Tuesday, May 06, 2008
A Series Of Tubes
I don’t spend a lot of time on this blog bragging about my son. It’s not that there’s not a lot to brag about, but because I remember how embarrassing it was to me to have my mother talk me up to people I didn’t even know. And what is a blog but talking to hundreds of strangers in the grocery store check-out lane all at once.
But I have several things to be proud of even if I can’t take credit. About two years ago he became fascinated with the concept of carbon nanotubes. These things did not even exist when I was in college. Think of a sheet of paper rolled into a tube, only the paper is a one atom thick slice of graphite. Carbon nanotubes are so new they don’t even know what can be done with them yet.
Having finished up most of the courses he needed to graduate last year, he got interested in the school’s intern mentorship program. High school students get paired up with people in industry or commerce. He put down carbon nanotubes as his interest. At the beginning of the year he was told there was a chance to work with a researcher that was doing just that.
For the entire school year he has been putting in ten hours a week doing real lab work for a real PhD doing real research. Carbon nanotubes are small and finicky and delicate. He spent a lot of time cleaning glassware, preparing solutions, waiting endlessly for the centrifuge to work its nano-magic and logging raw data. Some of it was boring and tedious, but so are a lot of things.
Overnight, he upgraded his wardrobe from black denim and ironic tee shirts to twill pants and golf shirts. He would come home some days later than me from having to fight traffic from all the other enclaves of Really Smart People that lie between DC and Baltimore.
He never lost his sense of humor or his relaxed attitude to schoolwork that bored him. We had a few bumps along the year, but he is now in the senioritis strewn back stretch and it looks like he might make it.
Someday nanotubes may make the saying that the internet is just a bunch of tubes more than a misguided metaphor. And my son had some small, small part of it. He may not continue on with this field, but the skills and exposure he has gotten will serve him well in the future.
I may even be bragging about him more in the weeks to come. But only because he deserves it so much. Indulge me because I only get to do this once and it’s too exciting to not stop people in the street and tell them how proud I am of my son.