When I was a kid, people often told me that the best possible job is the one where I get paid to do what I want to do. And not so long ago, I wrote about how exciting it was that what I do at work, what I do for school, and what I do in my free time seem to be aligned and are sometimes so similar they’re basically identical. I stand by that post – it is exciting. But there’s a slight problem with it too.
I don’t know what else I do.
I go to work and research nuclear policy. I set up to work on my independent study and research nuclear regulation. In my “off-time,” I’ve been doing a lot of research into graduate programs in nuclear engineering and nuclear chemistry with allowances for policy courses or sub-programs emphasizing governance and public communication. Before I go to bed, the book I read is an overview of the French nuclear program.
I was inspired to write this post when a friend came over, saw me at my computer, and assumed I was working. When I told him I wasn’t working, and explained what I was doing, he jokingly replied “Even when you’re not working, you’re working!” And he’s not wrong.
While I enjoy all of this – the research, the writing, the potential of what I’m currently working on may become, and the possibilities of what I’ll work on next, I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should spend some of my time reading about, thinking about, or doing something – anything – else.
Recently, I’ve been obsessively thinking about Switzerland, where employees commonly take an hour or more for lunch to relax and have flexible work schedules. I’ve placed that system of flexibility on a pedestal in my head, which is so fascinating to me because I could do that. I make my own schedule literally. every. day. If I wanted to take an hour for lunch, I could. I can. Sometimes, I do. I can make the choice to work only four days a week or work seven mornings and have the afternoons totally free. I don’t, but I could. And realizing that has made me wonder, and then realize, what it is about the Swiss system that is so appealing to me: if people take that time off work, that means they’re doing something else.
I’m not doing something else.
It’s high time I found something else to do. Something that I can focus on when I’m not working on my work, or my project, or my grad school research. A new passion, so to speak, that can occupy my non-nuclear hours. I’m open to suggestions.
When I don’t have a routine, I forget how much I love them. When I’m not busy, I forget how much I love being busy. I forget how much I love rushing from one thing to the next and making it just on time; I forget how much those moments of rapidity remind me to slow down when I’ve got plenty of time. I forget how nice it is to see a broad swath of people, how much I enjoy learning about their lives – even (and especially) the day-to-day realities.
Yesterday was the first day of school. Technically, I suppose, the last first day of school (for the foreseeable future…but we all know I’ll be back at school someday). I had places to be, people to see, and things to do.
I left the house at 9am and didn’t get home until after 9pm. But when I got home, friends came over for berries and cream and a mini-homework session (or, in my case, a work-work session) that lasted until after midnight.
I got home late because I went to a tap class at a local studio (about a mile from my house). It’s been so long since I tapped like that! I mean, yeah, I’ve been tapping with Tufts tap ensemble, but this was *real.* This was challenging choreography for my feet and my brain. There were complex tap steps I haven’t done since I was a young teenager. Half the class was mentally challenging because we were dancing in 7-time (normal dances are in sets of 4 or 8 counts, and as you get more advanced you get used to 3 or 6 counts; but this was in sets of 7…) And I re-met random people I’ve seen at random, unrelated events around Boston.
I’m currently re-reading parts of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, because I wanted to remember his three types of people. One of his big points is that while we tend to value our close ties the most (e.g. our best friends, our family), the most influential people we know in terms of jobs, opportunities, and new experiences are our acquaintances. I’ve always felt like I am in the most solid place if/when I’m meeting and spending time with a wide variety of new people, so I’m very excited for this new group of tappers (a class of about 10 people of all ages – from my age up to probably 45/50).
Before tap, I had (yet another) physical therapy appointment. I haven’t really talked about them here, but I’ve been going to PT for my back/neck/head for a few weeks now. And yesterday, in addition to Marisa (my PT) telling me I’m getting stronger in the muscles I’ve neglected for years (forever?), I could feel it. There were exercises we tried a week or two ago that I absolutely could not do that were not easy, but definitely doable.
I attended part of Fletcher’s “shopping day” yesterday, where I learned about a class I might try to audit (Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy), although the definition of clean energy for this class sadly doesn’t include nuclear. But it is probably a good idea to learn what I can about the domestic and international policy tendencies in the clean energy realm, so I might take it regardless.
I got surprising amounts of work done yesterday and this morning – I’m relearning the “one hour at a time” art I had mastered in middle school. I’m prepped for today’s meeting about my independent study, I’m ready to lead the class I’m the teaching assistant for this afternoon, because the professor is out of town at a conference. I’m about to sit down to my first Czech lesson since I came home from Prague, and I sent my host family an email last night. (It is so nice to still be in contact with them!)
All in all, the semester is starting and I’m so ready. I’ve got a weekly calendar set up, regular meetings, appointments, and classes scheduled. I’ve got friends to see and work to do and my very last semester (foe as it may feel) to take full advantage of!
Until next time…
Admittedly, this week is a bit more stressful than the last couple of weeks have been, what with lab report due dates stacking up and a professor who has four days of four hour-long lectures and plans to teach four chapters. But based on the last 18 hours, I thought it might be fun to throw together a daily “schedule” so there isn’t any confusion – this isn’t actually a nuclear summer camp.
6:30am: Wake up. Shower. Eat Breakfast. Pack bag.
7:45am: Leave the dorm. Bike to the classroom (about a 7 min bike ride, so just over a mile, probably). Try to finish reading the chapter you’re about to be taught. (Fail)
8:30am: Lecture starts. (Chapter 11)
12:15pm: Lecture ends. Lunch starts. Homework is assigned. (Due tomorrow, of course.)
12:45pm: Return from eating lunch to work on the homework. (Complete 5 of 7 problems)
2:00pm: Seminar begins.
5:00pm: Seminar ends. Return to dorm.
*Note that approximately 2 days each week, we have a seminar in the afternoon. The remaining 3 afternoons are spent either in lab or touring various facilities on BNL’s campus.
5:30pm: Continue working on lab report. (Started over the weekend, due tomorrow)
6:30pm: Make dinner. Discuss report and associated discussion questions with classmates over dinner.
7:30pm: Return to room. Continue working on lab report.
8:30pm: Finish lab report. Continue research for paper/presentation (due next week).
9:30pm: Stop researching. Return to homework set.
9:55pm: Complete homework. Begin lab prep for tomorrow.
11:00pm: Finish lab prep for tomorrow. Begin reading Chapter 12 (32 pages).
11:45pm: Give up on reading. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Set alarm for 7:00am so chapter 12 can be completed in the morning. (Write blog post…)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be here and I’m ecstatic that I’m learning so much and making connections between previous chemistry classes and my physics classes. I really enjoy the labs because apparently chem lab is just like riding a bike – the techniques might be a bit rusty, but I do in fact remember the basics of pipetting and running a column and even proper acid disposal. But hoooooo boy! is it exhausting. I’ve got two more weeks of using every brain cell in my big head, and then I am taking a well-deserved week off before I go right back to using my brain again. Is this what the real world is like? ‘Cuz if it is, I love it and I hate it at the same time.
Yesterday, we took a day trip into NYC to visit the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research center for what was actually a phenomenally interesting tour. It started with a bunch of presentations by various program heads about their particular research, including recent/ongoing projects as well as historical accomplishments. (Side note: one thing that is fabulous about this program, which I think most people don’t realize, is the fact that the important people themselves are giving us our tours. When we visited Stony Brook University, it was the head of the Chem department, not some grad student, who showed us around. I’ll talk a bit more about who, what, where going forward, but it blows my mind every time someone gets introduced to us. It is increasingly clear to me that this program isn’t just about providing an interesting educational opportunity for students potentially interested in nuclear and radiochemistry; it really is about finding for each of us the subset of nuclear/radio-/isotopic chemistry that fascinates us and giving us all the connections we need to really get into the field.)
At MSK, the head of radiological research came to talk to us; the director of the cyclotron took us around and answered all our questions; the head researcher brought us into the small animal lab and showed us every single imaging machine (even the brand new C-13 magnetic imager that hasn’t even been used in more than a dozen experiments yet).
On the one hand, MSK wasn’t all that exciting for me, because I’m not interested in cancer research. Nearly everything we got told about was the application of radioisotopes to diagnostic imaging and cancer treatments. That said, the tour of the cyclotron and the isotope production labs was awesome. This is where nuclear engineering, biomedical engineering, radiochemistry, and organic chemistry have all come together to create an incredible process. Radioactive nuclides are created in their cyclotron – mostly F-18 from enriched O-18 water. (Water with O-18, which is stable but rare, instead of the normally occurring O-16.) F-18 is used in a half dozen commonly used tracers, which are used by oncologists to find and track the growth of cancerous tumors in various imaging modalities. (PET, MR, etc.) Once the nuclide is produced, it gets sent to hot cubes, which are basically lead lined 3’x3′ hoods where the radioactive nuclide is isolated and the organic chemistry gets done to put the nuclide into the molecule. The thing is, since they’re so hot (radioactivity, not temperature), most of this work is done using robotics where possible or by operators controlling robotic arms. Once the molecule is made, it gets tested in quality control and then sent upstairs to the hospital and used. They’re currently working on obtaining FDA approval to make a certain F-18 compound that is used in approximately 50 images daily at MSK alone – once they have that approval, they anticipate making the compound and selling it to hospitals around NYC and up the eastern seaboard. The combination of research and business all to find, diagnose, and cure cancer is truly incredible. (MSK runs an annual profit upwards of $2b…) So I guess, while the actual medical application wasn’t all that interesting, the technology that underlies all of it (literally – the cyclotron and accompanying labs are all in the basement) was fascinating.
It was also amazing to recognize how much we’ve learned in just two weeks. I can only assume that a relatively constant level of complexity was maintained throughout their presentations, but when the presentation was about specific biological uptakes in cancer cells or the mechanisms of cancer in the (human or mouse) body, I had no idea what they were saying. BUT, when they talked about the processes of producing isotopes and using them to tag organic compounds, it felt like they were talking below us. Even though its only been a couple of weeks, I’ve got a pretty solid understanding of a wide base of nuclear and radiochemistry. I can’t wait for what the other three weeks of classes will hold.
Wait, Kathy! I thought this was a six week program? But only five weeks of classes? Huh?
This week – Week 3 – is all tours and experiences and guest lectures. First of all, Friday is July 3, which is a national holiday, so no class on Friday. Yesterday, we went to MSK. Today, we had two guest lectures given by two scientists who have worked here for 30+ years each. They are senior scientists working on the linear accelerator (BLIP – Brookhaven LINAC Isotope Producer) and the cyclotrons (technically, there are three…) They each talked about their respective machines: their histories, their construction, their functions, and the research they are currently being used for. This afternoon, we’ll be going on a tour of them. Unfortunately, BLIP is currently running, which means we’ll only get to see the outside and the control room, but if its anything like the time I toured ATLAS, it’ll still be really cool. And then we get to see the cyclotron too! Tomorrow, we’re heading out to Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant for a tour of that, which may very well be the one thing I was most excited when we got our six-week schedule on Day 1. Then, on Thursday, we’ve got a lecture from two professors at the University of Notre Dame about nuclear forensics; I know the same process can be used in geological dating, anthropological dating (mostly on ancient ceramics), crime analysis (for example, gunshot residue differs from one shot to the next) and “detonation materials” (bombs – you can tell who supplied the material based on its fingerprint). I’m excited about that one too, since a lot of these techniques, and the research into facilitating faster forensic analysis, is being used and funded by the IAEA. And then next week we get back into hardcore classes with a professor from UNLV (I think…)
As we go into week three, I’m experiencing the 18-ish-day slump (whereby I get tired of being wherever I am somewhere in the middle of the third week). I’m a bit tired of living in a dorm again; tired of having to carry my shampoo to the shower every day and of having to carry my food from the mini-fridge in my room to the stovetop/microwave downstairs in the kitchen. As much as I love the people here with me, spending basically all day every day with them has made me a bit tired of them – some act young, some act out, sometimes I just want my space and my porch and my friends from school, or my farmer’s market and my street and my family. But I know it’ll pass; I’ve retreated into a book and I’m sure by the time I finish it I’ll be ready for another three weeks with ’em all.
For now, I’ve got a lab report and some research to finish up, not to mention a couple tours to go catch. More to come, I promise (I might even get around to our various trips into NYC on the weekends for fun…)
I’ve always felt like bookshelves say something about their owners. The various English teachers for whom I’ve babysat always had bookshelves filled with classics; friends who are “closeted history buffs” almost always have a shelf or two devoted to historical fiction and historical non-fiction; many of my scienc-y friends have (no longer) surprising quantities of fantasy on their shelves.
I distinctly remember visiting a family friend about a week after they’d moved. Very little was unpacked – a few boxes of clothes, about half the kitchen, a box labeled “bathroom” half empty in the hall. The bookshelves were empty save three books – one she was clearly reading, one that was obviously his, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Now it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure that one out, but they were nonetheless surprised when they told me a few months later and I said “I know.” Even an almost-empty bookshelf says something about its owner.
But I’ve felt for the past few years that my bookshelf didn’t say much about me. I fly across the country and essentially displace myself and my life four or more times every year, and I have for the last four years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my choice to live on the East coast, but it does make having a personal library a bit more difficult. All through college, I’ve felt like my bookshelf was nothing more than evidence of that semester’s (or that year’s) courses. More than half of my shelf was usually textbook, or books required for classes. Sure, there have always been a few books that were there for fun, but they never meant much – they were there for convenience, or because I happened to be reading one the last time I got on a plane.
Today, my book collection is, naturally, limited since I’ll be in this location for exactly six weeks and one day. And yet, when I look at it, I can’t help but think it does say something about me.
I’ve got two nuclear textbooks. (One chemistry, one physics) I’ve got a lab notebook and a chart of the nuclides handbook and the June edition of National Geographic. I’ve got a math book (Emmy Noether’s Wonderful Theorem) and two policy books – Arguments that Count (about missile defense systems) and The Politics of Nuclear Energy (I think you can figure that one out…) To round it out, there are two books for fun – the beautiful and thought-invoking Invisible Cities and the somewhat horrifying House of Leaves.
I glanced at my bookshelf this morning, looking for my notebook, and something hit me. It was as if I was looking at someone else’s bookshelf. I read the person to whom it belonged as easily as I read the pregnant-but-not-sharing-yet-couple’s bookshelf years ago. This person was obviously passionate about nuclear science and nuclear energy, with a bit of time – but maybe not as much as they’d like – to read something else as well.
I glanced at my bookshelf and I realized who I am. Until this morning, I thought of nuclear energy as maybe just another phase. Like all my other passions, I’ve spent the last six months or so expecting to grow out of it. But the reality is that the more I learn and the more I study, the more questions I have and the more desperately I want their answers. The more I hear about where the reality of nuclear energy is, the more I want to fix the problems, and the more I worry that I’m a naive twenty-two year old with impractical hopes, the more I realize that my hopes aren’t that far off from the experts’.
I glanced at my bookshelf and I think I’ve found my future.
It’s been a long five days. I went backpacking with my not-so-little-anymore brother, made him hike 25+ miles in 2.5 days and I think he might want to kill me now. Pictures to come when my dad gets around to sending them to me.
Following those three days, I packed my life up (again) and flew across the country (again) to what my housemate/best friend/also-just-acquired-an-official-government-badge-Amelia calls “nuclear camp.” Aka six weeks, twelve undergrads, five professors, one national laboratory, and a lot of equations. Thus far, we’ve been given a nuclear chemistry textbook written by a Nobel Prize-winning chemist (he discovered ten elements, but that’s not what the Nobel was for), biked around Brookhaven National Lab’s campus, found the pool, and covered in under three hours what my Physics professor took a month and two homework assignments to teach last fall. (The semi-empirical mass formula, if anyone’s curious.)
The people here are really great, and it has been fun to nerd out about chemistry. Eleven of the twelve are majoring in Chemistry (Guess who’s the odd man out? You’re right! Me!) and every single one of us has a periodic table poster. Two brought theirs with them, three people have already worn chemistry-based shirts, everyone laughed about my Avogadro’s Number shirt, and one girl has a blanket with the periodic table on it. We all have similar tastes in books – sci-fi is an unsurprisingly popular genre, but so are the classics and eclectic books like When It’s a Jar and House of Leaves. A good number of us like watching sports, so I’ll have plenty of people to watch soccer with over the next 6 weeks, and we’ve all got distinctly different backgrounds, so we’ll have lots of cool discussions about all sorts of things over the next six weeks. It’s not unlike freshman year orientation all over again.
I passed my Rad Worker I test, which means I now know the difference between Radiation and High Radiation Areas (between 5 and 100 mrem/hr and >100 mrem/hr of radiation exposure) and I’m allowed to enter both types of area unescorted. Who knows how long the training lasts, but for now at least my friends can say they’re CPR-certified and I can say I’m certified by the US government to handle radioactive materials. Tomorrow we have a Benchtop Dispersibles class, which means… well… none of us know what that means. Check in again in fifteen hours; we’ll have updates.
In other news, we get to meet five different nuclear and radiochemistry professors from around the country, will be touring a nuclear power plant in a couple weeks, and generally expect to stuff our brains with lots of science. Then I’ll be back in Boston for a month before I start my very last semester (my very last class, really) of undergrad. Then I might post pictures from graduation here on this blog. But probably not, let’s be real.
When I was a kid, I always ate everything on my plate one thing at a time. I wasn’t one of those kids who threw a fit if my peas touched my potatoes, but I always ate all my peas and then all my potatoes. Or all my potatoes and then all my peas, depending on if I was facing the worst first and saving the best for last, or visa versa.
I no longer eat all my food one item at a time, but I still have an obsession not too different. Instead of eating one thing at a time, I absorb things all at once. I might go on a Tess Garritson whim, and read all of her books in a few weeks. Or I might get really obsessed with the variety of games that on the surface require nothing more than a swiping finger and the ability to add 2+2 or 3+3. I’m talking, of course, of Threes and 2048, and all the subsequent versions that have boomed in popularity over the last month or so.
*In the interest of fairness to the creators, I will state that Threes existed first, and 2048 is a version of it. Actually, 2048 is a version of 1024, which I haven’t played; 1024 is a version of Threes. I will also state that the only official version of Threes is available as an app for $1.99. An unofficial version is here.
When you have a facebook wall full of math and science nerds from around the country, it is hard to not notice that a nerdy game is blowing up. And so you wander over to the website to see what the fuss is all about, and two hours later you’ve downloaded the game onto your iPad because you absolutely, positively, must have this game for your 45 minute commute every day. It has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to beat Madeline’s record, which has to this day proved impossible.
At this point, you probably want to know what exactly it is that I’m talking about. Below is the link to play, but I hope you’ll finish reading before you just go off and play. Because once you start playing, you will NEVER COME BACK. Before clicking the link, I warn you to set a timer or some other way to prevent yourself from falling into the dark hole of a time suck that 2048 is. Because it is a time sink. You think, “oh! I was so close! Just one more game and I’ll get there,” and then, once you do, “hm! that wasn’t so hard. I wonder if I can get to 4096 too…?” Apparently, I am not the only person who feels this way. Buzzfeed is very rarely good for anything, but here it gives an accurate impression of the mind of a 2048-player. Since you want to play anyway, here you go.
Threes and 2048 as fall into the only category of online games I truly enjoy – those that are a) incredibly simple to learn, b) easy to play and c) almost impossible to win. The premise is simple: combine like numbers to get to the highest numbers you can.
Threes starts with blue 1 and red 2 tiles. Combine them, and 1+2=3 (The 3 tiles are white, as are all the larger tiles). Each time you move, the tiles collectively move one square in that direction. You can see the next tile coming, but you don’t know exactly where it will show up. You do know, however, that it will come from the direction you’re swiping. So, if you move left to right, the next tile will show up somewhere in the left-most column. Usually, the new tile is a 1, 2, or 3, but sometimes larger tiles show up too. These are signified by a white tile with a “+” on them. Higher tiles become more and more adorable monsters, egging you on to find out what their elder brethren look like.
The furthest I’ve ever gotten was to 768, which apparently has been reached by less than 5% of the players of Threes. My next goal – 1536 – would put me in the 99.82% percentile. (See Threes’ official infographic)
The key to making progress in Threes is to keep an eye on what the next card is, in order consider both the moves you want to make on the board AND the next move you can make with your next card.
2048, while similar, is different. For one, you’re combining powers of two, not three. Like in Threes, you get the low tiles thrown at you – 2’s and 4’s. But unlike Threes, you’re never going to get a bigger tile added in; you’re always going to have to build up yourself. In 2048, the tiles go all the way to the end, so if you swipe left to right, all the tiles go all the way to the right, which means it is easier to combine multiple pairs into bigger numbers at once. On the other hand, you have no idea what number will show up next or where, because any empty spot is fair game.
To beat 2048, you need to set up a line of increasing tiles that you can combine. If you have a 1024 next to a 512 next to a 256 next to a 128 next to a 64 next to a 32 next to a 16 next to an 8 next to a 4, beating the game is just a matter of combining two 2’s and completing the trivial steps to win. But then, it asks you if you want to keep going.
My personal highest card is 4096, although I did have one game with a 4096 and a 2048, so I’m well on my way to the 8192 tile. I’ve got to get there if I want to beat Madeline.
Like any good game, 2048 has spawned dozens of fakes. Most of which are stupid, but hilarious, but some are fun, and some are impossibly difficult. My personal favorites:
1. The Tufts Theater version. Tufts is full of Computer Science people, and even the Theater department isn’t immune. So, when the make-your-own-2048 website became a thing, Artoun was kind enough to take pictures of Tufts Theater people and create our very own version. Fair warning: there are no numbers, so this is not a game you want to play necessarily unless you a) know people in Tufts Theater or b) enjoy randomly hitting the arrow keys. Also, you will not find me in any of the pictures. That is what happens when you live backstage…
2. The Nuclear Fusion version. This one, I’ll be honest, is a version I have yet to master. Because, just like Threes and 2048 are different and thus have different strategies, Fe also plays by its own set of rules. Complete with frustrating 3Helium when you want 4Helium, and inconvenient decays. Can you fuse atoms together to make 56Iron?
Please please please don’t forget that you have a life! And go outside sometimes too…?