Remembering R. P. Kroon

Rein Kroon and another Westinghouse engineer testing strain on celluloid model of mount for Hale Telescope. (Hagley)

 

Reinout Pieter Kroon (4 August 1907 – 4 August 1992) was my professor for turbomachinery during my Mechanical Engineering undergraduate years (1968-1972) at the Towne School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania (which is in Philadelphia). He was a kind, intelligent, witty and perceptive man, with great insights into what engineers — as public-minded, socially conscious citizens — could and should be. This web-page is my appreciative memorial for him.

“Reinout P. Kroon (1907 – 1992) was a Dutch mechanical engineer who immigrated to the United States in 1931 after earning his M.S. degree from the Federal Technical Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Joining Westinghouse Corporation that year, he soon became a development engineer in the Steam Division.

“In late 1935, Westinghouse sent Kroon to Pasadena to work on the details of the mounting of the 200-inch telescope. During his six-month assignment, Kroon solved three major design issues. First, he designed the hydrostatic pressure system with which the telescope turns in right ascension on a thin film of oil. Second, he designed the horseshoe and ball bearings for the north and south ends of the yoke. Finally, he designed the spoked declination bearings that allow the telescope to travel north and south.

“Later, Kroon became head of engineering research at Westinghouse where he managed a team that in 1945 developed the first commercially viable American jet engine. In 1960, he joined the engineering faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where he rose to the position of chairman of the graduate division of mechanical engineering.” (http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/about/personalities.html)

Reinout Kroon was the Team Leader at Westinghouse in the making of the first American jet engine. The story of that effort during the World War II years is described by Kroon in his lecture-pamphlet “What’s Past Is Prologue” (shown below), and the unsuccessful effort to commercialize the initial technical triumph of making that turbojet, during the years 1950-1960, is given in detail by Paul D. Lagasse in his 1997 Master’s thesis in American History (http://enginehistory.org/GasTurbines/EarlyGT/Westinghouse/WestinghouseAGT.pdf).

Professor Kroon was a tall, elegant and personable man; he was a fabulous instructor and an inspiring example of an engineer’s engineer. From him I learned more about fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, specifically about turbomachinery, and — most elegantly — dimensional analysis; he was very adept mathematically. A field trip to the Westinghouse plant where huge turbines (for steam turbine electric generators) were built, was memorable. The stamping machines for fashioning the turbine blades were awesome, and loud!

Reinout had one brother, Berend Jan Gerhard (Bert) Kroon; and he was married to Dora Kroon (born Kaestli, on 25 May 1910, in Bern, Switzerland) with whom he had children, one son being Berend Walter Kroon. Reinout Kroon lived in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Professor Kroon died tragically in 1992, on his 85th birthday, as a result of injuries sustained some days earlier in an automobile accident.

What’s Past Is Prologue

Kroon, Dimensional Analysis

PDF files of the two pamphlets displayed below are available from the web-links above.

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The Political Realities of Science Work

The author at work, 1983

The author at university, ~1970

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The Political Realities of Science Work

Josue De Luna Navarro had an article published (in two parts) in the 4 and 7 October 2019 editions of Counterpunch, on how fossil fuel companies are distorting the orientation of engineering and science education to their favor by making large funding grants to universities to promote the idea that geo-engineering schemes can make it possible to continue with fossil fuel extraction and burning indefinitely:

How Fossil Fuels Pollute STEM Education
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/07/how-fossil-fuels-pollute-stem-education/

Geoengineering is a Scam
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/04/geoengineering-is-a-scam/

I agree with Navarro’s criticisms completely, and I add the following.

Mr. Navarro points out a fact that has always been true of the engineering profession (and also most other highly refined professions) that its students, first seeking education, and then as graduates seeking employment and lengthy careers, are destined to serve monied patrons, the Golden Rule: “those that have the gold make the rules.” Four to five millennia ago those patrons would have been called “Pharaoh,” and later “king,” “caesar,” “emperor” and “queen,” and in more recent centuries “the company” and “the corporation.” Professional expertise, like high art, has a dependency on patronage by the wealthy without whose largesse professional ambitions would be nearly fruitless (for there are always some successful independent scientists, like Charles Darwin).

My engineering education and physics career (1968-2007) was funded (besides by my parents paying my tuition and living expenses during my undergraduate years) by U.S. government money (the public) funneled through the military. Most decent paying options for employment after schooling were with manufacturing, electronics or energy corporations, defense (war industry) corporations, and government agencies. A tiny fraction of engineering science jobs were in academia. In any case, all such engineering science employees were servicing the aims of the Big Money: profitability for the corporations, greater military power through advanced technology, and the combination of both as greater global political power for the policy-making elite of the nation. Same as in Khufu’s day.

Because America’s militarism-backed capitalism is fossil fueled, both in my time and Navarro’s the oil and gas industry has been a major buyer and owner of engineering and science talent, as Navarro states. The great challenge for any engineer and scientist working in today’s government-funded paradigm of science professionalism is to try to keep body and soul together through corporate and government (and academic) employment while at the same time trying to produce work that is as much in the public interest as possible. A very difficult ideal to achieve, and not all engineers and scientists even try to. Our engineering professors were reluctant to talk about the political realities of our profession, and our economic captivity by the Big Money and its Capitalist Government, because they saw no alternative to it.

Navarro is right to excoriate the fossil fuel industries’s efforts to corrupt the intellectual integrity of the engineering and physical sciences, by urinating money on our professions’s training academies to drench them in the odor of the narrowly self-serving corporate mindset of fossil fuel burning forever, and for the endless profitability of oil and gas (and coal) extraction. Even so, it is up to each individual engineer and scientist to learn the facts about global warming and climate change and environmental degradation, and the unfortunate political realities governing the economics of their profession, as a matter of professional ethics and personal integrity. This is the necessary first step for them to have any possibility of producing work for the public good.

Navarro is correct to call geo-engineering to attenuate global warming a scam. It’s like trying to design a more effective helmet that would allow you to continue playing Russian Roulette. The most energy efficient, cost effective, socially beneficial and rapid solution to the fundamental problem is to simply stop the damaging behavior, which in the case of climate change is greenhouse gas emitting capitalism. But, that would be economically leveling and fatal to militarism, so unacceptable to the courtiers of capitalism, in all their national factions.

Like all engineers, I like machines and gizmos and gadgets, and I especially like flows of energy. But the best use of such engineered mechanisms are as adjuncts in harmony with the workings of nature for the beneficial maintenance of a sustainable society. There are so many delectable challenges to be enjoyed in the fashioning of a non-fossil fueled civilization, a Green New Deal, that operates within the natural tolerances for the continuation of a stable and benign (interglacial) global climate, that all the 21st century engineers could be fulfillingly employed for their lifetimes to help fashion and maintain that kind of world society. The immediate challenges are twofold: transform energy systems and industrial and food production operations to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and toxic chemical pollution, and stop environmental damage and engage massively in environmental restoration of lands and the oceans. Planting trees and cleaning up plastic pollution are just two examples of specific tasks that easily come to mind.

So I circle back to the same conclusion as always: our problems are not technological but political. So long as our politics are bad — our economics held captive by fossil fueled capitalism and militarism, to the general detriment of the public — our technologists will be directed by the self-interests of the Big Money and the War Industries, and not by the public good of engineering and managing a decent society in harmony with Nature.

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Message #1 to a Young Artist

I want to commend you (give you praise) for your resolve to study deeply, even if that means taking “hard classes” with “lots of work.” Any creative person who produces worthwhile work is a person who has studied deeply, whether formally at a school or independently and intuitively by conscientious practice (or both). Good and great work comes out of a prior build-up of deep study. On a simple and practical level it is best to get as much “learning” as you can out of a school you are paying to attend. But beyond that, it is artistically and intellectually most beneficial to gain as much information, insight and understanding as possible about your chosen craft, and about the history of the culture you come from and the society you are living in, so your knowledge has depth, which will be the well from which you will draw the elements of your future creative works. When you remain committed to this “career” of study, and focussed on your personal artistic (and intellectual) vision, you will be able to move through your schooling (and life) with greater ease even as friends and acquaintances drop in and drop out of your social circle: you will be able to navigate beyond others’ dramas with less distraction and damage to yourself, and you will find that there will always be new and delightful people who can come into your life without being clingy drags. Over time, the experiences (both good and bad) you gain from your self-motivated course of study and practice build up as a growing fund of wisdom, which improves your ability to continue navigating your voyage through life, and improves your ability to create finer art. I am writing you this because I do not want you to get discouraged by the loss of friends, and the fleeting nature of many seemingly close friendships. There is no blame, just the unknowable chaos of the flow of life. Be happy in being immersed in your learning and in doing well in your creating. Love.

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For Message #0 to a Young Artist, see:

Art versus Stomach
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/01/29/art-versus-stomach/

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Poverty Draft

B-25 (WWII medium bomber) in 1987.

I don’t think that poor young men and women should have to risk their lives to increase the fortunes of rich old men and women. The G.I. Bill of a bygone era was a just and kind gesture of gratitude by the USAmerican nation to its surviving veteran warriors. Today, that gesture has been prostituted into an unjust and dishonest baiting of the hopes-for-their-futures of our youth, to drag them down into a militarized indentured servitude – a term of slavery – with the possibility of gaining funding for a modest education if they survive to request it. A better nation would fund the education of all its youth lavishly, and fund its war industries and their speculators poorly if at all. Today, it isn’t that educational and medical costs are “high,” it is that moral standards are low.

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Tony Judt was on it (the failure of neo-liberal “globalization”) in 1997.
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1997-09-01/social-question-redivivus

Today’s belated admission of what has been obvious for 38 years (at least):
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/14/globalisation-the-rise-and-fall-of-an-idea-that-swept-the-world

MG,Jr. was on it (the failure of neo-liberal “globalization”) in 2003:
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

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Student Debt Or Freedom?

“Drenched in Debt: A Hopeful Master’s Student’s Lament,” posted at

http://thecrashculture.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/drenched-in-debt-a-hopeful-masters-students-lament/

prompted this response

Student Debt Or Freedom?
8 April 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci64.html

The dice that students today have to roll to determine the course of their lives have each of their six sides imprinted with one of these words: debt, education, prosperity, freedom, longevity, fulfillment.

Beggaring Student Life

Why do we have a public education system? Why have youth gain college educations? We have forgotten the basics because of an obsession with money, specifically “not paying” for “socialism.” I do some venting on this theme in this latest article.

Beggaring Student Life
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci38.html

Recalling William Somerset Maugham’s account of his flight from France in 1940 led me into a reflection of the corrosive barrenness of the Libertarian view, as championed today by Ron Paul, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Letter #2, “Being Attentive”
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/letter233.html