I tend to perk up when I hear or read about cloud seeding. When I came across Amanda Little’s Business Week article about ice seeding clouds in India to avoid droughts, I even felt a little nostalgic.
Right there, in the middle of the article, she made mention of the invention of cloud seeding at GE in 1946. Among the scientists making that first snowstorm in a laboratory freezer was a mentor of mine, Bernard “Bernie” Vonnegut.
When he left GE, he became a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University at Albany, The State University of New York. That’s where I took his senior level environmental science class; it really had an impact on me. After the class, I decided I would go into environmental science and engineering and get my Master’s Degree at Washington University in St. Louis. I vividly remember ice seeding being one of the big reasons I got excited about the idea in the first place.
Bernie was a great guy, and if you wondered if he’s related to the author Kurt Vonnegut, the answer’s yes. In fact he and his brother Kurt both worked at GE and much of the research done by Bernie became background in Kurt’s books. Among them, the first book of Vonnegut’s that I read Cat’s Cradle (with its “Ice-9” plot twist).
People may think that engineering is its own fiefdom where geeky scientists do their thing with gadgets and gizmos, but I love these little reminders of the great overlap our work has with so many other important areas of life.
Little’s first-hand account of being onboard a plane over the farming region of Maharashtra in India and seeding cooperative clouds to make it rain, along with Vonnegut’s renowned novels, are examples of the ways in which technology and science make a difference in political and human interests too.
I encourage you to read Little’s article and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.
Also, I’d love to hear about your a-ha moment. Who was the professor or what was the project that got you interested in this expansively interesting subject of engineering?