A Sad Week

When I started this blog, I wanted to focus mainly on things related to coastal science and engineering, but for a moment I’d like to post something more personal.  A few of my close friends and colleagues have had a tough week, but has also been an eventful one on the world stage.

The violence and political turmoil following the killing of Qassem Suleimani last week has been awful and frightening, but on Wednesday things took an unexpected turn for the worse. A civilian airplane carrying 176 people crashed, apparently shot down not long after it took off.  It later emerged that 63 of those passengers were Canadian, and the majority of those on board were en route to Canada.

It wouldn’t matter where they were from or where they were going, it would still be an immense tragedy and terrible waste of human lives. But this one really hit me hard because as I read through the stories of all the victims, I was struck by a simple fact: a significant proportion of the 63 were science and engineering grad students or recent graduates, just like me.   They were all just coming back to school after visiting their families for the holidays, just like I did last week.  Just like most of my friends here.

One of my closest friends from home is an Iranian-Canadian engineer, and many of my TAs at the University of Waterloo were Iranian.  I can’t help but think of them, and of all my friends and colleagues when I read about the people who were on that plane.  Bright people with lives and stories, minding their own business, just going back to school or work.

2020 is not off to the greatest start so far, but we have to hope it can get better, and we have to do our best to make it so, even in our own small way.  As my mom says, “never give up a chance to be kind”. Let’s start with that.

In Memory of Gerbrant van Vledder

Today I received the sad news that Gerbrant van Vledder, an assistant professor at TU Delft, passed away unexpectedly last week.

Many in our field know him for his work with SWAN, but I would like to shine a light on something else: his research on using wave models to understand how the people of the Marshall Islands have used wave diffraction around islands to navigate their boats for centuries.

Gerbrant had a strong curiosity about using modern tools to find an overlap with more traditional ways of perceiving the world around us; to listen to voices that were not often heard, and find their scientific merit. I think this was unique among engineers, and a really inspiring example. Whether you knew him or not, I encourage you to check out this fascinating article in which his Pacific adventures were featured:

Although I hadn’t spoken to him much recently, Gerbrant was very supportive during my MSc thesis, when I was researching the impact of waves on low-lying tropical coasts like those of the Marshall Islands.  He showed a keen interest in my work, actually reading and giving feedback on my whole 232-page report!  Given the dread with which I now confront verbose master’s student reports myself, I am especially grateful for the time he gave me.   He supported my interest in Marshallese wave piloting, and with his encouragement, I eventually wrote a brief chapter in my thesis about it.  I was lucky to have his experienced and critical eye on my side.

This all comes as quite a surprise.  I still have a book that he lent me last year, which I haven’t given back yet…

Thank you, Gerbrant – you made a difference!