Monday, February 27, 2017

To dreams faded and hopes lost

In a bout of nostalgia I combed through all the diary entries on this blog a few days ago, as well as the entries on the now defunct club blog of Stargazer Society MCKL. Dreams of spacecraft building, rockets and space exploration, so feverish during my late teenage years and basically the reason I came here to the U of MN.

There were rockets and spacecraft projects here. I did a rocketry project, just once. The ballooning experiments, probably one of the closest thing you can get to build-and-launch, was not in my radar of attempt, being too busy with the solar car. For better or for worse, my attention drifted to more down-to-earth things, like fluid flow, modeling, and machining stuff. Then, on my fourth semester, I got roped into an experimental fluid research projects, which I am still working on until this day.

Which is fair, kind of, considering that if you look way further back, space exploration was a fleeting, even though it was a burning interest. The prevailing theme was physics, and now I am doing fluid physics, although experimentally and with the approach of an engineer. Still, in my last year of school, I decided to pursue a Mars mission design project, and learnt a lot in a wide field which I will almost never have the chance to participate in the near future. Today, I am the fox declaring that the grapes are sour, but to be fair the fox had no chance at the grapes no matter how he tries. Well, the fox digresses.

Before I started university I already realized - that any job I take will mean nothing to me, unless if I can think of it as some kind of service, no matter how high the pay is, or how hyped-up the job title is. Being a tutor this year reminded me of my conviction again - when the student says thank you at the end of the lab the feeling is indescribable. On the research side gratification comes much slower, in theory you are contributing knowledge to society, or at least to people who care what particles do in a turbulent flow. Sometimes, down in the basement it's very easy to lose sight of this.

Recently, environmentalism comes up to my mind often - as a field I want to contribute something to. With the temps rising and the political climate unsupportive, it certainly seemed like I missed the green bandwagon by a few years. However, the pollution is there, and has to be curtailed, the environment and human health are both at stakes. I learnt the effects of carbon soot on human lungs, and on DNA. Now we need to cut it, and fast. Just some random ideas and challenges I thought of:

  1. Retrofitting solar panels onto cars, to power air-conditioning for example, so that less gas is burnt up. 
  2. Come on guys, Perodua electric cars? Fully electric cars doesn't have to be the domain of Tesla. 
  3. Decomposable bags used for kitchen compost, that can actually rot in landfills. The other stuff should really be sorted and recycled. 
  4. Microfluidics in medicine is making a bang, with the early detection and lab on a chip stuff. Blood testing for diseases on a chip would definitely be cool. But in terms of curing people, there's still a long ways. 
  5. Improving energy harvesting, from the sun, from the wind, from tides - as long as it's not in a conveniently packaged hydrocarbon. 
Service and discovery, they are the key words. I just can't bring myself to make something just for the heck of it - compared to multiple people who crash their giant structures into the water in that Red Bull event. I also aspire to teach, and to innovate - guess I'm kinda doing some of that right now. No matter where I end up, these ideals will continue to shape and guide me throughout. 

Perhaps the answer I was looking for was already answered almost a year ago. There were many things, which some I decided and assume which I was given, that landed me in this exact place in this exact moment. Space exploration remain unreachable for now, but that doesn't mean what I'm doing now is trash. Even if rockets and spaceships won't carry me, I always have the two guiding stars of service and discovery, to illuminate and help me craft my path in this wonderfully transient journey in this beautiful world.

By the way, I don't think I mentioned this in the blog before, but I wrote a book in 2015! It is still rough and unfinished, but I have a book! Hopefully I get to actually polish it soon, and have everyone read and critique my maiden work.

To the dreams that faded and hopes that were lost, I found in myself once again, an invincible summer.

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