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Anybody who thinks science is necessarily boring has not met Clifford Stoll.

The Buffalo-born astrophysicist and author entertained an auditorium full of high school science students, teachers and his peers Wednesday by bounding around the stage, racing up and down aisles and perching on seat backs as he lectured on the speed of light and other matters.

When someone in front got ready to snap his picture, Stoll, sporting his trademark wild hair, khakis and loose-hanging shirt, turned the tables -- taking away the camera and photographing the photographer without skipping a syllable.

His engaging performance in the Buffalo Museum of Science -- "where it all started for me" as a 10-year-old amateur astronomer -- opened a daylong program that ended with a dinner honoring Stoll and nine other 2004 Western New York Pioneers of Science.

Stoll, 55, who grew up in North Buffalo and graduated from the University at Buffalo, later helped design optics, telescope mechanics and image-processing software for space observation, and in the process became an expert on the uses and abuses of computers.

He wrote three books, starting in 1989 with "The Cuckoo's Egg," which told how he broke up a German spy ring that stole U.S. defense secrets by hacking into military computers.

For all of the crackling energy he exuded during the Pioneers education program, which drew about 150 students to the Science Museum, it was an anecdote about community activism and applied science that captivated the audience.

Stoll said he was walking home from a grocery store in Oakland, Calif., when he came across a neighbor who was in tears because her cat had been run over by a car.

He got to thinking about the problem of speeding on the street and rigged up a homemade radar detector to document it. He calibrated the device, which emitted a laser beam from an empty coffee can, by having his wife drive up and down in front of their house at various speeds.

Through "simple Einsteinian physics," Stoll determined that most drivers were exceeding the posted limit. Neighbors signed a petition asking the city to install speed bumps and institute parking on both sides of the street to slow traffic.

His makeshift research "was good enough to convince the Common Council," he said.

"Within a year, there were speed bumps on our street."

Joining Stoll for the education program and the awards dinner in Kleinhans Music Hall were fellow Pioneers of Science Erich Bloch, Margaret A. Pericak-Vance, Esther Takeuchi, Edmund A. Egan, Bruce Holm and Claes E.G. Lundgren. Lawrence D. Bell and William C. Moog were honored posthumously.

The biennial program is sponsored by Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in conjunction with the Museum of Science.


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