I had arrived in Davos on a Sunday afternoon to attend and give a talk at a conference on Microgravity Transport Properties in Fluid, Biological and Materials Sciences. At dinner, I joined an old acquaintance, Bob Hyers and a graduate student, David Fair, for dinner at the hotel, where the conference attendees would share all meals. The following morning the three of us met again at breakfast and were soon joined by a gray-haired gentleman, whose oversized first name, "Ozer" was the only thing that was easily read on his nametag. As conversations commenced, David asked Ozer if he was Turkish, and Ozer answered positively. David explained that he had lived in Turkey for several years and had a friend by that name. Since I had also been to Turkey, the three of us struck up a conversation about the country and our experiences of it, most of them quite positive.
The conversation reminded me of a young Turkish M.E. professor I had studied under at LSU 40 years ago, long before I had actually experienced Turkey and, in fact, long before I had done much of anything. As a physics graduate student, I was required to choose a minor in a separate department. After taking one math course, the normal minor for physicists, the poor quality of the department set a colleague, John Shipp, and me on a quest for a more useful minor. In the process of interviews we discovered a dynamic school of mechanical engineering that offered the perfect solution, and it was located conveniently next door to the physics department.
One of several series we took was an especially appropriate course, under this young professor, in thermodynamics, a subject physicists must learn, anyway. Thermodynamics is notorious for its concepts and principles that are difficult for the novice to grasp, for example, concepts like entropy and enthalpy. A similar physics course in the physics department had left me more confused than before taking the course.
As my thoughts drifted, it occurred to me, now, that the young professor would never know the positive effect he had made in my career. Combined with his enthusiasm for thermodynamics a specially selected and rather unusual book, written by a physicist, Callen, provided me an unexpected, crystal-clear, physical picture of thermodynamics that had evaded me before. The experience started me on a practice of selecting teachers rather than subjects that I followed religiously throughout graduate school. Soon after that, Shipp and I took the grueling preliminary Ph.D. exam, an exam that most first timers fail at LSU. We both passed the exam easily, largely because of what we had learned in the ME department, specifically from this one guy.
I said to Ozer, "I once had a Turkish M.E. professor at LSU".
He gave me a strange look and asked me "What year was that?"
"1963", I responded.
"It was I ", he replied.
I sat there in a state of shock, unable to process what he had said, unable to connect the image of the gentleman I was facing with a young man at LSU who was just beginning his teaching career, for a moment not even acknowledging what I had heard.
He repeated, this time with a loud whisper, "It was I".
Suddenly I could see the young man I had known inside Ozer Arnas, the man sitting before me now 40 years later. I probably had never known his first name, but now I recognized his last name. In the following four days of the conference, we had several interesting conversations and at last I had an opportunity to thank him for what he had given me. He even got to see one of his students give a lecture after 40 years. He also told me that Callen had "updated" his book to make it more of an engineering book and had ruined it in the process.
One seldom has an experience of being affected by someone and then spontaneously meeting again in 40 years. It is a strange, exciting, maybe even miraculous experience, something like entering a time warp. It was most probable that we would go through this conference without capturing the experience, even if we had met and talked. I am very grateful that after the universe placed us face to face 40 years later, several people asked the right questions to move the meeting to completion.
Ozer retired from LSU at the age of 58, and soon tired of being retired and accepted a full time professorship at West Point where he now teaches cadets.