Bernard Vonnegut Papers, 1828-1997
- Vonnegut, Bernard
- The Bernard Vonnegut Papers document Vonnegut's career as a researcher in the field of atmospheric science with a focus on his time at GE, Arthur Little, and the State University of New York at Albany. The collection includes technical memoranda, research, data, inventions and patent forms, equipment specifications, drawings, figures, handwritten notes, manuscripts, reports, correspondence, publicity materials, course materials, news clippings, photographs, memorabilia, and audio/video materials
- 39.04 cubic ft.
- English and English
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Bernard Vonnegut Papers, 1828-1997. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as the Vonnegut Papers).
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to this collection is unrestricted with the exception of select folders that are marked on the inventory. Researchers with inquiries about this material should contact the head of archives.
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
- Scope and Content:
Dr. Vonnegut's papers chronicle his professional career as an atmospheric scientist at MIT, the GE Research Laboratories, Arthur D. Little Corporation, and the State University of New York at Albany's Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and Department of Atmospheric Sciences. The collection spans from 1828 his death in 1997. The earliest materials in the collection are reprints of articles that he referenced for his research.
The records in this collection document Dr. Vonnegut's research interests. These interests include icing and atmospheric electricity, cloud physics, thunderstorms, and tornado formation. The collection also contain extensive information about his major scientific discoveries and experiments, such as Project Cirrus, a program that sought ways to artificially influence precipitation, the NASA/NOSL project where he studied weather phenomena from space, and his experiments and research in New Mexico. Additionally, a small amount of personal records are interspersed in the collection.
The collection is arranged into 11 series. The records consist of technical memoranda, research, data, inventions and patent forms, equipment specifications, drawings, figures, handwritten notes, manuscripts, reports, correspondence, publicity materials, course materials, news clippings, photographs, memorabilia, and audio/video materials. The majority of materials date from Dr. Vonnegut’s tenure at GE, Arthur D. Little, and State University of New York at Albany.
All series are arranged alphabetically and reflect Dr. Vonnegut's own filing system. Since the original order was maintained, correspondence is kept with other materials, such as reports and technical memorandum, when they were found together. If the correspondence was found in a seperate place than the materials it was originally meant to be paired with, there was not an effort to reunite the materials. Copies of reports and memorandum may be found in multiple locations.
For related materials, please see the following collections held by the ME Grenander Department of Special Collection and Archives: Atmospheric Sciences Research Center Records (UA-450), which includes many publications and articles issued by the ASRC, Duncan Blanchard Papers (UA-902.065), Raymond Falconer Papers (UA-902.014) and Vincent J. Schaefer (UA-902.010).
- Biographical / Historical:
Dr. Bernard Vonnegut was born in 1914 in Indianapolis, Indiana to architect Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. (1884-1957) and Edith Sophia Lieber (d. 1944). He had two younger siblings; a sister, Alice (1917-1958), and a brother, Kurt (1922-2007), the 20th Century author famous for his works of satire and science fiction. Bernard Vonnegut attended public elementary schools, Shortridge High School and the Park School which he graduated from in 1932. From there he attended MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry in 1936 and a doctorate in Physical Chemistry in 1939.
After receiving his PhD, Vonnegut went to work for the Hartford Empire Company where he conducted research on surface properties and the breaking stress of glass. He worked there for two years before returing to MIT as a research associate. During his time as a research associate, Vonnegut worked in the Chemical Engineering Department as well as the Meteorology Department. His research in the Chemical Engineering Department focused on aerosol generation, filtration, and measurement while in the Meteorological Department he researched icing of aircrafts, the adhesion of ice, and the properties of supercooled clouds.
In 1945, Vonnegut left MIT once again and went to work for GE Research Labortories. At first he worked in the chemistry group where he focused on the supercooling of liquid tin metals but then was moved to another department. In his new position, Vonnegut worked alongside Nobel laureate Dr. Irving Langmuir, and Vincent J. Schaefer, the original discoverer of cloud seeding via dry ice. With Langmuir and Schaefer, Vonnegut worked on cloud seeding and problems related to cloud physics as well as Project Cirrus, a weather modification program. Research on Project Cirrus was done in conjunction with the United States Signal Corps, Office of Naval Research, and the United States Air Force. General oversight was handled by the Department of Defense. The objective of the project was to find ways to artificially influence precipitation. Work on this project, as well as the science of artificial precipitation, was strongly influenced by Vonnegut’s discovery of AgI, Silver Iodide, as a superior nucleation agent. This method became the chief method of “rain making.” Along with his discovery of AgI as a nucleation agent, Vonnegut also devised intruments for measuring the true air temperature from an airplane, known as the vortex thermometer, and an automatic condensation nucei meter for measuring aerosols.
Dr. Vonnegut left GE in 1952 for a position with the management consultant angency Arthur D. Little where he continued research in atmospheric science and aerosols. His atmospheric science research was done in partnership with Charles Moore; their work was focused on atmospheric electricity and cloud physics. While at Arthur D. Little, Dr. Vonnegut also participated in research on the problems associated with the measurement and production of aerosols, the miniaturization of electrical recorders, the hazards of electrostatic in industry, glass fiber formation, and the behavior of evaporating electrified droplets. Much of the reaearch and experiments that Vonnegut conducted at Arthur Little were not done purely for research purposes but done because of contracts the company had with public and private agencies.
After 15 years with Arthur D. Little, Dr. Vonnegut moved on to the newly created Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York at Albany under the direction of Vincent Schaefer. Vonnegut was hired as a senior research scientist and looked at electrification in thunderstorms, the role of electricity in precipitation formation, and kinetic nucleation. Along with his research position, Vonegut also held an academic appointment in which he taught classes on atmospheric electricity, atmospheric instrumentation, and atmospheric chemistry. During his time at SUNY Albany, Vonnegut received several awards. In 1976, he was awarded the American Meteorological Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Advancement of Applied Meteoroloy. The following year, he recieved the Weather Modification Association Vincent J. Schaefer Award. Along with these awards, Vonnegut was named a Distinguished Research Professor in 1984 and, upon his formal retirement in 1985, was named Professor Emeritus.
One of Dr. Vonnegut’s most notable projects during his time at SUNY Albany was his collaboration with NASA on the Night/Day Optical Survey of Lightning (NOSL) experiments. Astronauts, equipped with specialized recording instruments, took pictures and video of large thunderstorms over the course of three shuttle missions. Dr. Vonnegut, who proposed the project, utilized the photographs and data in his continuing research on thunderstorms and electrification theory.
Throughout his career, Dr. Vonnegut pursued research in many fields of interest; mainly thunderclouds, tornadoes, and lightning. He made regular summer expeditions to New Mexico where he worked with colleagues at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro to study these phenomena, and many of the experiments he undertook pertain to these three topics. Furthermore, Dr. Vonnegut accumulated multiple patents for his inventions and research techniques.
Dr. Vonnegut married Lois Bowler (d. 1972) and had five sons. Interestingly, after becoming a father, he took on a personal campaign to improve the quality of educational science texts and encyclopedias, as well as truth in advertising regarding scientific claims on children’s products.
Dr. Vonnegut continued atmospheric research and publishing until his death from cancer at 82 in 1997.
- Acquisition information:
The Bernard Vonnegut papers were donated to M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives by Sally Marsh, Dr. Vonnegut's administrative assistant, in July 2005.
- Processing information:
Processed in 2012 by Tiffany Williams.
- Conservation and the Environment
Manuscripts (document genre)
UAlbany Faculty & Alumni Papers
- Blanchard, Duncan C.
Langmuir, Irving, 1881-1957
Moore, Charles B., 1920-2010
Schaefer, Vincent J.
Vaughan, Otha H.
Arthur D. Little, Inc.
General Electric Company
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
State University of New York. Atmospheric Sciences Research Center
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
U.S. Army Signal Engineering Laboratories
- Albany (N.Y.)
Washington, Mount (N.H.)
Mount Washington Observatory
Mount Withington (N.M.)