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Friday, May 23, 2014

TRANSITIONS Part 9--Back home to the University of Hawaii

The trek home in itself was memorable.  Pearl's parents accompanied our drive to the West Coast, taking us through Atlanta, New York City, etc.  Among the highlights:
  • We went to the Braves-Mets game in Atlanta, sitting far up way beyond right field.  Somehow, a foul ball got to us, and Pearl retrieved it.  We gave it to her father, but, after he passed away, we got it back and I still have it.
  • Mount Rushmore was one of our stops.  Looks like there's room for a couple more presidents.

Well, we finally made it back to Honolulu, so we quickly purchased a penthouse in the Coronet, adjacent to the Academy of Arts.  That's my apartment on the top right:
I joined the General Engineering Department at the University of Hawaii.  I was assigned an introductory engineering class and FORTRAN-IV programming.  Unfortunately, I never took that course, but noticed that the author of the assigned text was Paul Murrill (left), who was chairman of the Chemical Engineering Department at LSU, from where I had just come.  He and Cecil Smith, also an LSU professor, were in the early 1970's the leading academicians in both automatic control and computer programming.  I got some hints from Paul (who went on to later become the Chancellor of LSU and Chairman of the Board and CEO of Gulf State Utilities) on how to teach the course.
Walking to the auditorium on my first day of class, I kept rolling in my mind, do I tell the students that I've also never taken this course and that I will be learning with them...or do I just wing it?  I chose the latter, and when questions came that were beyond my understanding, I asked the student to be patient so that the group would not be confused, as I would later cover that subject.  Well, this first experience eventually ended for those 100 students, and to my astonishment, streams of students (from freshmen to graduate students) came by my office to thank me for a great course.  In all my years of teaching, this never again happened.  There is a MAJOR CLUE here on how to teach!!!

A year after I begun my professorial career, I was given the opportunity to join the $10 million (today worth $55 millionHawaii Geothermal Project headed by Dean of Engineering John Shupe and Associate Dean Paul Yuen.  Much of the early work was geophysical, but as one of the reservoir engineers, I also contributed to finding and drilling the first well.  With a lot help from experts in New Zealand and Hank Ramie from Stanford University we remarkably succeeded on our initial effort, with a 6140 foot deep well at 675 F, the hottest geothermal well in the world.  We produced 3 MW of electricity in 1976.

My other contribution to geothermal energy was the creation of Noi'i o Puna (NOP), the geo-equivalent of the Natural Energy Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority for the ocean.  Quoting one of my recent postings:

Interestingly enough, in community polls, NOP was just about the only geothermal activity that had a positive register with the local people.  We had hopes for works of art from the silica byproduct, exciting new fabric designs, Hawaiian onsens for eco-tourism, and a wide range of innovative industries for the Big Island.  Read the details from a paper I co-wrote 26 years ago and you will agree with me that the timing is perfect to resurrect this initiative for Puna.  Now that geothermal energy appears to have re-gained support in the region, the time has come to re-explore these geo-co-products potential.

Alas, Judge David Ezra effectively killed this option from large-scale development:

Judge David Ezra, the Federal Judge, sided with the environmentalists, rain forest advocates, marijuana growers and local residents, almost all who opposed the possible economic turmoil, environmental insults, religious connotations and general noise and smells of this resource, effectively killing widespread development for the State of Hawaii. 

During this period of the mid-seventies, I also initiated the wind power program in Hawaii and chaired a task force to plan for the future of renewable energy in the Pacific.  

One of the benefits of being a university professor is that, every summer, you have three months to do whatever else you want.  I had two stints at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and one with the NASA Ames Research Center.  My next transition will delve into the time I spent learning about laser fusion on the lower staff of Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, and search for extraterrestrial intelligence, where I actually helped Carl Sagan gain funding for this field.



Bruce Liebert said...

Students have changed in the last 40 years. When I taught a class as a grad student (not a TA), students would applaud (really!) during the last lecture of the semester if they liked your class. This was the time I had Steve Wozniak as a student.


Wow, you're that old. Wozniak will be 64 this year. Next time we chat, tell how students have changed.


One reason why people rarely comment here is that your errors are forever. I really meant to say:

Wow, you're that old. Wozniak will be 64 this year. Next time we chat, tell ME how students have changed.

I haven't figured out how to correct mistakes in these comments.