Tom Konen--Some Memories from a Quarter Century of Change
One of the issues that this column has addressed many times has been the need for an interface between the various strands of our community, to bring together designers, practitioners, product manufacturers, code and governmental organizations, end users and research organizations. There is a need to ensure that product development is innovative, that codes are not prescribed by pressure groups, and that there is an understanding that the laws of physics remain the same whichever code body you subscribe to. Inherent in these objectives must be the need for institutions and groups to exist who have the ability to provide independent comment based on an understanding of the fundamental physics of fluid flow and system operation. The reduction in governmental spending on national research laboratories has inevitably seen a reduction in that sector, both in Europe and the U.S. A tightening of research funding to academic establishments has inevitably led to concentration on research where funding might be more easily obtained, such as climate change in the U.K. While the number of independent academic groups active internationally was always small, this community within a community has been severely diminished by the death in December 2002 of Tom Konen, who for so many years led the research effort at Stevens Institute.
I first met Tom in the mid-'70s through the CIBW62 Working Commission on Water Supply and Drainage for Buildings. CIB (Conseil International du Batiment) is an organization that brings together researchers across the built environment, and within this organization, W62 has held almost annual conferences since 1973. Tom's group at Stevens was a regular contributor, and there were many areas of common interest with my own research at Brunel University and at Heriot Watt. In 1980, Tom was of immense assistance to Larry Galowin at the National Bureau of Standards in arranging for me to spend eight months working at NBS. This period was central to the development of research that concentrated on numerical modeling for both free surface and entrained airflows in building drainage, which has been fundamental to the development of our research programs at Heriot Watt. During the six years when I worked with Larry at NBS each summer as a "visiting scientist"--a title I still remember with fondness--I regularly visited Tom at Stevens. I remember his introduction of Microphor w.c.s and low flow "atomizing" showers to the student residences at Stevens, and the sociological impact of long hair on water conservation, leading to the conclusion that what works in the U.S. Navy submarine service does not necessarily fly with the student population.
Tom's contribution to our discipline was distinguished by both its consistent quality and the range of issues he addressed. His work on the reduction in w.c flush volume and his studies of their efficiency in use were important, including his study for the new Denver Airport and his work on 1.6-gallon w.c. acceptance in the domestic environment. In addition, he was always a sounding board for our research, bringing a welcome mix of practitioner experience and research ethos to our discussions at CIBW62 meetings and at Stevens. His death is a loss to our community, and I know that all those who knew him through W62 and all my colleagues here in the U.K. will miss his quiet but incisive comments on our work and research aspirations.
Finally, thinking of Tom also reminded me of one of the most innovative approaches to educating engineers that I have come across. Back in October 1992, I was spending a week with Tom at Stevens, and one evening I decided to attend a lecture publicized on the student notice boards concerning an evaluation of the causes of the Challenger shuttle failure. I went expecting an engineering analysis of the failure conditions for the solid fuel rocket seals; however, I was really surprised to find that the lecture was given by two members of the English composition staff. The format of the lecture was an analysis of the correspondence between staff at the propulsion unit manufacturer and the management, where their concerns for the temperature sensitivity of their product were expressed and their advice on acceptable climatic conditions for launch were set out. The correspondence was available following the Senate hearing through the Freedom of Information Act that we still lack in the U.K. The premise of the lecture was that if the memo had been more succinctly written or more forceful, then perhaps the series of events leading to the catastrophic failure of the shuttle could have been avoided. It was a fascinating approach to a problem that still dogs engineering: engineers are never taught how to communicate. It was also an excellent evening with lots of student participation and some amusement at my accent, as I could not resist entering into the discussion. The evening was completed with a walk back to the student residence Tom had arranged for me and the breathtaking nighttime views of New York across the river.