Volcano Leaves Profs. Stranded

After his speaking engagement in Chennai, India last Thursday, Harvard Business School Professor Robert S. Kaplan planned to spend the weekend hiking in Switzerland before giving another speech in Frankfurt, Germany.

But after last week’s volcano eruption in Iceland made it impossible for him to fly to Germany, Kaplan instead ended up in Dubai—where the daytime temperature reached 100 degrees—with “a whole duffel bag full of warm weather hiking clothes,” he said.

Kaplan was among a handful of Harvard professors stranded across the Atlantic as a result of the April 14 volcanic eruption, many of whom have yet to return to Cambridge.

Last Wednesday, the volcano—locally known as Eyjafjallajökull—began spouting plumes of fragmented glass and ash into the air, which can knock out the engines of airliners. By the following day, countries across Europe had introduced restrictions grounding nearly all flights through Monday.

Physics Professor Gerald Gabrielse’s trip to north of the Arctic Circle in Finland to give the opening talk of a conference placed him “right in the path of the unexpected volcanic dust from Iceland,” he wrote in an e-mail to his quantum mechanics class.


“I took a 4 hour bus ride followed by a 12-hour, all-night train ride to get to Helsinki when my first flight was cancelled,” Gabrielse wrote. “However, the dust came roughly at the same speed and the Helsinki airport [was] closed.”

But Gabrielse, who is scheduled on a flight today, has managed to teach his course despite the ocean between him and his students.

With the support of the IT staff, Gabrielse organized a lecture via video link yesterday for his class in the Northwest Science Building.

Gabrielse even “called out a student for sleeping in class, from another continent,” said Yonatan J. Kogan ’12, another student in the class.

While most countries had lifted air restrictions by yesterday afternoon, the passengers still stranded are trying to make the best of their unexpected conditions.

While he was in Dubai, Kaplan said he had an offer to play golf over the weekend.

“But the only gloves I had were hiking gloves, which I don’t think would work well on the golf course,” he said.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at