Week Four: Preserving the beautiful

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Megan Anderson

“Do you want to see a rainbow?” 

A few people drift toward your table, separating themselves ever so slightly from the sea of visitors to Astronomy on the Mall. Parents nudge their kids forward. Adults orbit an arm’s length away. You pass around diffraction glasses and encourage everyone to look through the lenses. Eyes grow wide as cardboard and special plastic transform the evening light into rainbows. 

You explain how this is possible thanks to light behaving like a wave. How white light is all the colors put together. How each color is its own kind of wave. 

Remember that physics is beautiful even as you use it to remind others of how beautiful the world is. Events like this encourage the community to hold onto knowledge a little bit tighter. Perhaps outreach is a form of preservation. 

“Who’s in for dinosaurs?” (source

Speaking of preservation, there’s a new dinosaur exhibit in the Museum of Natural History. You forgo an ice cream adventure to see these creatures from before the ice age. The fossils are simultaneously impressive and horrifying; some look like they could have been quirky pets while others seem straight out of a science fiction movie. You wander around the cheerful exhibits, stopping to read some of the plaques and comment on some of the specimens (look around, the people watching is quite good too)

Stay with the dinosaurs until the last ten minutes before the museum closes. Run upstairs to see the Hope Diamond up-close. No one else is in the room. The moment feels almost as rare as the diamond itself.

Remember that both a diamond and a fossil can be deemed beautiful. That beauty is not always something you want to put in a display case. That there is more to the world than our human experience. Breathe in the humility mixed with excitement that comes through learning. Pick it up and take it home as a souvenir. 

“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” (source)

Take a long walk around the monuments now, steeping yourself in history and seeping into the background of tourist photos. Admire the views. Ignore the scaffold skeletons draped along the skin of the buildings. Aren’t we all works of progress?

Weave around the yells and the selfies to get closer. Read words of liberty. Equality. Truth. Feel them melt the coldness of the marble. Symbols of a commitment to preserve the beautiful. 

Remember that not all quotations are created equal. Find the context. Feel the conflict, the discrimination, the pride. Sometimes we forget about the role of ugliness in our beautiful stories. There always has to be an antagonist, even if it’s as elusive as an oppressive power structure. Hope that the antagonists always push us to move forward. 

“For a man so accomplished, it is really remarkable that he has absolutely no professional enemies.” (source

This summer, you’re in the business of storytelling. Your goal is that every Bingham Medalist has an informative, accessible biography by the time the internship ends. Find sources in the stacks. Find more online. Feel gratitude toward the librarians and archivists helping you. As you stitch together the past and the present, admiring research and professional accomplishments, look for the personalities. They hide among the writings of colleagues and jump out to surprise you at the end of articles. See, you’re not just writing about researchers; you’re writing about glacier explorers, horseback riders, and mushroom cultivators.  

Notice that the word “polymer” appears no fewer than fifty-seven times a day. Notice how hard it is to learn much about some of these people. Feel a responsibility to them that surprises you. 

Remember that history is a human enterprise. That each life makes an impact, however niche it may be. Hope that your search for truth is a process that preserves the beautiful. 

Megan Anderson