NASA People

Center Snapshot: Chris Wohl
Christopher Wohl. Image above: Using the contact angle goniometer, Chris Wohl can study a surface to mitigate adhesion with lunar dust. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

“I defended my dissertation in early October and had my first brain surgery on October 26, 2006,” Chris Wohl began his story of the month in his life that began with him learning that he had a brain tumor.

Wohl had things to do … research efforts to complete. And a brain tumor was not going to slow down this NASA postdoctoral fellow.

He followed the advice of his neurosurgeon. “I was told that I needed to complete my defense prior to my first brain surgery,” Wohl said. “She wanted to make sure that if I had any deficits due to the surgery that they would not interfere with my completion of graduate school.”

The tumor was behind his left eye in a section of the brain that was difficult to access surgically. Wohl was referred to the University of Virginia’s neurosurgical department, where a surgeon specialized in that portion of the brain.

“Although I would have another brain surgery before my tumor was completely removed, this first surgery was very invasive and a rather daunting reality for me to face during preparation for my defense,” Wohl said.

By October 12, 2007, only 50 weeks after his first brain surgery, he was back for his second and final operation.

A complication left him hospitalized for five days afterward.

“I missed about eight weeks of work, but worked on writing a paper while I was home,” Wohl said. “Everyone I knew at NASA Langley and the people at Oak Ridge Associated Universities, the organization that manages the postdoctoral program, were genuinely great during this difficult time.”

With the continued support of his wife, Candace, and the help of his group members, John Connell, Joseph Smith, Sayata Ghose, Yi Lin, Kent Watson and Tony Belcher, Wohl was steady on the road to recovery.

Perhaps his ability to adjust to situations came from living in seven states. He had not lived in the same house for more than three years.

At NASA Langley, Wohl stays busy working on the lunar dust mitigation project. “We have been working on this effort in the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch for about three years,” Wohl said. “I am responsible for research efforts focused on generation of new materials or processing of existing materials in such a manner to introduce an intrinsic resistance to lunar dust adhesion.”

Wohl hopes to turn another obstacle into a success.

“The lunar dust was found to be problematic during the Apollo missions and was identified as one of the major obstacles for successful extended lunar missions,” Wohl said.

And he is proud to be in a position in which he can make a difference.

“NASA Langley allows researchers to utilize the training they have to bring their ideas to fruition,” Wohl said. “At the center, employees have great freedoms that are simply unattainable in an industrial setting while still being able to directly impact issues of government and industrial importance.”

Outside of work, Wohl loves to play golf. “It is true that golf is the game you love to hate,” he said.

Wohl is using his PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University in physical chemistry to help with one of his hobbies. He and his wife have begun making their own wine. “Right now we are modifying existing recipes and would like to, someday, own land to grow our own vineyard,” Wohl said. “There is a surprising amount of chemistry involved in winemaking, so when we eat Italian food, my glass of red or white wine is actually research.”

They also enjoy traveling to Mexico. “My wife and I have been to three different cities on four different trips,” he said. “The people in Mexico are possibly the kindest people that we have met. We are planning to make our fifth trip this May.”

The road has not always been straight and narrow for Wohl, but he has always kept his goals in drive. He gives credit to three elements in his life: his mother, his wife and God.

“My mom raised my sister and me as a single parent. She worked two jobs and went to school full time to become a nurse. Currently, she is a commander in the Navy and recently came home from a deployment in Afghanistan,” Wohl said. “She taught me to always work toward your goals, no matter how difficult the road may seem. Her focus and drive to raise my sister and me and provide a better life for us than she had has truly been a constant source of inspiration for me.”

“My wife has taught me to work toward fully realizing my potential. She is a very business-oriented person and has been an excellent resource for me as I transition from being a student to being in the work force,” he said.

“Finally, there are not words to describe the incredible amount of blessings that God has provided for me,” Wohl said. “I have been through two brain surgeries involving full craniotomies, and I was raised in a household that could not afford a refrigerator at times. I worked full-time and went to school full-time, and God has seen me through this all and allowed me to grow and stay positive.”