My research depends on lasers. It’s funny to think that no one had even thought of lasers a mere century ago; they are such a fundamental part of scientific discovery now. Charles Townes was one of the researchers that developed laser technology. He, along with Gasov and Prokhorov, won the Nobel prize for their efforts in field. Today Charles Townes turns 99.
Not only has Charlie had a fundamental impact on science, he’s also left his mark on the religious community. He argues that religion and science very closely mirror each other. The public discourse overlooks the area of faith that are essential to science. We believe that the world will behave rationally, and that we are capable of making repeated observations. Similarly, general perceptions ignore the role of factual experience and historical events in the development of religion. Religious beliefs are largely supported by the empirical impact they have on lives.
Further, Charlie suggests that the ways in which we deal with paradox in science can help believers address the paradoxes they find in their faith. Perhaps our acceptance that a particle’s location and velocity cannot be simultaneously known says something about our ability to understand both God’s justice and mercy.
Charles Townes, you have lived 99 years well.
Right now, I am in a situation where I need to work with someone I find very hard to get along with. One issue among many is that I value timeliness and punctuality; my coworker is an incorrigible procrastinator. As a result of delays on our team efforts, I have recently been finding myself staying very late at work. Obviously, I am not enjoying the situation.
I could respond to this by getting angry, throwing a fit, and yelling. But if I did this, I would not accomplish any of my goals. If I want to complete my work effectively, I need to recognize that I cannot do it all on my own; I need to have someone else’s help; and my coworker has many strengths that I could use to emulate. I’m sure that my traits of anxiety and time-awareness can seem confining and frustrating to the person I’m working with. We both need to give the other the benefit of the doubt, and accept that the help we need comes at a cost. And hopefully, we’ll both be better for it.
Seeing the positive alongside the negative doesn’t always feel rewarding, but holding both in tension seems to be the most realistic–and effective–model.
In the past year, I learned something new about myself: I struggle with anxiety. If you knew me very well at all outside of an academic context, you would probably be surprised that I didn’t know this about myself. My anxiety has shaped my choices and behaviors on a fundamental level. I worry that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings; I worry that I’m not smart enough to achieve my goals; I worry that I annoy and frustrate my friends; I worry that I’m not good enough.
Being aware of these worries and being able to articulate them to myself isn’t fun–but it is helpful. In order to address my fears, I first need to be aware of what they are. And once I listen to myself and pay attention to my concerns, I can then point out the flaws in my logic. Yes I may be annoying, but that doesn’t mean that my friends won’t want to be my friends anymore. I may sometimes have a wrong idea, but that doesn’t mean that I’m totally incompetent. It is hard work for me to take all of these worries seriously. It’s a risky business. But I believe that it’s worth it.
Today, I had the opportunity to see how I’m growing in my anxiety. I had a little conflict with a coworker–a repeated issue that’s been stressing me out. But today, it hardly phased me. I had confidence that I had reasonable ideas and was acting reasonably, and I knew that I was able to change my mind if it was demonstrated that my ideas were flawed. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized how much I’d grown in this effortless way of addressing conflict. I was finally able to take my worth for granted, instead of needing to prove it to myself. I changed what the voice inside my head was saying about me.
Addressing my anxiety has not been fun, but it has definitely been worth the effort.
This week, I made a discovery. I found out that an incredibly thin shell in a very small well impacts the way light travels.
Scientists have known for a decade about the impacts of very small wells on light. This cool platform keeps light confined to a tiny blip which is so small, it shines on just a single particle–allowing a researcher to get lots of precise information, such as the sequence of a strand of DNA. I have worked (along with other researchers) to modify this platform for a fancy protein that won’t function unless it thinks it’s in a living environment. We made tiny balls to mimic the protein’s native environment, and fit them within the small wells. It worked! Now, we’ve been spending lots of time understanding our data. Before telling the science community about our results, though, we needed to know exactly how light is moving in our modified wells. The mathematics is so complicated that it can’t be done without a computer simulation! I’ve been using a sophisticated software package to get some great results. I am the very first person to see how a 5nm shell (that’s the width of just 2 DNA strands side-by-side!) makes the tiny blip of light be just a bit brighter in the center of the well.
By many standards, this is not a huge discovery–but that doesn’t keep me from being excited about it! I completed one of my life goals: to find out something that no one else knew before, something that I couldn’t have read in a book or journal article. I did not do this work all on my own, but this small contribution indelibly bears the stamp of my efforts. I contributed to the body of scientific knowledge that exists in this world!
I was the first to make this discovery, and that is worship. I’m not worshiping myself because I am great and powerful and independent; those things aren’t true of me. Instead, I worship God because I am participating in the giant narrative of the continual revelation of his world through science. I worship God, because he orchestrates the great unfolding of our understanding and he directs me to play my part well.
Sometimes, worship isn’t sitting in a church pew and singing with hands raised. Sometimes, worship is sitting in front of a computer screen, modeling objects that are too small for our eyes to see. Worship is allowing God to use us as characters in his grand story.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON TINY WELLS (ZERO MODE WAVEGUIDES)