From my choice of parents and place of birth through all the forks in the road thereafter, I have been one lucky fellow.
Through accidents of time and place, as much or more than anything else, I have often found myself in the midst of, and looking up to, my superiors, including some among our nation's "best and brightest." This began with my parents, their friends, professors (at the University of Iowa's University Elementary and High School our teachers were UI professors), faculty colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and elsewhere (including the UI College of Law), the Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court judges, Covington & Burling lawyers, the White House, the best of the federal civil service, members of the media, and, it must be said, my wife, Mary Vasey.
Throughout, I've run a little competition in my mind. Who, among all those I have known, would be my own two or three "best and brightest"? Of course, that list changes from time to time.
He held on past his 90th birthday, but during the early hours on February 12th he left us. He leaves a wife, Dorothy, son, David, and daughter, Sarah (women's rights advocate), each remarkable in their own right.
It was David, a Chicago lawyer, who phoned me with the news of his death an hour thereafter. It has taken me three days to compose myself sufficiently to compose this tribute -- and to bring the news to my own children.
John's knowledge, curiosity, and creativity spanned not only the range of the sciences and engineering, but the full breadth of the humanities and arts as well. He was full of energy, professionally productive, spouting creative ideas -- while thoughtfully expressing them in ways I could understand, even as a child. He had a great sense of fun, and in my experience always exhibited a kindly and humane regard for others.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
We'll start with some of the basics, followed by some description of his "a pipe, a pump, and a pond" innovation and some other references.
John Piña Craven was born in Brooklyn in 1924, and began his studies of ocean technology at the Brooklyn Technical High School. He got his B.A. from Cornell University, a M.S. from Cal Tech, and a Ph.D., 1951, from the University of Iowa (when I first met him and his wife Dorothy, who studied speech pathology with my father). Most remarkable, he decided late in life to undertake, and succeeded in acquiring, a law degree!
Much of his professional life and accomplishments involved the Navy, beginning with a World War II service aboard the USS New Mexico that led to his rank of ensign. He helped design hulls for nuclear submarines at the David Taylor Model Basin outside Washington, which I would bike past on the C&O Canal towpath. We were able to visit then, as I was also in Washington at that time, serving as U.S. Maritime Administrator. (On reading this, my daughter, Julie, told me she recalled evenings in John and Dorothy's Maryland home singing Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary songs.)
John Craven accepting the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society Distinguished Technical Achievement Award, 2004.]
He is best known in some scientific circles for his work developing the Bayesian search theory for locating objects lost at sea. This was used on one occasion to find a lost hydrogen bomb, and later in locating a missing submarine.
After his Navy service, he and Dorothy moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they both worked at the University of Hawaii, he as dean of its marine programs, she as a speech pathology professor. John was also appointed Marine Affairs Coordinator for Hawaii, and later Director of the Law of the Sea Institute. He entered politics as a candidate for Congress, and President Carter appointed him to the Weather Modification Commission that developed a model for reducing the impact of hurricanes.
A Pipe, A Pump, and a Pond
Fortunately, we have a video in which John and others explain the agricultural contributions of his pipe, pump, and pond.
"Deep Ocean Water Agriculture Application," Macdonald Productions, 2007
An accompanying note on YouTube explains,
"Global Cooling Technology: Deep Ocean Water Agriculture"One of the better descriptions of his pipe, pump and pond is Carl Hoffman, "The Mad Genius from the Bottom of the Sea," Wired, June 2005. Here are some excerpts:
Agriculture employing Deep Ocean Water (DOW) can help increase growth rates by cooling garden soil below the dew point, at the Natural Energy Lab where DOW is pumped ashore.
A closed pipe system buried beneath the soil is designed to regulate and circulate the cold water, chilling the soil to 45oF, well below the dew point, so moisture drawn from the atmosphere moistens the cool garden, much like condensation gathers on a glass of iced tea.
[M]ost deep-ocean activities - saturation diving, exploring with submersibles, searching for tiny objects on the ocean floor - owe their origins to top secret, cold war-era Navy projects in which Craven had a hand. . . .As I recall, the "pond" came about after the enclosed cold salt water had made its contribution to agriculture, and it flowed into a pond where it would hold the fish that could provide a human protein source.
Craven is hard to keep up with. His mind darts from why the Navy should make subs out of glass to the sad end of his long telephone friendship with the late Marlon Brando to the remarkable prodigiousness of his small experimental Hawaiian vineyard. . . .
Under Craven, the lab developed the process of using cold deep-ocean water and hot surface water to produce electricity. By the 1980s the Natural Energy Lab's demonstration plant was generating net power, the world's first through so-called ocean thermal energy conversion. . . . Running the frigid pipes through heat exchangers produces unlimited air-conditioning that costs almost nothing. Draining their sweat yields an endless supply of freshwater for drinking and irrigation. The cold water also creates a temperature difference between root and fruit that Craven believes speeds growth.
Given the proportion of the world's population that lives near the sea, this system had the potential to improve the lives of millions.
Other Examples and Books
John's book, The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea (2001), is still available from Amazon, with its four-star reviews, in both Kindle and paperback editions. At this site you can click on "Look inside" and read the Prologue (and other portions of the book) for free. Once you learn the subject of this remarkable story you may well want to get a copy from Amazon, your local bookstore, or library. Also see the numerous references to him in Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (1998).
A Google search on John Piña Craven will produce about 150,000 hits. Here is a sample.
Much of the early material about John does not appear to be available online, such as his journal, Tales of an Ancient Mariner, or "The Old Man and the Sea" biographical sketch in the June 2004 Hawaii Business magazine. However, the Wikipedia entry provides a good deal of information.
When he was inducted into the University of Iowa Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy, June 7, 2002, these biographical notes were prepared.
A sample of the obituaries includes The New York Times, William J. Broad, "John P. Craven, 90, Pioneer of Spying at Sea, Dies," New York Times, February 20, 2015, p. B11; the Washington Post: Matt Schudel, "John P. Craven, scientist who directed top-secret Navy projects, dies at 90," Washington Post, February 21, 2015; The Economist: "Obituary: John Piña Craven; 20,000 Feet Under the Sea; John Piña Craven, Mastermind of America's Cold-War Submarine Spying, Died on February 12th, Aged 90," The Economist, February 28, 2015; and the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported, Gordon Y.K. Pang, "Ocean Engineer Left Mark on Isle Research, Education; The Scientist Directed Sensitive Deep-Sea Recoveries Before Relocating to Hawaii," Star Advertiser (Honolulu), February 16, 2015.
A couple other brief bios are "Cool People Profile 06: Dr. John Piña Craven," Adventurer Naturalist, August 12, 2010, PIOS (Pacific International Ocean Station): Colloquy with John Piña Craven," Blue Revolution Hawaii, January 10, 2013 (with picture), and "John Craven," Science Heroes, and David Karl, UH and the Sea (2004), Chapter 6, "Enter John Piña Craven: Founding UH Dean of Marine Programs and State of Hawaii Marine Affairs Coordinator".
I came upon a YouTube video of what appears to be a radio announcer, presumably a Glenn W. Murphy, interviewing John via phone call. Out of the blue he asks John about the BP oil spill, for which John immediately proceeds to explain the chemistry -- during minute 2:00 through 5:00. Following that, John explains why he came up with the idea of "Certificates of No Responsibility" for his staff.
And here is an excerpt from chapter two of Lee Vyborny and Don Davis, Dark Waters: An Insider's Account of the NR-1, the Cold War's Undercover Nuclear Sub (rev. ed. 2012), that gives a sense of what he was involved in regarding the Polaris:
Then Rickover blatantly reached into the DSSP project and stole John P. Craven, the navy’s chief scientist, to be one of the managers of his new program. The fertile imagination of the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Craven was always coming up with new ideas. He even at one time proposed a deep diving submersible made of glass, and at another, considering a small submarine with nuclear power that could go very deep.All who knew and loved John Craven, or even only knew of him, will retain their memories of this remarkable man and his remarkable family.
Although based in firm science, such schemes were not much more than flights of fancy -the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that constantly flowed from Craven. When Admiral Wilkinson told him with that one of those ideas to create a futuristic vessel might actually be possible, the scientist was intrigued. Rickover pulled together a secret meeting with Craven, Admiral Smith, and Assistant Secretary Morse to work out the details. Again, the money issue arose, for the hasty project was being born outside of budgetary planning.
Rickover demanded to know how much money was available, and Craven replied that he could come up with $10 million from the secret budget for special projects. Morse thought he could shift over another $22 million in ship construction money already appropriated by Congress for other projects. “Good,” Rickover replied. “It will cost $32 million.” The price was growing almost by the day.
In fact, the total had reached a level at which Congress was going to demand some answers. Rickover was unfazed, because he had yet to play his final card. On April 18, President Lyndon Johnson interrupted a holiday at his ranch in Texas to issue a news release in which he announced the navy and the Atomic Energy Commission were developing “a nuclear-powered deep-submergence research and ocean-engineering vehicle.” The president noted that Admiral Rickover would be responsible for the propulsion plant. BuShips would handle design and construction, and the Special Projects Office would have overall responsibility, a point that would keep the ship behind the veil of national security.