity made possible through an anonymous donor. A Decarbonization Monitoring and Instrumentation Initiative, a vital area of research for climate solutions and next generation energy, has been launched.

“I appreciate what Columbia has been able to do in their ability to match things. That’s a big deal because that enabled the establishment of a decarbonization monitoring and instrumentation initiative,” explained Paros. He is especially gratified to support the proof-of-concept work in carbon storage because he sees the immense promise in carbon capture technologies and believes in the scientific leadership at Columbia. “Where else can I get such smart people as at Columbia? There are smart people in universities, but Columbia is particularly blessed with terrific people, and furthermore a great attitude,” said Paros.

David Goldberg, Lamont’s Deputy Director and Director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, has been named the inaugural Paros Lamont Research Professor in Carbon Management and will also head the Decarbonization Monitoring and Instrumentation Initiative. Dr. Goldberg’s research explores various approaches related to advancing carbon capture and storage in both onshore and offshore locations, carbon monitoring technologies as well as the opportunities for combining these technologies with renewable energy resources. 

Goldberg will initially leverage the new funding to investigate proof-of-concept prototype instruments for carbon monitoring and conduct pilot tests at Lamont Doherty.

The Paros Lamont Research Professorship in Climate Science Research and Carbon Management and the launch of the Decarbonization Monitoring and Instrumentation Initiative place Columbia at the forefront of an important next step in monitoring carbon in our environment and understanding the potential to scale up carbon solutions.

The initiative will support technologies for monitoring carbon in both natural and engineered settings, which are critical for understanding carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and other climate solutions, areas of growing importance in the quest to slow global warming. 

“Our idea is to explore proof-of-concept designs and approaches to monitoring carbon in our environment, beginning with this initial design of a borehole instrument to measure geophysical properties below the surface,” explained Goldberg.

“Jerry Paros is amazing as an innovator with a commitment to use his inventions for the benefit of humanity,” said Steven Goldstein, interim director of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “His generosity will help Lamont remain in the forefront of the basic research critical for addressing two very different major issues that we face—predicting earthquakes and the need to lower atmospheric greenhouse gasses,” said Goldstein.

The gift also establishes The Paros Professorship in Geohazards and Climate Mitigation, the first endowed professorship at the Columbia Climate School. A new search to fill this position will be launched this summer. The incumbent will conduct further research in these vital areas and prepare the next generation of scientific leaders.

“The Paros Professorship in Geohazards and Climate Mitigation is a phenomenal opportunity for the Climate School to strengthen its research, impact and teaching in these critical domains,” said Climate School Interim Dean Jeffrey L. Shaman. “The Columbia Climate School community is indebted to Jerry Paros for both his partnership and this transformative endowed professorship gift.”

A Museum of Mistakes and Occasional Good Ideas

Paros, now 86 years old, continues his scientific work each day, driving his 20-year-old Ford 500 to work each morning, and developing ideas in his traditional way, first sketching on paper and constructing models of sticks and Lego blocks. It’s a method that has always worked for him.

As accomplished as he is, Paros projects genuine humility. The son of Russian refugees, he has a unique perspective on what matters most. After decades of hard work and generous giving, he still draws on the lessons he learned from his parents. “Whenever I look at things being a little bit tough around here, I think of my parents, how they went through the pogroms, famines, World War I,  and the Russian Revolution, and I say,  ‘okay, things can’t be as tough as all that,’” said Paros.

Tracing his earliest days, it’s clear that Paros’s ethos has always been informed by a strong will to overcome obstacles and turn trial and error into success. Apparently, that’s still a cornerstone, as evidenced today by the annex off his main office.

“I call it the museum of mistakes and occasional good ideas,” he shared. It is the place where he tries out concepts, always exploring new ways. It started when he was a child. “I was always taking things apart and fixing things and seeing how they worked. So, I was always tinkering around with various things, and I still do that,” he said. The approach continues today and will, no doubt, continue to add to Paros’ legacy of invention.

As to the enormity of his contribution to Lamont, Columbia Climate School and others, he shrugs and breaks out into his signature, humble smile. “It’s all going to have very good consequences for society,” said Paros. “Making a difference and saving lives, that’s where the fun is.”

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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