Friday, April 4, 2014

Comfort in thermodynamics

My previous roommate (and great friend), Cael, and I ate dinner together almost every night. He was the first member of my now large and amazing San Diego network, my West Coast family. Both of us having been trained in mathematics & engineering and being natural visual learners, many of our conversations turned into attempts to represent whatever worldly phenomenon we were discussing as simple formulas and graphs. Everything was an oversimplification, obviously, but I think we did a decent job of convincing ourselves that our ideas could be communicated without needing too many words. Maybe we just have poor vocabularies.

I'm writing today as I try to recall the mathematical details of one of the most memorable conversations--a conversation about life and death. We were talking about the passing of a close friend, the same friend who inspired me to start this blog, the same friend from whose memorial bench I took the photo shown in my first post.

Our conversation centered around the word "potential." When someone leaves this world too early, we always talk about how much potential they had, how much they could have accomplished. We decided that night that talking about potential really only covers half of the issue. Or in our terms, half of the First Law of Thermodynamics: the law of conservation of energy. The other half, of course, is kinetic. When someone who is such a positive influence on our lives, on the world, is taken from us, that potential isn't buried; it's converted. What was potential is now kinetic. It's our responsibility to ensure that the conversion is complete, that the energy is conserved. I strive to do my part to convert Tim's potential into kinetic energy, into positive action, a force for good. I don't think of the conversion as a burden. In fact, it's a privilege to know that there is so much potential energy out there and all we have to do is learn how to harness it for good.

The project I've written about in this blog, SUP, Science, is my attempt at converting potential into kinetic. SUP, Science was born during conversations with Tim just over three years ago. It is probably not exactly the course of action he would have chosen, but this is my attempt to obey the law of conservation of energy. I'd always choose to keep all of my friends and family around forever but I'm comforted by my belief that their potential isn't lost when these loved ones move on.

This is a sad week for my Scripps Oceanography family. Almost three years since Tim's passing, we lost another classmate, another friend. I'm glad that I had the good fortune of meeting Rachel but sad that I never got to know her better. My heart goes out to her close friends & family.

From everything I've heard over the past couple days, Rachel had a tremendous amount of potential. She and Tim were on pretty similar paths, both members of Scripps' most prestigious conservation cohort. Tim studied how low-lying island nations would be affected by human-caused climate change through changing precipitation patterns (that is, changing flood/drought cycles). Rachel's research was in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, focused on protecting valuable marine ecosystems. They were both passionate science communicators, perhaps one of the most valuable skills & interests in our time of rapid change.

I wish only to honor the memories of our close friends in this emotional time. I hope to do the best I can to ensure that their potential is appropriately converted so that it can have the most positive, energetic impact on the planet possible, the impact that I think they wanted to have. I don't wish to oversimplify anyone's life or the positive impact that they had on us, I only strive to ensure that their legacies live on. Rest in peace, Rachel.