Headshot of Athelstan Spilhaus

Biography reveals how a South African rascal became the ‘flywheel of the machine of American science’

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/07/2015)—With Tomorrow in Mind: How Athelstan Spilhaus Turned America Toward the Future is a 200-page profile of a man that some called a “gadfly” and other’s called “the ocean community’s Michelangelo.”

Written by Sharon Moen, communications coordinator for the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program, this biography spans a life…and an era…that encompassed WWII, the “Roswell Incident,” the space race and some of the United States’ most astonishing scientific advances.

Spilhaus was dean of what is now called the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering from 1949-1967. He played an instrumental role in combining the physical sciences with engineering into one college, which is now one of the hallmark strengths of the college.

Many other locations highlight Spilhaus’ influence. If you’ve walked across a skyway in Minneapolis, if you’ve gazed at the Sun Triangle in New York City or visited the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, you’ve brushed up with the late Professor Spilhaus, a man so multifaceted that Walter Cronkite called him the most interesting person he had ever interviewed.

Spilhaus is credited with the invention of the bathythermograph, an instrument he perfected that was of vital importance in World War II in the battle against the German U-boat. During the war, the bathythermograph became standard equipment on all U.S. Navy subs and vessels involved in antisubmarine warfare. Winston Churchill wrote Spilhaus a thank you letter for helping the Allies win WWII.

Spilhaus had other varied interests. He wrote a syndicated comic strip, Our New Age, for 15 years as a hobby. Simultaneously he invented the National Sea Grant Program and almost realized his dream of building an experimental dome city in Minnesota. Threaded together by his commitment to science and the future, Spilhaus’s breathtaking accomplishments are a testament to a dynamic time in world history and to the potential within each of us.

The biography is available through the University of Minnesota Bookstore, Minnesota Sea Grant and Amazon.com for $14.95 plus shipping.


Rhonda Zurn, College of Science and Engineering, rzurn@umn.edu, (612) 626-7959