OCSEF Legacy: Jan and Richard Cannon (1964)

When Jan Burnett first signed up for the 1964 Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF), she had no idea that she would meet her future husband there. 

Because their last names were close together alphabetically, Jan Burnett’s and Richard Cannon’s projects were right next to each other at the state competition. The two spent the day touring the Fair, watching various science films and getting to know each other.

“He was a surfer and quite different from the rest of my friends in terms of interests and activities, which intrigued me,” Jan Cannon said. “We started dating and had a lot of fun that summer, going to the beach, dancing and exploring Orange County. We also talked; we talked about everything.”

Jan Cannon’s lifelong interest in science began with a chemistry set and microscope in elementary school, and was encouraged by her parents, her fifth and sixth grade science teacher and the Space Race of the 1960s. This interest led to an eventual career in medical technology and hematology. After certification, Jan Cannon worked as a hematology specialist, educator and lecturer at the University of California, Davis until her retirement from teaching in 2009.

“I loved all of this work, but best of all was finding laboratory clues leading to diagnosis and treatment of a patient’s disease,” Jan Cannon said. “It was very rewarding to provide the information needed to diagnose anemia, leukemia or parasitic infections, to name a few.”

Jan Burnett and Richard Cannon married in the Clark County Courthouse in Las Vegas, Nev., on June 25, 1965, 13 months after they had met and four months after Richard Cannon enlisted in the United States Air Force. The couple lived in Texas and Florida for two years, and then in Taiwan for two more years. While in Taiwan, Jan Cannon taught conversational English to locals. Students included college graduates preparing for their Test of English as a Foreign Language exam to obtain further education in the U.S., members of the local Procter and Gamble factory’s executive board, as well as a police chief. 

“Living in Taiwan immersed us in a totally different culture and permanently changed my worldview,” Jan Cannon said. “We had an opportunity to learn, appreciate and respect cultural differences.”

After service in the Air Force, Richard Cannon taught middle school science before accepting a job at a commercial water treatment company. His scientific background and success in sales led him to start Cannon Water Technology, Inc. in Sacramento in the mid-’80s. The Cannons are both still working at their family business but plan to ease into retirement over the next few years.

“I feel that science fairs such as the OCSEF act as incubators for creative students who will become the technology and science leaders of the future,” Richard Cannon said. “Though my business is not an extension of my science project on thermal regulation of reptiles, the skills I learned creating my project helped me greatly later in life.”  

The annual OCSEF serves to encourage students like Jan and Richard Cannon to participate in all fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

“Realizing that a science fair is judged largely based on evidence is a powerful way to prepare students to make better decisions in all areas of their lives, even if they do not become scientists,” OCSEF director Mark Hobbs said. “Watching the students present [their projects] is definitely the best part of the Fair. It renews my faith in the next generation and the future.”

Participation in the OCSEF has grown steadily over the last few years and sees almost 600 project submissions annually.

“There are many wonderful careers for people with strong aptitudes in science; find out what you love to do,” Jan Cannon said. “However, while careers are important, remember to have a balanced life that includes loving, laughing and sharing with others.  You will have a long life and time for many opportunities and adventures, and maybe even detours. Enjoy them all!”