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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MY LIFE AS A PROFESSOR


I woke up this morning and was originally planning to not only explain why Hillary would be POTUS #45, but also that the Democrats would re-gain control of the U.S. Senate.  But that will come after the Sunday Trump-Clinton second encounter, a townhall format, to be moderated by Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC.

Then I thought I'd do my regular solar energy report, this next one on the cost factors associated with energy storage, for the problem with solar and wind energies is that they come and go.  Maybe next week.  Then I thought this was a good time to report on sleep, as I had eight hours, something everyone should have.  Soon.

I just sat in bed awhile, cherishing my current lifestyle.  Today, I'll get a Japan Rail Pass for my Fall Foliage Fantasy in a couple of weeks, then buy a bento for my next lunch with Diamond Head from Magic Island.  This weekend there is a special Hoku's Wine Dinner, featuring Wine Spectator selected bottles with foie gras, Miyazaki Wagyu Beef and a lot more.  So I'm having a Kahala Resort vacation.  Is this the best time of my life?  The answer is probably yes, but a close second was my life as a professor.

This all began in 1972, 44 years ago, when, fresh from my PhD in biochemical engineering, I arrived on the Manoa Campus of the University of Hawaii as an assistant professor of general engineering.  Much of this first day was posted four years ago in MY 40 YEARS WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII.  Today, I go on with the rest of my academic life, for, in many respects, life as a professor can be a lot more redeeming and challenging than any other occupation.

In academia, your colleagues are among the brightest and most enterprising in the world.  Many are noted scholars in a wide range of fields.  I still have my university office, where the top minds in renewable energy are my neighbors.  


My original fear on Day One was that a student would ask me a question for which I couldn't figure out the answer.  It turned out that my greatest difficulty instead was that I had to stifle a laughter for the naivete' of the query, as not once did anyone get anywhere close to that interactive level.  In fact, many of us teaching courses for much of our lives wondered where are the geniuses?  I've come to a conclusion that, sure, there are high IQ's, but that is not sufficient to dominate any discussion where experience prevails.
The first few years of academia are, actually, quite stressful, for you are provided a limited period (around 7 years) to get promoted, first to associate professor, then given tenure, or not.  If you fail, you are kicked out into the real world.  Our existence on campus is almost like fantasyland.   

It was difficult for me, as my degree was in a field for which there was no department.  The General Engineering Department was disestablished a year or so after I came, so I was shunted off into the Civil Engineering Department.  I taught environmental engineering, computer programming, and made up courses in sustainable resources and Technology & Society.  My teaching scores were high (students evaluate every class), and the energy crisis occurred in 1973, so I was able to join the geothermal energy program, which allowed me to publish a few papers.  It is publish or perish in academia.  I helped discover the first geothermal well in Hawaii and created Noi'i O Puna.  (Above, Puna Geothermal Venture today.)  I made associate professor on schedule, so two more steps were left:  professorship and tenure.  Some are voted in for tenure, but never make the full professor level.

During the early days of the first energy crisis in 1973, gasoline lines formed, so the governor (George Ariyoshi) asked the dean (John Shupe) to do something about it.  Shupe called a meeting of a dozen faculty members, and he asked each to pick a topic to lead.  I was the least senior so ended up with wind energy, something I knew nothing about.  I quickly learned that the power increased with the cube of the wind velocity, and discerned that Hawaii had many sites with promising potential.  

I also heard that there was to be an initial meeting of hydrogen energy enthusiasts in Miami, so on one trip I flew to Florida to attend the first gathering of the Hydrogen Romantics, then to D.C. to meet with the person (Lou Divone) who ran the wind energy program (before the Department of Energy was formed), who told me to make some relationships in Denver, of a wind power meeting was just to start in a couple of days.  In those days you could actually change your schedule without penalty.  Through some incredible set of circumstances, I was selected chairman of the Wind Energy Division of the American Solar Energy Society, and that helped kick off this program in Hawaii.  

At one point in 1979 I was serving as associate dean of engineering, academic assistant to the chancellor, and had four offices, for I was still teaching, so had my regular office, and a large laboratory where my students did research in geothermal energy.  Thankfully, I was able to escape that nonsense by being asked to work for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga in DC.  

Remembering some of my early interest, I drafted the hydrogen legislation that later became law and helped pass the first wind bill, leading to the American Wind Energy Association.  It was on my watch that Lockheed succeeded in the first successful OTEC ship off Keahole Point, leading to my helping draft the language that became the OTEC R&D Act.  This early connection led to the Blue Revolution.

While in D.C. my time to come up for tenure arrived, so I submitted the paperwork, and to my mild astonishment, the University of Hawaii promoted me to Full Professor with tenure.  There was something to my working in the U.S. Senate that gave an impression that I could become important.  This, indeed became a turning point in my life.  A little while later the president (Fujio Matsuda) told me to, after being away for three years, come back home or give up my new position.  This was in 1982, and I did return, in a couple of years helping found the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research and becoming director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, which I led for 15 years until I retired in 1999.

So it turned out I wasn't much of a professor, as more than three decades ago I became an administrator, which was a lot more rewarding and "easier."  It took a lot of time to prepare for three courses a semester, and you do get a lot of gratitude preparing students for their future, but the freedom to create new programs in sustainable resources was more fulfilling and hopefully someday will be monumental.  It is particularly gratifying to receive national awards for initiating new pathways in my foci:
  • Ocean Pioneer Award by the Ocean Energy Council
  • Spark Matsunaga Memorial Award by the National Hydrogen Association
  • Bechtel Energy Award by the American Society of Civil Engineers

After all my years of administration, to be recognized as administrator of the year at the University of Hawaii was particularly satisfying.  Plus I was able to publish a number of books:


This where I have been sitting now for a little more than a decade.  Two computers, a refrigerator with wine, a SONY sound system...and no one bothers me, much.

While the hydrogen economy is far in the future, wind energy is the dominant renewable technology today.  I so much believe the future of Hawaii is linked to the Blue Revolution that I donated my apartment to the University of Hawaii to develop this pathway.  



After traveling around the world a dozen times, planting these seeds for the future of Planet Earth and Humanity, I can't imagine having had a more fruitful life.  Now in Purgatory, I look forward to living life my way.

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Hurricane Matthew at 120 MPH, will further strengthen into a Category 4 and now move quite close to Florida.  However, latest models show Matthew turning east and not making landfall over the U.S.:


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