TJ: The Latest Hot Venue
Flow Day, TJTED, TEDxTJHSST Feature Speakers from Inside and Outside the Community
Students Find Their “Flow”
TJ’s Second “Flow Day,” an all-school 8th-period activity held on Friday, March 20th, that is already something of a TJ tradition (see June 2014 issue), welcomed 37 participants, including two featured speakers, a prominent theoretical physicist (above) and an alum who has just written his second bestseller (see Bestseller this issue). Flow Day organizers, Assistant Principal Scott Campbell and Russian teacher Betsy Sandstrom, asked would-be presenters, “What gives you FLOW?” and encouraged them to “talk about what rocks your world, what gives meaning to your life, what you daydream about when you’re grading papers, doing laundry, or mowing the lawn, what you do just because . . . .”
This year’s Flow Day participants included fifteen teachers and staff members; eleven current students; six alumni; and parents, siblings, and friends of students and/or teachers. Topics ranged from organic farming to shooting sports; from arts & crafts to genealogy; from STEM college and career advice to running for local office; and from enriching international travel experiences to the journey from poverty to a job as an FCPS Administrator.
Physicist Shares the Flow in His Career and Life
Featured speaker Dr. S. James (Jim) Gates, Jr., the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland and Director of its Center for String & Particle Theory, was introduced by TJ Quantum Physics & Optics Lab Director John Dell, a long-time friend. Dr. Gates received BS degrees in Math and Physics and a PhD in Physics from MIT, where he and Dr. Dell met 35 years ago, and was a research fellow at CalTech and Harvard. He has been a professor since 1982, first at MIT and then at Maryland, is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, and is a recipient of the National Medal of Science, the highest honor the U.S. government bestows upon scientists. He spoke modestly about how pursuing the questions that interested him most led to one success after another, never ceasing to surprise him.
By the age of eight, I was “firmly committed to becoming a scientist,” Dr. Gates began. When he learned from a book that the stars were actual places that looked small because they were far away, he couldn’t learn fast enough to satisfy his growing curiosity. His mother died when he was young, and to escape the pain he turned to books. He got good grades, and in high school when he saw something on TV about “a school where they only made you study math and science, I knew I wanted to go there.” So he applied and was accepted to MIT. His Math grades were initially stronger than his Physics grades, so he decided to major in Math, but he loved Physics and had had an excellent Physics teacher in high school, so he continued to take Physics classes, eventually realizing that he had taken enough of them to fulfill that major as well.
The way Dr. Gates described it, he was having so much fun working through tough problems that suddenly he found that he had a PhD in Physics and a post-doc position at Harvard. What he didn’t mention was that his dissertation was MIT’s first in supersymmetry — a field that posits a unifying theory to reconcile what we generally consider to be two fundamentally distinct types of particles, mass (electrons) and energy (photons) — or that he is co-author of the first comprehensive book on the subject.
Looking back, he marveled that he has been conducting research for 40 years, teaching for 43 years, and that over the last few years has been in demand as a “science documentary talking head.” He didn’t mention that when he was named the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland he was the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major U.S. research university.
This year he will be taping five documentaries, including one — an episode of “Through the Wormhole,” narrated by actor Morgan Freeman — where Dr. Gates will not be a “talking head” but instead the guest whose work the episode will examine, specifically his discovery of “error correcting codes” embedded in the equations that describe fundamental atomic particles.
Whether musing about how his twins are now pursuing advanced degrees in science despite his failure to proselytize the subject, remembering how intimidated he was to meet the famous physicist Richard Feynman at Cal Tech until the Nobel prize-winner told Dr. Gates that he envied his Afro, or relating the story of a traveler’s refusal to believe that he was not Morgan Freeman, Dr. Gates revealed the person behind the scientist, a reassuring reminder that science is rewarding not only for what it adds to our common knowledge but also for what it gives back to those who devote their lives to it.
On Friday, April 10th, Dr. Arathi Prabhakar, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), visited TJ during 8th period and spoke to students in TJ’s DaVinci Commons, a large gathering space on the ground floor of the new Research Lab Wing. TJ’s 8th period club, TJTED, invited Dr. Prabhakar as part of its TJTED Speaker Series, which it has run since the fall of 2013. The club’s Co-Founder, Wendy Wang, ’16, introduced DARPA and its Director.
Located in Arlington, DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military. As DOD’s primary innovation engine, DARPA is responsible for the development of new technologies including many that form the backbone of today’s IT industry as well as the precursor to GPS. DARPA’s Director decides how to allocate a $3 billion budget among short-term projects in both basic and applied research covering all areas: biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neurosciences, and others.
Born in New Delhi, Dr. Prabhakar received her BS in Electrical Engineering from Texas Tech and a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and PhD in applied physics from Cal Tech, where she was the first woman at the school to earn a PhD in that field. She then came to Washington on a congressional fellowship, where she worked on issues at the intersection of technology and policy. She worked at DARPA from 1986 to 1993, initially as a program manager but later as the founding director of DARPA’s Microelectronics Technology Office. At the age of 34, Dr. Prabhakar was appointed the head of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), a position she held from 1993 to 1997. She was the first woman to head NIST. After working in private industry in Silicon Valley for the next fifteen years, she returned to head DARPA in July, 2012.
After asking students a few questions about their areas of interest and familiarity with DARPA’s work, Dr. Prabhakar gave an overview of DARPA’s current projects in several key areas: Space, critical for positioning, surveillance, and communications; cybersecurity, where automating the discovery and repair of breaches can dramatically speed up response time; data analytics and deep web search, useful for investigating such varied systems as human trafficking networks and phone numbers linked to illicit fund transfers; and work at the intersection of biology and information technology, including infectious disease control and mind-controlled prosthetics.
At the end of her talk, Dr. Prabhaker fielded students’ thoughtful questions about career choices, particular programs, even research failures. A parent of two high schoolers, Dr. Prabhakar had a great rapport with TJ students, who are looking forward to the next installment in the TJTed Speaker Series.
Wendy Wang of TJTED explained the series this way: “The aim of our speaker series is to connect TJ students to all the incredible resources and leaders coming in and out of DC, and to show students how different disciplines can interconnect in the real world, and in careers like that of these leaders. I hope that a TJ student somewhere, during one of these events, will discover a passion they didn’t know they had, for a field or career they’ve never given a second thought to.”
Previous TJTED speakers to date:
- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
- Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), Dr. Kerri Ann Jones
- Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA 11th District)
- Yale Senior Justin Schuster (Senior Editor of Yale’s The Politic and student coordinator of The Politic’s ambassador interview series, Diplomatic Discourse, which has recently been published as a book)
- Liechtenstein’s Ambassador to the US, Claudia Fritsche
- Former International President of Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Unni Karunakara
- Yale School of Public Health Professor Richard Skolnik
- Switzerland’s Ambassador to the US, Dr. Martin Dahinden
- New Zealand’s Ambassador to the US, former Prime Minister, former Director of the WTO, Mike Moore
TJ’s third TEDxTJHSST conference, titled “Prevail,” explored this year’s One Question: “How can we discover and pursue our own passions in the face of external and societal pressures?” TEDx conferences are based on the well-known eight-minute TED presentation format, but organized locally.
Assistant Principal Scott Campbell, who organized TEDxTJHSST all three years, said TEDx was “a chance to share ideas. It’s not a competition,” he said, “we’ve got enough of those.” He then challenged the students who were spending part of their 8th period in the audience (some students attended earlier sessions with their 6th- or 7th-period classes) to listen and take just one idea away with them. Videos of all presentations from this year’s May 15th conference will be available on the TEDxTJHSST website in the coming weeks; a few synopses are below. What will your takeaway be?
Nicole Bailey, TJ ’10, currently in graduate school at GWU, described how having three pursuits to which she was deeply committed — a state she called “Triple Deep” — gave her direction and flexibility, helping her handle adversity. She called it a “framework for keeping you constantly invested in yourself.”
Principal Glazer, who illustrated his talk with close-ups of his favorite sandwiches, explained how using a sandwich as a reward helps him overcome the obstacles standing between him and his goals. For example, he can more easily handle the airport security line and related travel hurdles when he knows that soon after landing in his home town of Chicago he’ll be devouring a dripping wet Italian beef sandwich with juice running down his arms.
Before he died, junior Eke’s Wokocha’s father told him that if he intended to pursue a STEM career, he’d have to work harder than others because he’s African American. This made sense to Eke, because he had already observed that people treated his father differently after learning of his advanced degree. “TJ is not a racist environment,” Eke said, but some students don’t understand what it’s like to be a member of an underrepresented minority at the school. Eke urged students to appreciate everyone for who they are and what they have accomplished, instead of making assumptions based on their race.
AP US History teacher Josephine Romeo, who also teaches Western Civilization at Northern Virginia Community College, has a “constant companion,” her hearing loss. She suffered the taunts of her elementary school classmates and struggled for years with speech therapy to form sounds she could not hear. Her love for dance kept her going. She learned a powerful lesson in high school when, despite everyone’s advice that she give up, she persevered until she was dancing with the dance team at games and competitions. This experience later helped her achieve her career goal of becoming a teacher. “Push out those who say your ‘constant companion,’ will keep you from succeeding,” she said.
Senior Kate Salamido’s presentation (right) focused on the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture. In addition to the land and resources used, the raising of animals for human consumption is also leading to deforestation, she explained: Sixty percent of the Amazon basin’s deforestation is due to cattle grazing, and another 31 percent is due to growing crops to feed the cattle; thus a whopping 91 percent of Amazon deforestation is the result of animal agriculture. The most appropriate response would be to give up meat altogether, she said, but in the interests of having students do something they can stick with, she urged the audience to “set a lower bar you can hop over every morning.” Substituting one veggie burger for a hamburger saves the energy equivalent of 320 miles of driving, according to Kate. “You have the power to save the world but don’t even know it.”
Director: Aliana Gungor, ’15
Recruitment: Meron Girma, ’17, and Wendy Wang, ’16
Marketing/Design: Brandon Kim, ’15, and Jessica Nguyen, ’16
Organizer: Scott Campbell, Assistant Principal
Dorothy Wang, ’15, Arianna Chen, ’15, Edward Tyles, ’17, Kevin Wan, ’15, Justin Sun, ’15, Dennis Park, ’15, and
Andrew Hamilton, Network/Systems Administrator