Bedford scholar eyes science, religion

Bedford Journal, November 16, 2012

Paul H. Carr - researcher, physicist and Bedford's own Renaissance man.


The Renaissance man is not a concept that’s frozen in a single time and place. The Renaissance itself had Leonardo da Vinci, the American Revolution had Benjamin Franklin, and here and now in Bedford, there’s Paul H. Carr.

His prolific career as a physicist and researcher at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts resulted in 10 patents, more than 80 papers, and a number of awards and honors.

Carr also has delved into the creative and philosophical realms, studying and teaching on the connection between religion and science, photographing landscapes, and authoring the book “Beauty and Science in Spirit.”

Carr took the time to share how his patents are used in everyday devices and why he chose to make his home in New England after serving in the military, as well as his favorite natural wonder he’s photographed.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Q: What led to your interest in science?

A: As a boy, I always wanted know how things like vacuum tube radios worked. Science offered me answers. On a hot day in August 1945, I heard on the radio that a single atomic bomb had destroyed an entire Japanese city. My boyhood curiosity as to how tiny atoms could be used to make such powerful bombs led to my majoring in physics at MIT.

Q: After you completed your service with the Army Ordnance Corps at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, what made you decide to return to New England?

A: I returned to Greater Boston for the opportunity to complete my Ph.D. in physics at Brandeis University on a part-time basis, while continuing my research in microwave acoustics at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory, Hanscom Air Force Base. My new wife, Karin, and I also had family here.

Q: Out of the 10 patents you have, do any of them relate to things we use every day?

A: My surface acoustic wave patents relate to the miniature SAW filters that are used in cellphones and TVs.

Q: On your website, it says your research contributed to the demise of communism as a global threat. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

A: My research resulted in small, low-cost SAW-UHF filters for large banks of contiguous filters. They were used in low-probability-of-intercept electronic warfare receivers and in fast frequency-hopping generators for secure, covert communications. I also worked on coded and chirped filters used for increasing the range resolution of radars in President Reagan’s Star Wars program. My work and that of other electronics researchers produced the technical strength that contributed to the demise of communism as a world threat.

Q: Of all your awards and accomplishments, what is the one thing you’d like to be remembered for?

A: In 1979, I was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers “for contributions to microwave acoustics and their use in signal processing components.” I am thankful for all the opportunities, fellowship and international contacts that the IEEE and the American Physical Society have offered me.

However, I would also like to be remembered as a “Renaissance person” who authored “Beauty in Science and Spirit.”

Q: Do you see a connection between science and religion?

A : Beauty is the connection. I experience beauty and wonder in the comprehensiveness of scientific theories, their ability to explain the origin of our vast cosmos and to make predictions about the natural world. I find inspiration and meaning in beautiful religious music, art and story. Science and religion complement each other beautifully.

Q: How did the philosophy course you taught at the University of Massachusetts Lowell inspire your book “Beauty in Science and Spirit”?

A: One of the ways to learn a new subject is to teach it to others. To obtain the Templeton Foundation grant that funded my course, “Science & Religion: From Cosmos to Consciousness,” I had to expand my specialized technical knowledge. This included understanding the origin of our universe, 13.8 billion years ago, in a big bang, as well as the evolution of life on earth. Similarly, I learned more about Einstein’s views of science and religion and the dialogue he had with theologian Paul Tillich. The stimulating discussions I had with my students on these matters of ultimate concern inspired me to write my book.

Q: In your “Mirror of Nature” exhibit, what is your favorite natural wonder you’ve photographed? Are there others you’d like to see?

A: My photo of clouds reflected in Walden Pond is my favorite, because it illustrates Thoreau’s saying, “Water indeed reflects heaven.” You can see it on my Web page, My distant cousin Andrew Wyeth’s paintings are those of his surroundings and his neighbors. His most famous is called “Christina’s World,” a painting of his physically challenged neighbor yearning for a better life.

William Blake expressed my goal in his poem:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.”