Ever wonder what people’s “wow factor” is? I mean what does it take to get one to marvel or to gasp in thoughtful appreciation of a singularly riveting moment? For me, it is when so riveted, my breath halts, time seems to slow down and my eyes widen, and a “Wow” moment has just arrested me. I know “wow” sounds trite, but I’ve had a few of my own such “WOW” moments lately. There was that high altitude rainbow in Maine in late August when a double (nearly triple) rainbow hung in there for nearly a half hour or more. That was a definite “Wow!” Then there was a Raven’s game lately I attended where they pulled some of their eye-popping, big-boys assertiveness over the visiting team and I uttered in low tones “wow” almost reflexively. Nice, but really, a once-in-a-life-time “Wow” is bigger, and I had one recently.
October 4th, I was invited a few hours before it started to sit in on a very unique science conference. I had no idea what it was to be like as was evidenced by how I showed up bearded and scruffy-looking. Quickly, my attention and respect was won. I found the conference to be unique and nearly breath-taking to say the least. I caught myself thinking at first the perfunctory thought, “How unusual to have been invited,” but I quickly left off self-consciousness, for being caught up in the substance. It was the First Annual Light Seminar, sponsored by Lenox Laser labs of Glen Arm, MD, by Joe D’Entrement, its founder and owner. Sure, I had hurried there pensive about my invitation, how the countryside being so beautiful was an unlikely context and location for the lab. Plus, the lab’s technogy itself did have its own uniqueness, reason enough to evoke a small “wow,” because coupled with the Lenox Laser cutting-edge science in small hole technology, was the fact that their lab layout is definite “Wow-level” eye candy for a “techy” guy like me. So, awed a little before the conference even started, the reflection came: “Who ever heard of a Light Seminar – Light shows maybe, but not light as a subject, and what’s more, there is an intention to establish a museum about it. Really? Hum-m-m! Fascinating!”
The momentousness then really mounted as I sat highly tuned in to the lecturer’s words. He had my attention. It was the venerable Dr. Charles Townes, now quite elderly, developer of the science behind the maser and laser. The spark of what little I knew of his story was quickly blown into a full flame as he recounted enjoying years of successful research despite many of his peers. He described working through the maser and laser problems into a real science in all its possibility. Then he digressed with humor over how the pathway was so full of scorn, derision, and disassociation by some of the world’s top scientists, like Washington’s best, university research fellows, top Bell Labs men, and even when in Europe, the father son duo of Aage and Neils Bohr, who he respects to this day, yet who also echoed the mantra “it can’t be done.” Gary Boas a contributor to Photronics Magazine sat with me during the conference and saw in the Townes story a picture of scientific persistence (Gary Boas’ Blog), and as Townes put it, a picture of the open-mindedness necessary to allow inspiration to mingle into our hard work and catch us by surprise, allowing for some divine graciousness in areas where we just do not have necessary knowledge (his words!). Pinch me! Did I just hear a famous scientist who was deservedly proud, humbly admit to needing God. “Oh yeah,” I said, and I caught myself uttering a heart-felt big “WOW” to that.
The moment was continued with the second guest speaker Dr. John Wood of NASA who had been part of the small team most responsible for several of the NASA triumphs in waning golden age of NASA. And we heard the host, Joe D’Entrement, Lenox Laser’s founder himself who was a “wow” type guy with his infectious creativity and positive-mindedness. He had me fooled for decades while he hid the fact that the first measurements of the moon’s distance from the earth by bounced laser light in the late 1980s were actually HIS SHOT! Well, whether it was me, or the Russians I sat with, or the entourage of the Uzbekistani Vice President of the Academy of Science behind me. Between us, a few “wows” arose, and I am already booked for being at the 2nd annual Light Seminar next year at about the same time. More real “Wow’s,” please.