Dr. Geerat J. Vermeij
Dr. Geerat J. Vermeij, a renowned blind marine biologist who carries the title of Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geology at the University of California in Davis, generously offered his time and expertise during the National Federation of the Blind's first Science Academy (2004) for blind teens interested in science. Dr. Vermeij believes observation skills are best perfected using hands and touch--particularly with the blind--and combined this philosophy along with his background in science to teach the inaugural Science Academy participants. He perfected his own sense of touch by working with his hands from an early age and has since followed his lifelong dream to work as a scientist and distinguish and group mollusks by their shells--unique characteristics. From middle school to university settings, Dr. Vermeij shares his fascination with science through an enthusiasm that spreads to his students. Together they apply his research to various areas of science and the history of life. As a scientist, he stimulates curiosity that offers his students a better understanding of the world in which they live.
When Dr. Vermeij isn't teaching in the classroom, he enlightens blind students on the beauty of science and the history of life. He encourages them to pursue their interest or even career in the areas of biology, chemistry, and physics--the natural sciences--by showing them it is possible. While Dr. Vermeij aims to inspire, he also enforces that life in science demands systematic, rigorous, and usually quantitative thinking; objectivity; and a willingness to analyze.
His research is concentrated on fossil and living mollusks, like snails and clams. Indeed, his intrigue with snails is as much aesthetic as scientific because he sees their beauty as a natural artistic phenomenon. Dr. Vermeij also studies technological innovations that will lead to a stronger analysis of how workable ecosystems are constructed and maintained and an understanding of how shifting availability of resources effects the organisms in past and present ecosystems.
Tactile observation allows Dr. Vermeij to share the powerful and inspiring messages about the beautiful environments he studies. With vivid description, readers can see what Dr. Vermeij sees in a collection of works that spans decades, including his autobiography, Privileged Hands.
Dr. Vermeij lost his vision at age three and spent his childhood in the Netherlands, where he collected and studied pinecones, rocks, stones, and leaves from his own backyard. He studied Braille at the Prins Alexander Stichting Boarding School in Huis Ter Heide where he also developed a love of reading and read widely. At age ten, the Vermeijs returned to the states, and Dr. Vermeij completed his primary education in New Jersey.
Dr. Vermeij has studied at Princeton and Yale and researched at the University of Maryland College Park, where he received his first professorship. He has also studied in Guam, the Philippines, the Galapagos Islands, Canada, Hawaii, and the Aleutian Islands. Currently Dr. Vermeij's paleobiology studies at the University of California focus on the central California coast, Gulf of California, Baja California, Cabo San Lucas, French Polynesia, and New Zealand (north and south islands).
In his personal life, Dr. Vermeij is blessed with a wife and daughter. His wife, Edith Zipser, is a fellow biologist he met at Yale through his studies. They have one daughter, Hermine.
One day, Dr. Vermeij--now a 'superhero - to budding blind scientists and youth'--will leave his legacy that blind people are the same as sighted, except that they happen to be blind. And these words to his students and all blind persons will ring true for generations to come:
Love your subject, be prepared to work hard, don't be discouraged by the occasional failure, be willing to take risks, get as much basic science and mathematics as you can take and perhaps above all display a reasoned self-confidence without carrying a chip on your shoulder.