Full Circle Now

The scattering of light is one of my favorite optical phenomena. Typically, the color of the sky is caused by Rayleigh scattering, where most of the long wavelengths of light are scattered out, leaving only he purples and blues. Due to the way that out eyes have developed, we are especially sensitive to yellows, making the sky it’s distinctive blue shade.
Sunset behind trees

Sunset at Mohave Point, 8/7/14

But, we don’t live in the world of a kindergartner’s painting, where the grass is all green, the sun a yellow ball, and the sky a scribbled blue crayon. Instead, there are nuances and depth to the sky- especially at the special times of sunrise and sunset. As the sun emerges from below the horizon, its light creeps through the atmosphere. The differing amounts of atmosphere that the light passes through determines the final wavelength of light perceived, creating an awe inspiring rainbow. More than just the colors, sunrise and sunsets have deep symbolic meanings- arousing powerful memories and emotions.

Sitting at Yaki Point this morning, on the Eastern side of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, I was fortunate enough to witness another sunrise. Seeing the sky slowly change from the star-speckled black to dim blue set the stage for the red and green lines to be seen. Soon, a yolk-yellow sun began to crack over Shiva Temple, and the cracks of the canyon were painted gorgeous hues of youthful yellows, brick reds, and vibrant purples. I gazed into the majesty of nature, and finally began to weep.

The last sunrise and sunset that I’ve seen was on one of the most emotional and heartbreaking days of my young life: the last night of SSP. My first all-nighter was filled with stories, memories, star-gazing, picture taking, raw ramen eating, song signing, half-drunk-on-no-sleep chats, last minute rock climbing, blankets, hugs, hugs, tears, tears, tears. It’s still a bit painful in my chest to talk about, because it was the last time that we 36 people were together for this program. Even in reunions and meet-ups in the future, we would be different people with different ideas in our heads. The ideas and concept of the SSP family was ending that night, and none of us wanted to let go.

In our last hours together, we smuggled blankets to The Rock and sat together in quiet muttered conversation. It was my first time observing that sunrise is not a spontaneous change, but a slow gradual melding of colors. Surrounded by true friends and watching the stars blink out, one by one, I was content. Through the past five and a half weeks, I’ve learned and discovered so much about myself, and I have found so many people who I could count on. I’ve discovered so many inside jokes and shared frustrations, as well as late night secrets and daytime joys. In short, I found home.

But it was all coming to a close. And that ending was in my mind as I observed the ending of our family trip as well. Through the past several blogs, I’ve been focusing on SSP experiences and the nature around me, but at the same time, I’ve been surrounded by family. My loving parents, who have supported and sponsored me every step of the way, as well as my slightly eccentric grandparents who love me so much. We have been on an incredible 10 day road trip across the southwest, seeing so many diverse sights and adventuring in the wonders of America. Yet, this trip was too concluding along with the end of my summer, the end of an experience.

As sad as goodbyes are, they bring in something equally inspiring- hope. Hope in that my scattered friends will always stay in touch. Hope in the application of our scientific knowledge to change the world. Hope in the days to come, hope in our shared future. As said by another SSPer from New Mexico,

“Yesterday, while everyone was bawling their eyes out, I started tearing up myself. Not because I was sad, but because our futures were so damn bright.”
~ Kevin Lee

Sunsets and sunrises represent a cycle of life. They promise that the world will continue to spin, and that life moves on. Nothing happens the same way twice- there are new adventures out there. One thing is for sure: these past weeks will be in my memory forever. I am changed. I will stay changed. And though it has been said posted, here is For Good again.

Today, I look out across the asphalt strip of Interstate 40. I look towards the fluffy cumulus clouds above, and the miles of untouched desert to my right. The world is my oyster, my textbook, my adventure, and now more than ever I am ready to carpe diem. I’ve come full circle on this journey, and nothing can stop me now.

He Dances

He dances.
She laughs.


She curtsies.
He beams.


He motions,
she accepts.

They twirl. We sing.


It slows, he reaches,


She leaves.
He sits.


She’s left.
He thinks.


She’s left.
He cries.


She’s gone.
He stands.


He waits.


He waits.


He dances.

Life in the Desert

Driving along Interstate 40 in the state of Arizona, it is very difficult to imagine how all the vegetation around you came to be. The road passes through a remarkably flat and open plain, yet I get the slight sense of claustrophobia as the mountains cup us in from all sides. There are no rivers to be seen, and the sky is a deep and penetrating blue, no cloud in the sky. As a balmy 85 degree wind blows past, it blows my mind to think that anything can not only survive in these conditions, but perhaps even prosper.

Mojave Desert

It’s the Mojave Desert!

Even in what I perceive to be remarkably harsh conditions, nature has found a niche of flora and fauna, somehow struggling against the sun. The trees here look healthy, albeit stunted, and there is wild grass along the roadside. This wildlife must have adapted over thousands of years in order to get to where it is today.

As I look out into where life prospers, I can’t help but be reminded of my friends from SSP. Like the baking sun and the harsh winds, the curriculum and stresses of SSP has shaped who all 36 of us are today, hopefully for the better. We have all had to adapt to this new environment of long lectures and tough problem sets, and somehow we came out of it, hopefully more knowledgable than ever before.

But not only have we adapted, I like to think that the bonds of friendship have been strengthened. None of us could have made it on our own; it was by collaboration and teamwork that we did an orbit determination, and it will be collaboration and teamwork that we will remember in the future.

On the horizon, where the mountain meets the sky, I’m startled to see clouds. Clouds arising from the earth- perhaps smoke? No, as we drive closer and closer, it’s not just one plume of smoke, it is column after column- one bonafide (or bonfire?) wildfire. I face the mountains in awe, as the colors of the fire – white at the tops of the columns, descending into gray haze before tinges of orange and red can barely be seen- wash over my face. Nature hath created, and nature hath destroyed.


A wildfire in the Grand Canyon!

A wild wildfire appeared!


But the fire reminds me of a telling story from Sequoia National Park. After the national park was created, rangers worked hard to prevent fires from breaking out, of both natural and artificial origins. Instead of helping the giants prosper, preventing fires caused the  forest to wither. No new seedlings took root, and dense brush overcrowded the ground. It was much later that scientists realized the benefits of fires to the forest ecosystem, how it kept the ground clear and allowed for seeds to emerge from pine cones. What seems destructive to humans, nature uses for its own purposes of growth.

The friendships I have made over the last five and a half weeks were tempered by fire and pain. They were bred out of common interests and common enemies- the problem sets, programming homework, observations, JAAAAAAAAAMES(jk)- and I hope that because of these, my friendships will survive when others may crumble. I believe that we will be reunited again, perhaps to face greater global problems and prove, once again, that life prospers under tough conditions.

What Happens in Vegas…

The Strip is one of the most extravagant and remarkable places to witness the insatiable wants and greed of mankind. From every single towering hotel and casino, to the panhandlers and merchants on the street, Las Vegas is clearly “sin city”.




And yet, in all of the haze here, I found a couple of epiphanies for myself. In no particular order, here they are.

1) I really treasure my independence. I love to walk through busy streets, small alleys, natural rock formations with only the company of my shadow. This is especially true when I am in a large city- I want to be able to explore crevices and details that are secret to others. At SSP, I typically found this through quiet walks across the campus, sojourning to the rock for a quiet moment. But in Vegas, it was sufficient to just leisurely stroll down in front of Ceaser’s Palace and be in awe of the sights.

2) I really need to be with other people. I apparently can’t stand long periods with nothing but my thoughts- I just enjoy listening to conversations far too much! It’s sorta like rainymood.com – the conversation and ideas emerging from other people help clear my own head a bit and leave me more focused for tasks. Of course, this isn’t the only reason I need other people- I’m a big talker too. At SSP, I had 35 other students that I could immediately turn around and talk to. Transitioning from that giant environment to one with only my parents has been tough. I feel much more isolated without constant chatter. But thank goodness for the modern internet- we students have created a massive group chat, which over the course of two weeks, has amassed some 12 thousand messages. It’s nice to have people around.

3) It isn’t possible to please everybody. Sometimes, events or choices will come up where there is no good choice. And yet, you need to do something. I think that everyone tends to fear these situations, preferring instead to shy away from speaking about them too much, while we should bravely face them. These situations are a good opportunity to learn more about who you are, and who you can be. Rather than focusing on how everyone else thinks, take a couple moments to find yourself in the mess and take the action you think would be best suited, and most satisfy your moral compass.

4) I really don’t want to just work for money. In walking around Vegas, I am fairly confident that all of the most expensive, most luxurious goods that money could buy is in this area. And while the glittering lights are attractive, I don’t think I could stay there for long. I need to work for something, work with a purpose in my mind.

None of these epiphanies were particularly earth shattering, or even necessarily new, but I did find it interesting that I could learn about myself even while in Vegas.

Branching Out

General Sherman is the world’s largest tree by volume, a 84 meter sequoia towering over the Sierra Nevada range within a grove of giants. It has been alive for anywhere between 1600 and 2000 years today, and is now a national monument. When admiring it, one can’t help but wonder- what are your secrets? What wisdom do you hold? And perhaps more selfishly, how have you lived to become so great?


General Sherman!

I believe that there is a key lesson to be learned from General Sherman, the tree not the person: branch out. In order to succeed, one must diversify and grow in all directions.

Recently, my friend Daniel Kao published an excellent article on how humans should aim to be a “jack of all trades” . He discusses how the old beliefs of being specialists are no longer valid, because the world does not need people who can only do one thing well. It is easy to learn, and so, people need to aim towards being generalists, to understand everything with competence. Spot on. I would not dare say that there is no room for people with a single major in mind, but I do propose that the most interesting breakthroughs in today’s world comes from interdisciplinary studies. The golden location where ideas from different fields mix is the same where the best ideas are coming from. And if that is true, wouldn’t people who could cross bridges be the most valuable?

Learning multiple topics is certainly not easy. Each different discipline needs a different way of thinking, some of which may run counterintuitive to each other. For instance, one of our guest lecturers at SSP approximated every single constant in a tsunami wave equation to be one – and got the right answer still! Show a mathematician that and they might just faint. But, SSP has taught me that with the right amount of passion and determination, these impossible tasks can be done quite easily. Determining the orbit of an asteroid and writing a research paper on it is not a simple task, requiring needle-sharp precision in order to complete. If you set your mind to a single task and put your entire heart and soul into working, suddenly it doesn’t feel so hard anymore. Mastering multiple areas of knowledge is not impossible after all.

But an addendum to all of this: SSP has also taught me that surrounding yourself with the right kind of people is just as important. My friends at SSP are diverse in every way, and their different perspectives allowed for the OD to come together. Collaboration with a wide range of people is just as important as knowing it yourself.

So stay fascinated with the world, and never stop learning. There’s just so much to do and so much to explore!


Marine mammals tend to be remembered as cute and cuddly, usually drawn with a smile and some gentle sound. Dolphins, walruses, and seals all are thought to be gentle creatures. When my family had an opportunity to see a herd of elephant seals, this was the image that I brought with me in mind.

The seals were about as chubby as I expected them to be, lazily tanning under the foggy morning. Gazing at these gentle giants, I felt calmness and serenity wash over me like the surf of the sea. Out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed two of them rearing their heads at each other.

The surf is not gentle in this area. It crashes and splashes on the rocks with the force to crush bones.

The elephant seals, with their razor sharp tusks and several ton bodies, viciously began attacking each other. Drops of red splattered the brownish sand. And the sounds – the sounds! This primitive, guttural snore arose, a note of desperation that I would not soon forget.

Elephant Seal Fighting

This is not cute. This is a fight to the death.

I was mortified.

But alas, this is how nature really is. We get caught up in the pristine balance of life that is portrayed for children, and we forget that the wilderness is truly wild. We want to mask over these unpleasantries with our imagination. In doing so, we take away from what is really powerful about life.

In some ways, my memories of the Summer Science Program can be similarly whitewashed. Selective memory allows us to forget the moments of pain. We want to remember the experience as pristine, and perfect. But. The reality of that world is deeper and much more complex. It’s the difference between a clear and a murky lake. The clear lake may be pretty to look at, to remember, but why would anyone want to plunge into something that they can already see through? Instead, the murkiness of the lake breeds life and adventure. “If life was easy, there would be no point in living through it.” The same applies to SSP.

The blurred over moments include the initial panic of whether or not if I could for in. Was it a fluke that I got accepted? The people here seem so much more talented than I! The moments include late night panic on the second week, when I realized that, oops, I don’t actually understand right ascension and declination. When I stared at my code more than 30 hours after initially finishing, wondering why the hell it still didn’t work. When I burned with anxiety on the night of AP and IB test results, gripped by an unnatural fear that I would be shamed by others, that I wouldn’t get my diploma. When I sat, slightly dumbfounded, in a class where I picked up on only half the math symbols being drawn. When, in moments of sheer panic, it looked like our asteroid was so far perturbed that we would not be able to submit an orbit determination. When, in the early weeks of the camp, I looked envious upon my peers, wanting the schools they had, or the friends they had, or the lives they had.

But all of this only enriches the experience. As said by Daksha, a phenomenal TA, during one of the late late night talks, “Pain brings in the richest, deepest colors into our lives.” These moments make you feel the most genuine, makes you feel the most alive. Without failure, how would we know the sweetness of success?

I’m incredibly thankful to SSP for giving me an opportunity to be scared and alone in such a fashion. I discovered my own identity in these murky waters, and I also discovered true friends that I can count on. The fire and pain has cleansed my soul, strengthening me for whatever hardships may come in the future.


kneeling next to
a mammoth, a giant
sequoia of eternity
my hand is an ant
and i cant help but feel
so small
dwarfed by its majesty

squatting, watching the
incoming tide
of the pacific wash out
sandcastles, memories
and i am washed along
the foam into the deep abyss
lost to the light

lying on the
wet dew with a
blanket of photons, starstuff
traveling millions of years
to reach my saucer plate eyes
and i am but a speck
of oddly arranged carbon and oxygen
compared to the heavens

but when i sit surrounded by
your love, kindness, grace
soft bubbling conversation
i become transformed
into so much more
ready to take on the world

Reflections Under a Crescent Moon

I’m in a reflective mood tonight, in the cool California air under the waxing crescent moon. Is that the warm smell of fajitas I smell, or of colitas? I can’t really tell. All I know is that my mind is still filled to the brim with thoughts of my friends from SSP.

There are two versions of SSP, both equally true: the version with potatoes and dongos, where all 36 of us cop fun all day long, Bang!ing into the night. Where everyone is drinking diet coke and eating chicken, under the watchful gaze of Rishabh. This is all true. But. This is not all.

SSP is so much more than the meme-status trends that seem to appear at every camp. Instead, it binds students from remarkably different locales together, through the fires of observation and problem sets. It is where the depths of the heart are dredged out during long conversations, and where true friendships come together while resting on a large rock. SSP is an experience like no other because the students here are so incredible, possessing great wealths of not only intelligence, but also of kindness, humility, and love.

It is difficult to portray SSP as a collection of images. While the Westmont campus is beautiful, being limited to two classrooms and a dorm leaves very little to the visual imagination. Instead, the most amazing moments are those of time. When I stared at a whiteboard chalk full of chicken scratches I had made to understand the different coordinate systems, only to be rescued by Elba. When, on the eve of AP scores being released, Jacob and Michelle accompanied me on my first midnight coffee pot ramen party. When a virtual stranger, Dr. Warren Rogers, led me on a tour of his lab not once, but twice. When I passed out on the sofa at Armington and got pranked so hard that even Ms. Martinez got pulled into it for a moment. When my roommate, Efe, woke me up just in time for lecture. When I hugged a cactus on July 4th. When I left my phone in the computer lab and Aditya created an all day scavenger hunt before he would give it back. When ten math and science geniuses struggled with splitting an IHOP check. When the entire camp huddled around each other on the cold track, gazing at the stars and sharing ourselves, our lives and our love for each other to hear. When we sat on the rock, watching the sky turn light and the sun rise upon the end of our times together. These moments, crystallized so perfectly as frozen teardrops in my heart, will remain with me. Forever.

But, forever is a long time, and given the frequency at which I forget items like my wallet and my phone (and my mind and my sleep), eventually even these most precious thoughts shall fade, like the shifting sands burying a monument. If that comes to be, I’d rather forget the laughs and Venla jokes and the lexicon, because I will never let go of the love and kindness from my friends here.


Summer Science Program has been excellent so far, and these are a few of my thoughts on it. Enjoy!

SSPblog 2014 - Westmont, CA

Written by Chunyang Ding

Good writer must know their audience, so let’s try something here. This message has been very personalized from your child directly to you, moms and dads.



(That last line was in jest. Sorta. )

In all seriousness…

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