Alumni Who Have Made a Difference - Leon Jaroff
Science for the mass public? In mainstream media? Not so long
ago, those questions wouldn't have even been considered worth
discussing. But that was before Leon Jaroff.
Leon Jaroff served as a co-chair of the '50E Emeritus
Committee. He is pictured here speaking at Emeritus
Weekend 2000 about his class' fundraising efforts to
Kenneth Snelson sculpture for the College.
Leon Jaroff (BSE EE/Eng Math '50) has been a mainstay for the
Time, Inc. family of publications since he joined the company as
an editorial trainee for LIFE magazine in 1951. He moved
over to Time in 1954, and became its chief science writer
in 1966. In 1970, he was named a senior editor, a post he kept
until he semi-retired several years ago. His passion for science
is a constant theme in his work.
"I like to think of it as striking a blow for rationality in an
ever-increasing irrational world," said Jaroff. "It's hopeless,
but I haven't given up," he added with a wry chuckle.
Although he's won numerous awards for his writing, Jaroff, 73,
is probably best known as the founding managing editor of
"In the early 1970s, I began to do research on our newsstand
sales and found that the best sellers had featured either
science or medicine on the cover. I lobbied for a science
magazine for over nine years and finally was able to start
During Jaroff's more than four years at Discover,
articles he edited won the American Institute of Physics Award
twice. He is also the author of "The New Genetics" (Whittle
Communications: 1991) about the human genome project and its
impact on medicine.
One of Jaroff's favorite jobs at Discover was his
"Skeptical Eye" column, in which he "shot darts at people who
needed it." He was also a founding member of the Committee for
Scientific Investigation into Claims of the Paranormal, an
international organization dedicated to exposing anti-science
trends in society and the media.
Beyond science, Jaroff has two passions: Wolverine football and the
possibility that Earth might one day again be hit by a large
asteroid or comet - and the lack of preparations to deal with that
"I love Michigan football," said Jaroff. "When the game comes
on, my wife, Mary Kay, leaves the house because she can't stand
the language or yelling. If the team loses, I go into a deep
depression. I throw the sports section away so I don't have to
read about it."
Jaroff makes a good case for being concerned about an
Earth-asteroid collision, noting that it's happened before. He
points to the theory that it was such a collision that ended the
age of dinosaurs, and even more proudly to his 1986 story that
predated acceptance of this theory by the scientific community.
He's equally proud of "7829 Jaroff," a 10-km-wide asteroid named
after him by the International Astronomical Union.
Jaroff credits the University of Michigan for much of his
success. "Everything I've done, I trace back to the University.
My studies in the College of Engineering and my work on The
Michigan Daily helped shape my life," said Jaroff, who was a
managing editor of The Michigan Daily and served as
co-chair for the Student Publications Committee in 1991-98.
"It's such a treat to work with students. Michigan keeps turning
out a great crop of writers."
How did Jaroff become part of that crop? "I was sitting in an
engineering mechanics class, surrounded by all of these guys in
jeans and plaid shirts. I asked one of my classmates, 'Gee,
where are all the girls?' He told me that he heard they were all
over at The Michigan Daily. Of such conversations,
careers are built," said Jaroff with a smile.
It's been some career. "Leon is a legend around here," said
Philip Elmer-DeWitt, science editor of Time. "Generations
of science writers have learned from him. He taught us to
construct a story like an engineer, one word, one sentence, one
paragraph at a time. He has such an appreciation for science,
and has no patience for unscientific thinking, wherever he finds
Michigan Engineer Fall/Winter 2000