Smithsonian Project Discovery

Chapter Three: Smithsonian Project Discovery

When Tom returned from Africa, he was hired by the Smithsonian Institution as a writer of dramas and documentaries on great lives of the 20th century. He was also a co-designer of a revolutionary interactive videodisc and computer database, Life Story, on genetics and the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA, which was collaboration between the Smithsonian, Apple Multimedia Lab, Discovery Channel, and Lucas Film.

Francis Crick Makes a Unique Discovery

Francis Crick Makes a Unique Discovery

“In 1988, a small group of designers set out to create a new form of “interactive drama” using Apple Computer’s new multimedia technology. One of the designers was Tom De Boor, a talented young researcher with an incredible passion for science and education. Together, we spent weeks exploring new ways to inform and entertain with interactive media, and it was a true pleasure to witness Tom’s many breakthroughs during our investigation.

The award-winning software we created was called “Life Story” — it retraced the discovery of DNA’s double helix through movie clips, documentaries, interviews, scientific animations and articles, all linked together in our multimedia learning environment. Tom and his colleague Gretchen Hermes produced much of the scientific, historical and educational content for this product, working tirelessly under the direction of acclaimed TV producer Adrian Malone and the Smithsonian Institution. I have really fond memories of our many creative brainstorms in filmmaker George Lucas’s secluded Marin County ranch. It was an unforgettable adventure, and Tom kept pushing the envelope through it all. As a team, we pioneered a whole new way to teach science, literature and other disciplines, all at once: as an interactive CD-ROM title, Life Story engaged many young minds in the process of discovery, with riveting stories, games and activities on how people and ideas can change the world. As one of the students who used our tools put it “it felt like you actually discovered DNA.” Thank you, Tom, for making this possible.

— Fabrice Florin, former producer/designer at Apple’s Multimedia Lab, now executive director at NewsTrust

2 Responses to Smithsonian Project Discovery

  1. Steve Gano says:

    What a good occasion to say hello and remember some treasured times. Happy Birthday Tom! You always brought such smart and enthusiastic perspectives to our collaborations, and it sounds like you have been doing great things since then. It would be great to be back in touch and catch up.
    All the best,

    — Steve Gano, Director for Education and Digital Media
    American Museum of Natural History

  2. Ed Bastian says:

    Tom deBoor…..what can I say.

    You showed up at the Smithsonian through a weird set of connections somehow related to Madison and a professor, and years in a foreign land, standing in front of me beaming with extraordinary intelligence, a good nature, honesty, and commitment to the strange job that combined a yet-to-be-born genre of interactive multimedia, along with television documentaries, dramas, and a curriculum on the intectual history of the 20th century all bound together in a revolving three-dimensional ball and stick molecule that had floated in the mind of a narcisistic genius under whose spelled we had all fallen. Tom deBoor …. your work was amazing ….. but your true mission in this episode was to fall in love with your female twin whose aforementioned qualities more than matched yours, and whose ironic sense of humor and capacity for human caring softened the hard-driving male ego-energy that pervaded the entire endeavor. Tom deBoor….. your formidable intellectual capacities and personal qualities could find their calling in many pursuits. (What in the hell have you been doing for the past twenty years!) You were missing from my life until the invitation to write this arrived out of the blue! I dearly appreciated your presence in my life and I continue to enjoy my memories of your work and our time together. I hope we’ll share a few more moments before transmigrating on to our next incarnations!

    Congratulations for hanging around to enjoy this moment with your wonderful wife and son!

    — Ed Bastian
    Former Founding Director of Smithsonian Project Discovery
    President, Spiritual Paths

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