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Who the Heck Is Uncle Mark?

Enough people asked for some more background on me, mostly in connection with writeups of Clean Across America And Back for their company or Clean Cities Coalition newsletters, that I wrote a short bio here (updating it as my life changed!). Feel free to ignore it; this website is about alternative fuels, not about me.

Portrait, August 2003

I'm Dr. Mark Looper, with an MS and PhD (1989 and 1993) in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and an AB (1985) in physics from Princeton University. I am a space scientist by trade, studying the Van Allen belts of trapped radiation in the Earth's magnetic field and the energetic particles coming from the Sun and from deep space. I work for The Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, analyzing and publishing NASA data and applying it mostly to U.S. Air Force and commercial satellites, to determine how badly they're going to get cooked by the space radiation environment.

You can see why I generally try to play this down: the last thing I want to do is to give people the impression that "you have to be a rocket scientist to use these exotic, experimental fuels like natural gas." With regard to automobiles, I am a perfectly ordinary consumer (better informed than most, but certainly not as well as some), and the whole point of "Clean Across America And Back" was to demonstrate that alternative-fueled vehicles are "ready for prime time", not experimental or exotic. If I have an advantage with regard to choosing to run my vehicles on something besides gasoline or diesel, it's because I'm both an "egghead" and a "gearhead"! I actually got interested in alternative fuels from the point of view of hotrodding my old 1970 Chevy; I thought that if I converted her to burn propane (LPG), I would be exempted from the anti-tampering regulations of California vehicle law. That turned out not to be correct, but by the time I realized that, I had already become sold on the durability and performance benefits of LPG and compressed natural gas (CNG).

Then I took a job in Los Angeles in 1993, and started to think about the long term, and in particular what kind of air my kids would be breathing, once I had some. In Pasadena, California, where I went to grad school, you could see the air you breathe; some days you could taste it. There have been big improvements in air quality since the sixties, but it still ain't good enough. So, now that I had a real job (well, a post-doc position anyway!) and the possibility of buying a new car (so I could take the old Chevy out of service to work on her), I went looking for alternative-fueled vehicles, and after a few months I bought my first CNG truck.

I was born in Los Angeles, but we moved out when I was two, and I lived in St. Charles, Missouri until I went off to college; considering this, and that my parents' roots are in Oklahoma and Nebraska, I count myself a Midwesterner despite having been back in California for almost half my life. As of late 2007, I live in Kaneohe, Hawaii. (I kept my L.A. job when I moved, continuing to work there via an "extreme telecommuting" arrangement!)

I was unmarried when I drove "Clean Across America And Back" (I wouldn't have voluntarily spent three whole weeks apart from my wife and kids, if I'd had 'em), but that has since been remedied, and I'm now a daddy too! I have two brothers and a sister, and three nieces; I named this website "Uncle Mark's Alternative Fueling Station" because it was and is mostly for those three, for my own kids plus a nephew born later, and for all children growing up breathing polluted air and living in a warming world, that I think we need to promote alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel. In that sense, I am more a conservationist than an environmentalist: one might say that an environmentalist mostly values wilderness and wildlife for their own sakes, whereas a conservationist emphasizes that we don't inherit the planet from our parents--we borrow it from our children. This is consistent with my own generally conservative point of view (but see disclosure): I have never understood why many conservatives regard conservationism with such alarm--after all, the two words "conservative" and "conservation" come from the same root, and I for one would say that taking care of the planet we are borrowing from future generations is about as good an expression of "family values" and "personal responsibility" as you're likely to find!

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new 10 August 1998, updated 31 May 2015