“Seeing The Light”
(cover story on hydrogen energy, reprinted with the permission of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
July 24, 1991
Hydrogen with a human face
Sitting in his office at the University of Miami, Dr. Turhan Nejat Veziroglu seems like a calm and quiet man. The sun wraps around his profile, and for a moment he looks upward with the whisper of a grin, as if he has a secret he’s about to tell you. And then you mention hydrogen.
The grin turns into a broad smile and he darts around his office, pulling articles, books, reviews, treatises, statistics, pamphlets, newspaper clippings. He telephones out to his office anteroom, where Lucille and Charlene keep track of his work and life on three computers, and asks for an updated version of his 60-page curriculum vitae.
He calls down the hall for Frano Barbir, his graduate research assistant, who flew from Yugoslavia to work with Dr. V. after reading about him in a Yugoslavian scientific journal. Barbir enters with a foot high stack of newspapers clippings – “just as a sample” – of information and data culled from their energy library. Topics: global warming, sea level rise, acid rain, electrolysis, air pollution, solar energy, hydrogen cars.
So, you want to know about hydrogen?
Look no further.
Dr. V., 62, will be glad to schedule you in. But you’ll have to take a number. Senate subcommittees are calling and the United Nations wants its report – Argentina’s got an energy problem the United Nations has appointed him to solve. Not to mention his classes in Hydrogen Energy, Heat Transfer, Mass Transfer and Nuclear Engineering. Or the conference in Paris for the International Association for the Hydrogen Energy, of which Dr. V. is founder and president. And he has two scientific journals to edit.
He can tell you everything you’ve always wanted to know about hydrogen but didn’t know to ask. What he doesn’t have time to tell you, he’ll loan you copies of, taken from more than 350 volumes and papers published by the Clean Energy Research Institute. Its headquarters are in his office at the College of Mechanical Engineering.
Dr. V. has edited more than 72 books and volumes, the latest of which is “Solar Hydrogen Energy: Te Power to Save the Earth,” co-written by John O’M Bockris, with Debbi Smith, out this summer.
Dr. V. and Barbir are part of a group of scientists who have extended their boundaries past the chemicals and hypotheses in their laboratories to the world around them, so the nearby coastline they say will someday disappear unless we start now to switch over to hydrogen.
“Once we start to convert to solar hydrogen energy, global warming will reserve itself in 30 years,” he says.
Statements like this take him all over the world. He lectures for scientists, governments and universities in places such as Switzerland, Turkey (where he was born), Japan, China, Africa, Canada, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Pakistan and Egypt.
The projects he has worked on span the distance between Earth and mars, from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic. For NASA’s Mars project, he analyzed instabilities in prototype nuclear hydrogen rockets. For the Department of Energy, he researches the solar-hydrogen energy system.
Dr. V. has called to testify in front of the House of Representatives and Senate subcommittee meetings on new energy sources, answers to acid rain, the greenhouse effect and global warming.
He also heads the U.S. delegation to the International Standards Organization, which is responsible for ensuring technical standardization for appliances and electronics around the world. (So if your boom box made in Japan can use batteries made in Taiwan and plug into your U.S. – made wall socket.)
Whenever he visits the United Nations, he discusses with his friends the idea of a universal alphabet.
“In every field of science we are making progress, we are coming up with new systems, but look at the alphabet we are using – the same alphabet we used thousands of years ago! One of my pet projects is to develop one alphabet for the world…The new modern alphabet will be much easier, developed scientifically. People will write their own language in this alphabet. It will help to unify the whole world. We are losing billions and billions of dollars a year because we are using some cumbersome, old-fashioned alphabets.”
His colleagues at the U.N. said there are some difficulties – “Let us start with the numbers first, they said. ‘The Arabian numerals.’ And they proposed this in the U.N. And the Arab countries objected! Although we call our system Arabic numerals, they use a dot for a zero, a zero for a five…and didn’t like the idea.”
The irony of it makes him laugh. But behind the smile, he’s serious. After working on rockets bound for Mars and an energy system for the world, what’s a little human resistance? And how many people get their pet projects proposed at the United Nations?
High tech he is not. He prefers yellow legal pads and the mail to portable computers and faxes.
On the telephone, Dr. V. has such a pleasant voice you think he’s constantly smiling. But he’s critically serious about what hydrogen could do to save the world. The universe. The ozone layer. The Amazon rain forests. He works six days a week trying to tell people the answers to these problems.
“This is the only planet which supports life, which is hospitable to life. There isn’t another as far as we know. We must go ahead and take good care of it.”
“It is so simple,” he says, shaking his head. It seems to be a gesture of disappointment, of a lone thinker misunderstood. But he’s smiling.