Week 10: Week of the Parthian Shot

Share This:

Friday, August 9, 2013


Caleb Heath

Despite the title, I have nothing barbed to say about this week, except to wish that someone would hurry up and invent practical transporters. I would have saved considerable time at the airport. More importantly, I could come back at will. I’ll always be a native son, that’s true, but you can’t live and break bread elsewhere and expect to go away without leaving a piece of yourself behind.

Of course, the land gives you a piece of itself in exchange.

I walked among the monuments of the mall this final weekend, the last major outing on my DC bucket list. (I managed to cross off everything but Ford’s Theatre, so that’s another reason to come back someday.) The Jefferson Memorial impressed me greatly, and I learned a few things about the man I hadn’t known before. One was that he was president of the American Philosophical Society for eighteen years. This period was contemporary with his position as Secretary of State, his vice-presidency, and his presidency.

We’ve had few scientist presidents, which is to say that we’ve had none. Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer. Thomas Jefferson was a polymath. Jimmy Carter might have come the closest with his graduate work in nuclear reactor technology, but these three are the noble few. The proportion of scientific representation, past and present, amongst the whole of our legislators and other executives is well known to my readers, and bears more resemblance to the acceptable proportion of insects parts allowed in peanut butter than any of us would like.

So it was gratifying to see that the State Department knows the value of having scientists around, and was able to let a few of them have a chat with us on Tuesday. I often think about how unrestrained science could change the world, but I’ve never before thought of it as a tool of diplomacy. Scientific collaborators will stay on speaking terms long after the politicians have given up on civil discourse.

We, the scientists, hold no truths to be self-evident, but the following one is well-supported: that by rational progress of inquiry the laws of the universe shall come to be known. Everything else is details.

It’s been a most melancholy week. The end was coming, we practiced for it, and the end came. Now we interns are scattered across world. But I am confident that we shall meet again. Our ties with the Society of Physics Students have been strengthened, and I think they shall only grow with time. I shall miss the fine and thoughtful folks until we meet again, and I thank them greatly for the parting gift we all received: a framed picture of the intern group. I shall treasure it always.

I’m still tired from the adventure, and re-acclimating myself to home, but I have a feeling that my future is beginning to open up. I’ll try and keep you abreast of all developments along that merry road.

Caleb Heath