Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Couple combines worlds of science and nature

Adrian Ziolkowski and Barbara Roth are a match made in heaven


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - YING AND YANG - In their Summerfield home, Barbara Roth enjoys watching birds and golfers while her husband Adrian Ziolkowski keeps up on the latest scientific developments following his long career as a physicist.This month marks the 70th anniversary of Adrian Ziolkowski's graduation from Queens College in New York City, which propelled the scientist on a path of creating devices that worked under the sea, on the earth and in outer space.

Flash forward to Dec. 14, 1962, when an article in the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate featured a headline that read, "Spacecraft Devices Scan Venus On Signal Sent 36 Million Miles."

According to the article, a tracking station at Goldstone, Calif., sent a signal to activate testing equipment on Mariner 2 that was hurtling through space toward Venus.

At the time, Adrian worked for Barnes Engineering in Stamford on infrared radiometers, two of which were on board Mariner 2 "to produce information on both interplanetary travel and about Venus itself," according to the newspaper.

"The order turned on two radiometers to scan the surface and atmosphere of Venus for 42 minutes starting 66 minutes before the craft's closest approach to Venus," the article stated.

Mariner 2, the first successful spacecraft in the NASA Mariner program, was the first robotic space probe to successfully encounter another planet, and it is still circling the Sun to this day.

This event occurred mid-career for Adrian, who lives in Summerfield with his wife Barbara Roth, whose career included working as a CPA and as a technical writer.

Born in 1922 in Queens, the now-90-year-old Adrian graduated from a technical high school, enrolled in Queens College in 1939, and earned a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1943.

"I couldn't get into the service because of a heart murmur," he said. "After graduation, I got a job at the Army Arsenal, an ammunition production facility in the hinterlands of northern New Jersey. I worked there during World War II testing explosive devices for the Army."

by: COURTESY OF ADRIAN ZIOLKOWSKI - EXPLOSION AHEAD - Adrian Ziolkowski sets up a test in a detonating chamber.Adrian led a physics laboratory instrumentation group that determined the characteristic of explosive components of ammunition to enable reasonable predictions of their functionality.

"We developed techniques and instrumentation for measuring the impact of explosives," he said. "The laboratory was separate from the production areas. Safety precautions allowed only two or three people handling explosives in a building at a time. On occasions, there would be a fatal explosion."

When the war was over, Adrian's boss asked him to come along to his next two jobs, so Adrian found himself at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in the late 1940s where the Air Force was setting up long-range testing grounds to track missiles sent along the coast as far as Puerto Rico.

Adrian spent two years there running a group that was a mixture of civilians and Air Force personnel.

"We were responsible for maintaining communication and electronic gear used on the test range," Adrian said. "We set up a test range at Cape Canaveral - that later became the launch site for NASA space vehicles."

While in Florida, a co-worker introduced Adrian to a Southern tradition - shrimping.

"To me, shrimp were those little curled-up things, not the large ones found in Florida," he said. "You could go shrimping in the Indian River, an inland waterway, at dusk. The technique involved lowering a net into the water and holding a Coleman lantern above the water, which would attract them. Then you would scoop them up with the net and eat them for dinner the next night."

Adrian added, "Now that area is all grown up, but in the late '50s, it was wide open. When NASA came in during the '60s, the area really started to develop.

"But then my boss found a job and invited me along to west Los Angeles to work with a company that had a contract with a test facility at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in California. We evaluated instrumentation to test short-range missiles for that facility."

Adrian had gotten married while living in New Jersey, and he and his wife had a daughter while living in California. When the family moved back to New York, they adopted another daughter.

Adrian's new job was developing electro-optical instruments for military guidance systems, and he worked there from 1954 to 1960 as project engineer developing components for inertial guidance systems for the military.

"One project was a gravity meter that could be installed in a submarine to measure the variation of the earth's gravity as the submarine roamed the seas," Adrian explained.

"Another job was developing TV view-finders to enable bombardiers to view bombing sites. Working with limited space on a vehicle was always the problem. Management gave us a set of specs and told us, 'Here is the space you have,' and we would come up with a proposal.

"There was always this business of miniaturizing everything. And we were still using vacuum tubes that had to be designed to survive in the environment in which we placed them. I keep telling my wife that I was born too soon - now you can design and build components almost to the atomic level."

When the space program took off - literally - Adrian was involved with building equipment for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

"Space vehicles in orbit needed some way to orient themselves in relationship to the Earth," he said.

According to Adrian, the astronauts traveled around the country to the various labs where space vehicle components were being developed "as part of a PR program."

Adrian met Virgil Grissom, who was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and the second American to fly in space as well as the first astronaut to fly twice in space.

Grissom was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a Jan. 27, 1967, pre-launch ground test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station when the interior of the capsule caught fire. The cause was never determined, and the capsule had an inward-opening hatch that could not be opened quickly in an emergency.

"After that, the escape hatch was redesigned, and other problems were fixed," Adrian said.

The Apollo program went on to successfully attain its objective of landing men on the moon. Adrian lamented all the paperwork necessary to work on these space program projects but realized it was necessary.

"You would create five pounds of paper for one pound of equipment," he said. "But this way everything was tracked and documented. People were very fussy in those days, and there was always quality control along the way. If anything went wrong, they wanted to be able to trace it back.

"Aside from the rigors of the environment, there was the question of how long something would survive under those conditions. Reliability engineering grew out of that need."

Along the way, technology improved - from the 1960s when Adrian's groups communicated with off-site computers via teletype to using mini-computers in the 1970s for obtaining test results more efficiently.

Adrian also taught math and electronic night classes for almost 10 years at Bridgeport Engineering. "My biggest problem was trying to keep the students awake," he said.

His last job was with Robotic Vision on Long Island designing infrared scanning equipment to control robotic machine tools. The objective was to create shapes that would minimize submarine propeller noise underwater for the Navy.

"Engineering was a satisfying occupation," he said, adding, "With a degree in physics, you cover all the basic sciences. I dealt with physical instruments that measured things. I wasn't a theoretical scientist - I measured what they were doing.

"Every job I did, I designed something - you do it within the time and money parameters. I always said, if I could re-do something, I would do it differently and better, but I was already on the next assignment. Lots of times, you would make something that never made it to market. I had a variety of experiences in different companies - some of those companies don't exist anymore."

Adrian is proud that the radiometer that he designed went to Venus on Mariner 2, noting, "That's one of the instruments I made that did the job."

Meanwhile, Barbara was born in Peoria, Ill., in 1939, and experienced a "typical Midwest upbringing."

After 1 ½ years in college, she got married and had two children; after 11 years of marriage, they got divorced.

Barbara worked as a music typographer preparing music manuscripts for offset printing. "I worked on everything from Hit Parade tunes to symphonic scores," she said. "Fortunately, I was able to bring work home evenings and weekends to be with my children. At 35, I realized the job was going nowhere and decided I should finish my education."

She spent five years in night school to get her degree in accounting and went on to become a CPA and spend 20 years in the accounting field.

When Adrian and Barbara were both divorced and living in New York area, mutual friends introduced them at a party in 1980.

"We talked for three hours," she said. "We hit it off."

They dated, but it would be eight years before they got married. After four years of dating, Barbara moved to Texas in 1984 due to a job promotion, and after four more years, Adrian retired from full-time work and moved there, and they got married in 1988.

Adrian worked part-time for the Census Bureau doing the 1990, 2000 and 2010 censuses while living in Texas, and Barbara finally "got burned out on CPA work" and turned to technical writing, which she did from 1994 to 2004.

"I had taken writing classes since the mid-1980s and really loved it," she said.

With Barbara having a son in Los Angeles and a daughter and three granddaughters in the Portland area, she said, "I knew we would end up here," and Adrian added, "I followed her."

They moved to Summerfield in 2010, with Barbara, an avid birdwatcher, noting, "It was never in my life plan to live on a golf course, but it has worked out well."

Adrian is a fair-weather golfer. In Connecticut, Adrian played tennis four or five times a week for 22 years, but he says nothing can compare with playing platform tennis, which is popular winter sport as a substitute for tennis. The game is played on smaller-sized tennis courts on a raised platform using heavy paddles perforated with small holes to hit sponge balls.

Barbara is a world traveler, having visited all seven continents and taken some trips specifically for bird-watching. She participated in a King City writing group, and in Summerfield, she has joined a new writing group and is chairwoman of the Social Club that is the umbrella organization for many sub-groups, including the Summerfield Singers.

"It's fun," she said of the singing group. "We laugh a lot. We sing at different events."

Adrian added, "I've been lucky. I've lived in the four corners of the U.S. And I stay up on what is going on in my field - that's why I'm so envious of what engineers are doing now."