A Pocket of Curiosity

“I’m just very curious—got to find out what makes things tick… all our people have this curiosity; it keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors.” – Walt Disney

Percy Spencer only had a fifth-grade education. His father passed away when he was a toddler and he left school to get a job to support his family when he was only 12. His formal education may have been cut short but that didn’t stop his learning.  He began to experiment with electricity and learning at night, after work.  He became intrigued with wireless radio when he read how it was used to direct the ship Carpathia to rescue the Titanic passengers. He joined the Navy and managed to get ahold of textbooks to teach himself mathematics and science. After his service, he was hired at Raytheon, a newly formed company designing and manufacturing vacuum tubes.  Percy was particularly interested in producing radiation, specifically the use of magnetrons to generate signals used in radar.  That was something the US Government was keen to get for the war efforts.

One day in 1945, Percy showed up at work with a chocolate candy bar hidden in his pocket. While standing in front of the magnetron he was working on, he noticed the candy bar was melting.  He was fascinated by this behavior so he sent out for some unpopped popcorn and put it in front of the magnetron.  When it popped, he knew this small wave radar radiation could be used for cooking. He put the magnetron in a metal box and thus was born the first microwave oven.

Curiosity leads to discovery.  A disadvantage can often lead to a profound benefit.  What makes the difference?  In the case of Percy Spencer, his self-guided education taught him to ask why, to experiment and learn.  An unexpected occurrence, which by all rights could be viewed as an embarrassing disaster by many of us (melted chocolate pocket anyone?) turned into a critical discovery that has brought about an amazing benefit to humanity.  His creative idea was born out of curiosity, observation and action.

This year has been challenging for all of us. The new ways of working and the difficulties before us can be perplexing and discouraging at times.  But don’t give up.  Turn that melted chocolate bar into a discovery.  Ask, what can we learn from this crisis?  What experiment can we conduct to lead us on to discovery?   Are you limiting yourself or your thinking by the echo chamber we can easily find ourselves in?   Don’t.  Try something new this week.  Observe, ask why and then seek to answer it.  I suspect we are all sitting on a goldmine of new discoveries that we have yet to entertain.  Tap your opportunities and explore the unknown to see where it leads.

The next time you heat something up in the microwave remember how a melted candy bar and an inquisitive person handed us that useful invention.

Make a Difference

Aurora see in Wisconsin

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ― Fred Rogers

Joan loved science.  When she was 8 years old, she declared to her family that she wanted to be a scientist.  Her mother scolded her, “Women’s brains can’t do science.”  She was crushed and went sobbing into a pillow, wondering if she had to let go of her dream.  On her 14th birthday her brother, Richard, gave her a college textbook titled “Astronomy” which included an impressive chart of scientific data produced by a female astrophysicist.  That was what she needed to encourage her to pursue her career. 

Joan earned her doctorate in physics in 1958 and went on to work at NASA and JPL where she made critical discoveries about the nature and cause of auroras, specifically the interaction of the Earth’s magnetosphere and the magnetic field of the solar wind.  She was recognized and awarded many honors for her contributions to astrophysics, sunspot cycles, environmental hazards to spaceships and climate change.  Before passing away this past July, Joan Feynman had pushed through the barriers of bad advice she had received as a child and went on to make a dent in the universe of human understanding, space travel and our world.  

We are often told what we can and cannot do.  Our families, others and our jobs can intentionally or unintentionally cast us into roles that limit our potential.  I think many of us can relate to bad advice that we have received from others or have given to ourselves.  There is a tendency for us to undervalue our significance or limit our own potential. We are surviving but are we thriving?  We turn the cogs of the machine, but are we living our potential?

You are important.  You make a difference.  The truth is that you individually bring a distinctive value to our human family.  Your individual contribution, diverse traits, history, strengths, challenges, specific talents and nuanced skills fit together into the unique puzzle that is us.  You belong.  Our teams, our organizations and our world would not be the same without you.  That is the incredible truth.  The collection of our uniqueness builds the fabric of who we are as individuals and as a group.  When someone leaves, we become less. 

What are you doing to challenge the barriers you or others have placed upon you?  What would you change?  Are you hiding any of your talents or distinctives that could make us better as a group?  Please don’t!  Bring you.  Make us all greater by being greater yourself.  Embrace the strengths and unique talents of yourself and others as part of our collective power.  Our gaps and our strengths combine to make a diverse spectrum of formidable capability that will help us, our companies and our human family become even greater.  

Each one of us has a unique opportunity to make a dent in the universe.  Encourage yourself.  Encourage others and leave a bit of yourself behind at every encounter.  Together, we become even greater. 

Luminous Beings

Glowing Print

“Luminous beings are we.” – Yoda

I love building things.  During the past several weeks my girls and I have been 3D printing all sorts of characters, figures and models. It’s amazing what you can find online or build yourself with free or online tools like Tinkercad or Meshmixer.  Recently we started printing with glow-in-the-dark filament.  In a funny way, it unlocked a new nighttime routine for us.  Before going to bed, my girls will charge up their figures by holding them next to the light to have their accompanying glow.  We observed how different lights influence the glow, with the sun and UV light being the most powerful for long term glow.  

Of course, this led to the question, so how does glow-in-the-dark work?  I love those questions!  The phosphorescence material we printed is absorbing the radiation and causing a quantum magic show where the electrons absorb the energy from the light source photons. They are jumping to a higher energy state which slowly degrades over time, emitting that glow.  The unique nature of glow-in-the-dark materials like zinc sulfide and strontium aluminate is that the energy is not released immediately.  The higher energy state causes the electrons to get “trapped” in a higher state and released over the course of several minutes and even hours. Quantum mechanics loves to do this forbidden magic.  Ok, to be fair, I lost my girls on that explanation about the same way I lost some of you… so moving on.

How are you glowing?  It is amazing to me how many metaphors surround us.  This glow-in-the-dark adventure reminded me how we as humans, often radiate what we are exposed to.  I often find that in my life that I begin to emit what I allow myself to be exposed to.  If I become fixated on negative news, I become negative.  If I spend all my time hanging around critical people, I become critical.  On the flip side, if I seek and surround myself with positive people and mentors, I become more optimistic. If I change my diet to include good news as well as bad, I find that I am more encouraged and encouraging to others.  What are you feasting on?  What light sources are you orbiting?  Who and what are you bringing into your life to help you absorb good energy so that you too can glow?

In our fast action, twitter abbreviated, news cycle world I find that I often become carried away by the currents.  This little glow-in-the-dark lesson reminded me that we have a choice on where we are going and how we shape ourselves to be the people we want to be.  This pandemic can be discouraging and rob us of energy and joy.  There are a lot of negative and depressing conversations going on.  I understand that.  But we shouldn’t limit our charging to only those sources.  Find some new light sources this week.  Look for opportunities to jump to a higher energy state this week… and glow.  Here’s to a brighter future!

Six Not-So-Easy Pieces: Einstein’s Relativity, Symmetry, And Space-Time

This sequel to Richard Feynamn’s Six Easy Pieces grabs six more additional lectures from his famous three-volume series, Lectures on Physics.  In this book, Feynman unfolds the complexity of Relativity, Symmetry and Space-Time.   As is typical for his style, he makes these very complex subjects approachable, but then drives deeper to reveal the mathematics behind the mysteries.   The narrative and related equations are definitely geared toward math and science students. 

As is his genius, Richard Feynman often unpacks complex concepts through the use of practical analogies.  His description of curved space in Chapter 6 was one of my favorite sections (p. 112). 

Curved Space

In order to understand this idea of curved space in two dimensions you really have to appreciate the limited point of view of the character who lives in such a space.  Suppose we imagine a bug with no eyes who lives on a plane, as show in Figure 6-1.  He can move only on the plane, and he has no way of knowing that there is any way to discover any “outside world.” (He hasn’t got your imagination.)  We are, of course, going to argue by analogy.  We live in a three-dimensional world, and we don’t have any imagination about going off our three-dimensional world in a new direction; so we have to think the thing out by analogy.  It is as though we were bugs living on a plane, and there was a space in another direction.  That’s way we will first work with the bug, remembering that he must live on his surface and can’t get out.

As another example of a bug living in two dimensions, let’s imagine one who lives on a sphere.  We imagine that he can walk around on the surface of the sphere, as in Figure 6-2, but that he can’t look “up,” or “down,” or “out.”

Now we want to consider still a third kind of creature.  He is also a bug like the others, and also lives on a plane, as our first bug did, but this time the plane is peculiar.  The temperature is different at different places.  Also, the bug and any rules he uses are all made of the same material which expands when it is heated.  Whenever he puts a ruler somewhere to measure something the ruler expands immediately to the proper length for the temperature at that place.  Whenever he puts any object–himself, a ruler, a triangle, or anything–the thing stretches itself because of the thermal expansion. 

Feynman uses this constructed analogy to explain how the bug would get different measurements in each of these “worlds.”  The bug is able to determine what type of world it lives in based on the measurements.  It is interesting to see through his example that the bug on the sphere experiences the same measurements as the bug on the temperature varying hotplate (both can measure a triangle with an angle-sum of 270 degrees where the bug in the plane would see a maximum sum of 180 degrees).  Scientist speculate on the “space” curvature of the universe by conducting experiments.  So far, it is inconclusive.

In this book, Feynman also covers a refresher course on Vectors (Ch. 1), discusses the Symmetry in Physical Laws (Ch. 2), does a detailed analysis of The Special Theory of Relativity (Ch. 3), Relativistic Energy and Momentum (Ch. 4), Space-Time (Ch. 5), and Curved Space (Ch. 6).


The Special Theory of Realativity (p. 49) is a facinating approach to motion that for over 200 years was ruled by equations developed by Isaac Newton.   In Newton’s Second Law, 

which is the same as F=ma (where a is acceleration or the time derivative of velocity, dv/dt), the assumption is that mass (m) is a constant.  Einstein corrected this formula with his theory by saying that mass has the changing value,

where mo is the “rest mass” of a body when it is not moving and c is the speed of light (186,000 mi/s or 3×10^5 km/s).�