The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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John Gardner Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

August 13, 2014


John Arvy Gardner, Jr. was born in 1939 in Mississippi and raised there until moving to Texas at the end of his high school years. Gardner was born with significant vision problems, suffering from both glaucoma and a congenital malformation that rendered him blind in one eye and with restricted vision in the other. Despite these impediments, Gardner was a good student growing up and ultimately attended Rice University, studying math and physics. From there he pursued a master's degree and a Ph.D. is solid state physics at the University of Illinois, completing his doctorate in 1966.

After six years as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, Gardner joined the OSU Physics department in 1973, where he established himself as an international authority on a technique called perturbed angular correlation spectroscopy. Gardner also developed research contacts in Germany and helped to further an exchange program with German physics students whose presence in Corvallis boosted the prestige of the department.

In 1988 Gardner underwent what was believed to be a routine operation to help relieve the symptoms of the glaucoma that had plagued him for his entire life. To the suprise of many, his eye reacted negatively to what had been understood to be a simple procedure, and he emerged from the surgery having completely lost his sight.

At first determined to continue pursuing his work in solid state physics, Gardner soon realized that the infrastructure was not in place for him to work effectively in this field. Gradually he began to shift his focus to improving the conditions faced by low- and no-sight workers in the sciences by developing technologies that would enable scientific research by the blind.

In 1990 Gardner founded the Science Access Project, which resulted in a high resolution embossing technology for use in creating much-improved tactile graphics. Six years later, the project was spun off into a private company, ViewPlus Technologies, which Gardner headed. In 2001 Gardner retired from OSU to devote his full energies to this fledgling company. Since then, ViewPlus has grown steadily and is now recognized as a world leader in assistive technologies, specializing in braille printers, braille translation, tactile graphics, tactile-audio systems, and audio graphing. Still based in Corvallis, ViewPlus also operates a sales and service office in Westerkappeln, Germany.