Tash is a biologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. His lab, on the third floor of the new life sciences building at 39th Street and Rainbow, affords him a panoramic view to the north — tree-covered hills, downtown's skyline.
He is one of the world's experts on male contraception, and he's on the verge of developing a birth-control pill for men.
He knows what you're probably thinking. He's heard the jokes: Dudes won't remember to take a pill every day — they can't even remember to take out the trash once a week. Or they'll lie in a heated moment, whispering, "Don't worry, baby, I took my pill."
But Tash says people said the same things about the female pill: Women wouldn't remember to take it, and men couldn't be certain that women were on it. Today, the pill's widespread use makes those doubts sound silly — nostalgic and innocent, like the whole era of sexual liberation that's been cleaned up and repackaged in commercials to sell baby boomers retirement accounts.
The male birth-control pill is another story. It presents a monumental scientific challenge. The female pill has to stop just one egg at a time. But a normal male ejaculation — about a teaspoon of semen — contains around 100 million sperm. To do its job, a pill for men would have to stop every last one of them.
People might doubt the need for it. There's still the female pill, and there are other contraceptive options. But for men, condoms and vasectomies seem so 20th century, given the alternatives that Tash and other scientists might be able to supply.
The effort is important enough that the National Institutes of Health is backing Tash with millions of dollars. After working on projects funded by two federal grants that totaled $7.75 million over five years, in March he banked another $7.5 million to make KU a national center for male-contraception research and drug development.
Go ahead and laugh, then. Tash has a sense of humor about this stuff. Hanging on one wall of his office is a Matt Groening cartoon depicting a handful of Homer Simpson heads, each with a tail. "Actual Homer Simpson sperm magnified many, many times," the cartoon reads. It's signed "Your pal, Matt Groening, 4-1-1993." Tash loved The Simpsons episode in which Homer worries that working at a nuclear plant might hurt his fertility. (Tash's brother Max, who is married to Groening's sister-in-law, commissioned the cartoon for him.)
Cartoons aside, Tash is a serious scientist. His wardrobe suggests practicality — it seems to consist entirely of cargo pants and knit T-shirts (long-sleeved in the winter, short-sleeved in the summer). He's quiet and private. But his lifelong personal mission is one that could help the planet.
And in case the planet's doomed, he's also helping to figure out how humans might be able to survive migration to other galaxies.
Growing up in the comfortable, older Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood, Illinois, Tash loved chemistry class and buried his head in biographies of scientists. His first moment of scientific amazement came at middle-school age, when one of his teachers lent him a telescope with a solar filter. Tash took it out to a field. He was mesmerized by sunspots 93 million miles away. Once, for a science fair, he made his brothers and sisters chew on paraffin wax so he could collect their saliva to determine whether fluoride in toothpaste affected the bacteria in their mouths.