In Search of Element 79
It’s a familiar story told by a select few. I anticipated the first line to read, “We regret to inform you.” Instead, orange and silver confetti fluttered across my laptop screen. My acceptance filled me with joy and disbelief. After telling the good news to friends, family, and mentors, I realized how much I sacrificed for this outcome. The sum of all my opportunity costs–the weekends preparing for science competitions, late nights crossing fruit flies, and weeks tweaking my essays instead of having more typical teenage adventures–cashed in at this one point in time. My high school experience could’ve been different, but I don’t regret my choices. I had so much fun learning and researching that I wanted to, in earnest, do more of that in college.
Years spent scaling the stucco wall left little time to imagine what’s on the other side. Maybe it’s a form of self-protection, but during the application process I didn’t think much about what it meant to “be a Caltech student.” The fear of getting my hopes up came second to the fear of losing myself in prestigiousness. As cheesy as it sounds, when I did dream of what I’d do in college, I imagined dramatically scribbling equations on blackboards or commanding a fleet of drones from my dorm room. I didn’t need to go to Caltech to do those things, but it would be the best place where I could.
Over the wall, I wondered if I should commit. I’d likely lose touch with my friends and family. Unsure of my future, I looked to the past for guidance–to the 19th-century pioneers headed west in search of gold. With a clear purpose, they were able to survive the arduous journey. They shouldered being lost, sick, and ambushed in the hope their efforts would pay off someday. Similar in spirit and destination, I decided to attend Caltech because my mission has remained singular: I want to learn science and engineering from the best in the world.
Visiting Caltech gave me greater confidence in my decision. Its sunkissed campus, unparalleled research, and tight-knit community captivated me. Although Tech has been unforgiving at times, it has kept its promise in supporting my mission. In my first year, I saw the fly brain glow in response to an odor. I watched Einstein’s equations of special relativity leap out from Maxwell’s equations. I expressed the closed-form of the Fibonacci sequence using the golden ratio.
Having completed two years, I have my short stack of shiny ingots. There is still so much to discover. To those starting this journey, I offer you the same golden nugget I found in Feynman’s Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent, and original manner possible.