The Vonnegut brothers and the clouds

Un avión vuela hacia el aeropuerto internacional de O'Hare bajo un mar de nubes, en Chicago.
A plane flies towards O’Hare International Airport under a sea of ​​clouds, in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast

The 13 November 1946, atmospheric scientist Vincent Schaefer boarded a Fairchild plane with the goal of breaking through a cloud that was spreading over Greylock, Massachusetts. Once inside the cloud, the pilot Curtis Talbot activated the dispenser of the plane, throwing more than a kilo of dry ice particles.

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It was then, according to Schaefer, that they saw “long streamers of snow falling from the base of the cloud.” With such an experiment the project was launched Cirrus , inaugurated months later, in February 1947, whose purpose would be the to transform climatic weather.

The head of the laboratory that carried out the project was the scientist Irving Langmuir, (1881 – 1957) Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932 who, at that time, worked for General Electric. Among his collaborators were the Vonnegut brothers. The eldest, Bernard, was a scientist, while the youngest, Kurt, had literary hobbies and worked as an internal journalist within the company, that is, a public relations officer in charge of propaganda for the House of Magic, a nickname by which he was known. to the Research department of General Electric.

With the result of the discharge of dry ice on the Greylock cloud, the The older Vonnegut thought that if the dry ice crystals (frozen carbon dioxide) altered the internal balance of the clouds, activating the formation of snow, other substances with a similar shape to those crystals should also work. After studying the crystalline structure of thousands of substances, he found the key. It was the silver iodide; the same chemical compound that was used in photographic development and also as an antiseptic to disinfect wounds.

For silver iodide, no apparatus was required. You just had to get under the cloud and cause smoke with the iodide for the cloud to discharge

The difference between iodide and ice was significant, since, if to use dry ice an airplane was needed, for silver iodide no apparatus was needed. You just had to get under the cloud and cause smoke with the iodide for the cloud to discharge.

Of all these things he took the younger Vonnegut notes, knowing that one day he would use them in his fictions. Thus arose the novel Cat’s cradle, where Kurt Vonnegut tells us the crazy story of Felix Hoenikker, a scientist whose invention of Ice-9 can end life on Earth, due to the glaciation of the world’s oceans, although, in reality, the story told by Kurt Vonnegut has its I started much further back than when writer H. G Wells visited the company in the early 1930s, looking for inspiration for a story. But since he could not find it, Vonnegut began to write it some time later, once he was out of the company.

The Vonnegut brothers left General Electric in 1952, when the Cirrus project ran out of funds

It should be noted that the Vonnegut brothers left General Electric in 1952, when the project Cirrus ran out of funds. This exciting story, where literature and science intersect with nonsense, we can read in one of the juiciest books published this year. It’s about The Vonnegut Brothers , by Ginger Strand, edited in Spanish by Es Pop Ediciones.

A book about 400 pages that lead us to meet a young Kurt Vonnegut writing at night his stories, while his brother dreams of controlling the weather in order to help farmers and turn deserts into orchards. However, the utopian dream would be overshadowed by the nightmare that his inventions could be used for negative purposes for humanity.

This is a juicy biography that penetrates into the great moral questions that Bernard had to face, while his brother Kurt was putting them on paper, demonstrating what we have already pointed out many times, that the imagination is always bigger than the whole reality.

The stone ax is a section where Montero Glez, with the will of prose, exercises his particular siege to scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge.

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