An evening with Michio


The night before my exam I’m staring at the microwave. Into the microwave. Into the gently revolving milk of my ninety-percent-milk coffee nightcap. I start thinking there must be a way to know the time before the milk boils and spills over. I would just need the temperature beforehand, the mug diameter, and the rate of heat transfer. The latter I could find if I measured the level the milk decreases by for the first couple seconds of microwave time – because there’s always less milk even if I get there before it boils over. But no, I sigh mournfully, there are no saturated milk-temperature tables available in the appendices of thermodynamics textbooks. That’s ok. I can just wait to react when bubbles start appearing.

I’m sure other people stare and wonder at things too; at the microwave, at the shower wall, at the ceiling right before your brain switches off to sleep. Seeing Michio Kaku speak the evening before my exam was watching a man wonder. Because surely, in his much longer student lifetime, after wondering at textbook question after question, he can wonder more easily at bigger questions. The biggest questions really.

A friend of mine bought Michio tickets in March, the day of, in anticipation of the sold out crowd. But admittedly I hadn’t followed Michio closely until I knew he was coming. Ah the power of live shows. But I’ll say my favourite part of Michio’s appearance was his accessibility to these big scientific questions.

As a presenter of engineering workshops myself, one of things I run into most commonly, even in high school science classrooms, is this idea that scientific vocabulary isn’t accessible to the general public. Even the broader idea that science or math or engineering isn’t enjoyable unless you’re a professional.

One of the things I took from the night, as arbitrary a comment as it was, was Michio’s answer to a question on how to interest friends uninterested in science (my friend seated next to me commented on science being a buzzword at this point). ‘… remind them that as pretty as it is – which it is!’ he reiterated urgently, like admitting pop music is catchy, ‘it’s also practical.’

Yes, Michio wants to let you know increasing your scientific vocabulary is more than just fun, it’s practical. Maybe start by typing Michio Kaku into Youtube. The first one begins by explaining the universe in a nutshell. In any case I wanted to leave you guys with my personal feelings about his feelings on the universe that evening, by quoting another person’s poetic feelings about the sea.

They try never to think about the whole range and weight
Of ocean. To try to picture it is like looking down
From an immense height, the oblivious black volume.
To drown in that calamitous belly would be dying twice.

– Robert Pinsky

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    Wonderfully insightful

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