LDS atmospheric scientist lauded in Virginia

Discussions of science and religion can sometimes resemble a game of sandlot baseball — you pick sides then play for one team or the other.

But James Russell III is proof that scientific curiosity and religious devotion are not necessarily opposing attitudes. For decades, Brother Russell has conducted and published cutting-edge environmental research while simultaneously serving as a branch president, bishop, stake president and regional representative.

When he considers the ongoing, often noisy science vs. religion debate, Brother Russell can't understand what all the shouting is about.

"I see no conflict (between the two) — but, instead, a coalescence," he said.

Despite his humble personal nature, Brother Russell's scientific contributions have captured the attention and appreciation of his colleagues and fellow Virginians. On April 17, he was one of three scientists from the commonwealth to receive the Virginia 2008 Outstanding Scientist Award.

"Virginia's Outstanding Scientist and Industrialist awards give us a chance to recognize the people whose work and talent help create the technology and lifestyle we enjoy every day," said Richard Conti, director of the Science Museum of Virginia.

A high councilor in the Yorktown Ward, Newport News Virginia Stake, Brother Russell has spent much of his career involved in the well-publicized, sometimes controversial study of global atmospheric changes.

"The mainstay of my (past) research has centered on the ozone layer and the things that affect the ozone layer," he told the Church News.

As principal investigator, Brother Russell confirmed that chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (or freons) caused the ozone hole. He would later verify that chlorine is now decreasing in the atmosphere and the ozone layer is recovering because of international regulations, according to his biography.

His research on the earth's changing atmosphere continues as a professor of atmospheric and planetary science at Virginia's Hampton University and co-director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences. The debate over the human impact on the global environment can be as divisive as, well, science versus religion. But Brother Russell does his best to sidestep politics.

"I collect information, make sure it's right, publish it, then leave (decisions) to the policy-makers," he said.

Brother Russell and his wife, Jenna, joined the Church in 1960. The father of three said his ecclesiastical duties prepared him well for his scientific leadership and training.

"Everything that I've done that is of any worth...I attribute to the training I've received in the Church," he said.

The scientific community has been supportive of Brother Russell's religious beliefs. On one occasion, he was conducting research at England's storied Oxford University. As a few of his fellow scientists gathered for the traditional tea time, one man pulled Brother Russell aside, saying earnestly, "We've got you some orange juice, don't worry, James."

Brother Russell said he can trace God's hand even as he studies and seeks to understand His natural creations.

"It's all part of the Lord's doing, in an orderly way."

E-mail to: j[email protected]

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