Candace Kohl’s career is out of this world

Candace Kohl, Ph.D., grew up in St. Louis and attended UCSD, where she studied cosmochemistry under professor James R. Arnold, receiving her Ph.D. in 1975. Her experimental work centered on measurements of cosmic ray produced radioactivity in lunar material and meteorites. Her research led to the extension of these techniques to date terrestrial landforms and has proven to be an important tool for the study of geomorphology and investigations of climate change.

She has performed fieldwork on all seven continents, including a field season hunting for meteorites on the Antarctic ice, and a field season on top of the Greenland ice cap to obtain a 10,000-foot-long ice core.

Kohl is president of the San Diego Chapter of the ARCS Foundation, a national group that provides monetary awards to academically outstanding students in science, medicine and engineering.

She serves on the selection committee for the Amelia Earhart Fellowships of Zonta International. She has also served on the Meteoritical Society, the Friends of the International Center at UCSD, and is on the board of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.

What brought you to Del Mar?

I moved to San Diego in 1969 to go to UCSD for graduate school in Chemistry. My timing was excellent; I received an invitation to work on the first samples from the moon and was able to be a part of a very exciting time in Planetary Science. I’ve lived in North County most of the time since then and was particularly drawn to Del Mar by the village atmosphere and the proximity to the ocean, as well as my fond memories of wild graduate student parties. In the early ‘70s many graduate students shared rented places right next to the water; if I had only bought real estate in those days instead of studying meteorites and lunar rocks ... oh well.

I moved here because I found my dream house and fell in love with it. Even after 12 years, I still walk around it every morning and look at all the rooms and views, just enjoying them.

What makes Del Mar special to you?

I have come to really value the sense of community we have. I think that has been increased so much by having the Powerhouse Community Center as a focus and venue for events. I always attend the 1st Thursdays programs and have as much fun seeing my neighbors as I do at the performances. Del Mar is also just full of educated people who really care — about all sorts of things — and aren’t shy about sharing their views. This makes for an intellectually lively and diverse environment.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Del Mar?

Like many Del Mar residents, I don’t care for the summer influx of visitors or for the increased traffic and chaos caused by events at the fairgrounds.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by being surrounded by art, both visual art and performing art. I have quite a bit of art in my house, much of it by local artists. Somehow, even with my generally scientific mindset, it seems that the creative energy just leaks off the objects and enriches my environment. People who live with joy and generosity in the face of the soap opera that life seems to give all of us also inspire me..

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

This question is harder than it looks. My first thought is to get all the founders of the world’s religions together and find out what they really meant and use that to help the world get along, but I don’t think that would make much of a dinner party.

If I am cooking, I want Julia Child there to help; Yo-Yo Ma, Mark Twain, and Paul Newman for conversation and entertainment; Queen Elizabeth I for historical perspective and a woman’s view of power; Leonardo da Vinci for breadth of engagement; and the Dalai Lama for a sense of balance and joy. And myself.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

I am addicted to the Steven Saylor mystery novels that take place in Ancient Rome and feature events that really happened and speeches that were really given. Unfortunately, I am almost finished with the series.

What is your most-prized possession?

My friendships. I have the best friends in the world and they are actually all over the world. I include here some family members as well.

It is hard to think of friendship as a possession, so if you want a more tangible answer, I have to say my asteroid. I don’t own it, but I do have one named for me by the discoverers, Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker. It is called (4899) “Candace.” What I have is a certificate and a description of the estimated size and orbit.

What do you do for fun?

I travel as much as possible for work and for pleasure, and I love to garden. I am something of a weird plant nut with a collection of Protea family plants and many cycads. My house and garden are my big toys and my philosophy is “play with your toys.” My garden has been featured on a few garden tours and I host lots of events for myself and others.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

On the scientific side, it would have to be my participation in developing the techniques to use cosmic ray produced radioactivity to date terrestrial landforms. On the volunteer side, being president this year of the San Diego Chapter of ARCS. This organization has given out almost $6.5 million in scholar awards to outstanding graduate students in the San Diego area over the past 25 years. On the personal side, helping my sister and her family through the cancer and death of her teenaged son.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Live in the present moment with kindness, enthusiasm and integrity.