Week 2: Arlington, A Brief Departure, Finding a Direction

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Sunday, June 8, 2014


Stephen Skolnick

Arlington CemeteryIn order to get a feel for the kind of work they do (and the kind of puns that will fly in this office), my supervisors had me spend one of my mornings the first week reading through issues 1-6 of "Spectra: The Original Laser Superhero." It's the interactive, experimental, educational comic for middle-school classrooms that they've been publishing since the idea was conceived for Laserfest back in 2010. By the end of orientation, meeting and eating with a Nobel Winner and being introduced to all these fabulous people, I was half-convinced I was dreaming. My experiences in the first week of real work haven't done much to change that perception, but I'm fine with that feeling sticking around.

Last weekend, some of the other interns and I took a trip to Arlington cemetery. We explored the Lees' old family estate, and watched the curious clockwork precision of the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The grounds were spectacular, and we chose a great day for exploring; the magnolia trees were just starting to unfurl their petals for the season, pale blossoms that matched the gleaming rows of gravestones.

When the workweek resumed Monday, we got down to the business of planning out this summer's outreach project. A lot of the specifics have yet to be hammered out, but at present it looks like we'll be focusing on the role of physics in medicine. It feels like a good angle from which to drive home the relevance of our field in people's daily lives, in addition to emphasizing the potential for unforeseen advances that accompanies breakthroughs in fundamental physics. Lasik eye surgery is a great example; it improves lives every day in ways that no one could have imagined fifty-some years ago when scientists first perfected the techniques for collimating light.

Post-rehearsalA friend who I've known since the age of 12 got married back in Indiana this weekend, so I got to take off Thursday night to go put on a tuxedo and be a groomsman. After a series of painful delays while transferring through Atlanta, I made it to Indianapolis in time for the rehearsal dinner on Friday night. The ceremony and reception were beautiful, but the scene from the weekend that I know I'm always going to remember happened the night beforehand. At sunset, we walked out into the meadow where the wedding was to take place, on our way to do a run-through of the procession. From the bushes surrounding the vine-covered trellis gazebo that served as an altar, two butterflies emerged and met, dancing, dead center in the aisle. They hung there for a minute, climbing slowly into the sky, before their dance dissolved into chaos and they returned to the shrubs to rest and feed. We all stood there for a moment, laughing incredulously at the seemingly scripted perfection of the moment, before getting underway with the rehearsal.

While I'm not much for omens, I'd like to at least see the occurrence as evidence that things do occasionally happen in real life just the way they do in movies and storybooks, and reason to hope that my friends' marriage might, too.

Stephen Skolnick