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It's a Living

Hunterdon native a natural at bringing the outdoors to life


We were all forced onto alternate paths during the COVID pandemic. But for some of us, like Thornton “Thor” Giese, the rerouting was especially dramatic. “I was all set to start a job teaching outdoor science for New Jersey Fish and Wildlife in March 2020…We all know what happened there.”

“As soon as the lockdowns started, I came to realize that online education was going to be hugely influential from then on and I felt a moral obligation to put out the best, most accurate information I could to help people of all ages understand our universe in a way that would create more respect for the stewardship of our world and for the people throughout history who helped discover that information in the first place.”

The result is his award-winning show, “Thor’s Outdoor Science Academy,” in which he combines his knowledge of science and education and has developed a series of experimental science videos called “Table for 92,” which shows him cooking recipes using elements from the Periodic Table. The series implements the elements of earth, air, fire, and water to explore these through science, history, language, and healthy eating.

I watched several episodes, and they were not only edifying but very entertaining. Thor has a style that is more playful than teacherly and while he refers to himself as a “science geek,” I would call him the Julia Child of the Periodic Table. All of which is to say, his series is worth watching on many levels.

Born and raised in Hunterdon County, he may believe it’s his favorite place on earth. “I couldn’t have done the ‘Outdoor Science Academy’ show without having lived in this community. The businesses and outdoor spaces are absolutely necessary for the education I am doing. I feel very fortunate to share my knowledge and to pass on the legacy of logic, reason, and science that has prevailed for hundreds of years here in Hunterdon County.”

In 2021, PBS’s Emmy-winning “Into the Outdoors” network picked up “Thor’s Outdoor Science Academy” as part of its syndication programming. Last February, the Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners recognized Thor for the success of the series.

Thor is a trained archaeologist as well as an avid hunter, fisherman, forager, and gardener. His education took him from North Hunterdon High School, to Bochum, Germany, to Raritan Valley Community College and on to universities in Florida and Colorado for grad school. But all the while, a big part of his heart remained in New Jersey.

“What I think is so special about Hunterdon is we’re an hour from everywhere, an hour from New York, an hour from Philly, from the Appalachians, and from the Shore.”

“We have areas here, where if you blindfolded someone and dropped them off at – let’s say Ken-Lockwood Gorge in High Bridge – they might think they were in Montana. I can basically live off the land here. I hunt deer, catch trout and catfish out of the rivers and reservoirs, I forage for mushrooms and raspberries and wild onions, I grow some of the most delicious tomatoes and corn you’ve ever had – so that’s why I have decided to stay here.”

I ask what other kinds of work he’s done. “My first job was installing and maintaining irrigation lines and sprinklers.” He did this for his family’s business, MSI Plumbing and Remodeling. “Beyond that, I have worked as a lifeguard and cooked in many restaurants all over the country.”

“But the job that had the most influence on me was as a tour guide at Dinosaur Ridge in Colorado where I talked to the general public, and school and private groups about geology and paleontology. I did this for nine years, and I estimate I have guided upwards of half a million people in my time.”

He tells me, “I have always loved learning, and I’ve taken a lot of philosophy classes. I have come to fall in love with the history of science.” He quotes Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Thor ends with “We really are all in this together.”

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