Campus & Community

Rock of ages

4 min read

Musician and Anderson Lab manager retiring after 38 years

Lenny Solomon rocks. Just ask anybody.

For more than 38 years, Solomon has been a fixture at Harvard, a portrait of rock-like stability in a lab whose investigations are up in the air. He’s also been a beacon to information technology professionals, founding the ABCD Committee with the aim of getting IT pros talking to each other, something 1,600 of them now do.

After hours, Solomon feeds the other side of his brain, writing music and performing with his acoustic group, appropriately named the Lenny Solomon Band. Helped along by a notepad and tape recorder to jot down ideas, Solomon pens bluesy-country songs that the band plays at gigs around the region.

Solomon, officially a research program manager in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, began working at Harvard in 1968 as a mechanical engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). After several years working on experiments in solar physics, Solomon departed in 1973. He was hired back by the same CfA group in 1976 and, in 1978, was hired by Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry James Anderson to manage his research team, then consisting of seven or eight people.

The lab’s focus then was on atmospheric ozone and its depletion. It ramped up to 35 or so people, where it stayed until the research funding crunch under President George W. Bush.

Anderson said Solomon has helped to manage projects and people across many platforms, using high-altitude balloons, instruments flying on converted U2 spy planes, and more than two dozen instruments built to fly for NASA.

In December, Solomon, 64, who has a master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will leave on his own terms, retiring to devote more time to his music and his many side projects. He might even go fishing more often.

During his career, Solomon set a standard for effective collegial interaction that is important when scientists are in the field in locations as far flung as the tip of South America, the Arctic, or the jungles of Costa Rica, Anderson said.

“Lenny has been an essential part of our research group for 30 years here,” Anderson said. “There are some things Lenny has done for which there’s no replacement. We’ll just have to work our way through those.”

Solomon also will be missed by the IT community. He founded the ABCD Committee in 1985 after canvassing Harvard’s IT professionals about equipment he was about to purchase. In those conversations, he realized that many of the people he was speaking with had heard of each other, but had never met.

From its humble beginnings of seven or so people meeting monthly over sandwiches in the Anderson Lab, the group today includes 1,600 IT professionals from Harvard and affiliated institutions, meeting monthly in a main meeting and also through subgroups.

“I still think a big part of it is to get acquainted and create a sense of community,” Solomon said.

Solomon has been active in the Harvard community in other ways. He started the safety committees at what was then the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and in the Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences departments. He also served as a freshman adviser for two decades.

Solomon credits Anderson for giving him the freedom to pursue his other collaborations, like ABCD and the safety committees. Solomon stayed all these years because he was surrounded by great people and because, most days, work didn’t feel like work.

“If I’m going to be at a university, I’m not going to get rich. I might as well get as much of the experience as I can – and a lot of the experience is meeting people,” Solomon said. “I’m a social guy. It’s made my life richer and fuller here.”