Remembering Robert Rines

In the year 2009, NOVA lost a very good friend - Robert Rines, who passed away at the age of 87. Bob was a man of many talents - a patent attorney who founded a law school dedicated to intellectual property law; a member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and holder of more than 100 patents; a musician and composer who, at the age of 11, played a violin duet with Einstein.


One day more than a decade ago, I had lunch with Bob and he told me about an upcoming trip to Scotland's Loch Ness.  In 1972, Bob had what he always believed was a sighting of an enormous creature in Loch Ness, and ever after, one of his greatest passions was searching for the so-called Loch Ness monster, aka Nessie.


With his talent for drawing the best and the brightest into his circle, Bob assembled a team of faithful followers and lots of high powered electronics to help him in his search. On the team was my husband, Sheldon Apsell, like Bob an MIT alumnus and an inventor. Sheldon accompanied Bob to Loch Ness for many years, and he was there in 1999 when, as a result of the enthusiasm generated at my luncheon with Bob, we made a NOVA documentary about the search for Nessie.

I myself went on the expedition only once, this past August, 2009 when Bob was too ill to go out on the boat himself. By that time, he had given up hope that the creature he had seen was still alive, but his passion for the hunt and love for the Loch never faded. Many of his most loyal supporters, including Sheldon, were skeptical about Nessie, but that in no way dimmed their enthusiasm for taking part in a series of expeditions. Year after year, there were interesting sightings, tantalizing moments and even photos published in the journal Nature, but in the end, no monster was ever seen. Still, much new information was gathered to inform our scientific understanding of the geology, biology and history of Loch Ness itself. And there was the chance to watch a great mind in action, that of Bob Rines, following his passion, driven by the curiosity that is what science is all about.

Sheldon Apsell comments:

Although no concrete evidence of the existence of a large creature living in Loch Ness was ever found, our expeditions did result in numerous unanticipated findings.  Among these was a sonar image of a large four engine airplane resting on the bottom of the Loch, which turned out to be a British bomber missing since World War II;  the remains of marine life which we determined to be about 10,000 years old through radio carbon dating, thus disproving the commonly held belief that the Loch is an inland lake formed  by receding glaciers;  a form of primitive sponge-like organisms that live deep in the Loch where no light or oxygen penetrates and which have not previously been observed by biologists; and most mysteriously, the sighting of a large wake on the Loch made by something traveling just below the surface of the water.  This event I saw with my own two eyes and to this day have no explanation as to what may have caused it.

The legacies of Bob Rines are many, but among the most important are the educational opportunities he initiated. Long ago, Bob founded the Academy of Applied Science, which mentors high school students in the sciences, among them underserved youth. Working with the U.S. military, the Academy holds science competitions on a regional and national level for 12,000 students every year. For more information, please check out the Academy website at

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