binding energy

December 20224 min read

I first fall for her at 14.

I hang my camera off my desk, four books keeping it in place. I arrange my hand-drawn polygon characters, and snap a photo; just like I'd seen in Kevin Parry's stop-motion videos. One photo, one frame. Second photo. Third photo. Play them back quickly, and our ape-brains think that Henry Hexagon is dancing across the screen.

She makes me feel powerful, my fingers wielding magic.

Her name was filmmaking. The next Black Friday, I proposed. $70 into a drawing tablet and microphone. It was my life savings, but I’d do it for my girl.

Sometimes, problems arose. My parents wanted me to marry a STEM boy. Instead, I spent intimate moments exploring RGB curves in Premiere Pro. Soon, I had to cut it off. True love wasn’t enough—I needed to marry rich. I left our honeymoon early, driving home to flirt with quantum mechanics.

I didn’t speak to her for months. I never wanted her anyway, I told myself, especially not those anger management issues. She’d eat all 20 gigabytes of my remaining disk space, then storm out in a temper tantrum when I refused to give her more. My cursor turned into a perpetually-spinning wheel, until I forced the power button: there goes hours of work.

I met other lovers.

Philosophy showed up to our first date in a black trench coat, and gaslit me into liking 2000-year-old texts. Together, we delved into Seneca’s letters and wrote essays about Buddhist musings.

Math was a bit pedantic. During dinner, she forced me to derive the half-derivative of x^8 on her napkin. Still, I looked forward to Sunday afternoons, when we’d elope to the abstract paradise of topological manifolds and vector fields.

Quantum computing was flaky—I never knew when he’d show up. Sometimes, we’d swim together in a pond of optimization algorithms. He showed me how to track ripples with Fourier transforms, then predict where they’d collide using gradient descent. Now, we’re sending a paper off to peer review.

Web development wore high-top sneakers and ripped jeans, and took me skydiving through JavaScript frameworks. Together, we built Tinder for HOSA members, social media for daily bloggers, and two notetaking apps.

Occasionally, his CSS animations reminded me of her.

I was happy… I guess?

Out of the blue, she rang my doorbell. Hades’ pomegranates—a taste, and I was addicted. As soon as I opened After Effects and hit play, I couldn’t resist fine-tuning the green screen’s edges.

Fine. One big project. I will indulge.

I put together a team—9 of us, producing a professional film, reawakening a school tradition that COVID killed. Giselle, the sound sorceress, splices in audio at every microphone crack. Selena, the color conqueror, defeats the harsh stage lights; Annie’s dress blazes white. To commence the grand finale, I imitate Marvel’s intro. A three-dimensional logo, footage playing on the letters’ walls.

TOPS Night. Our magnum opus, 2 hours and 40 minutes long. 500 team-combined hours of work; she held my hand through it all.

In the back of the room, three eighth-graders lean forward, a glint in their eyes. The same energy we had 3 years ago watching our first TOPS Night, excited for this new and dazzling high school.

All along, I should’ve known. All of us—computer science, filmmaking, math, philosophy, and I—don’t have to be competing love interests. Instead, we can all be best friends.

With AeroPure: I coded the website’s frontend, then drew a dozen diagrams to make it sparkle. The Essence of Quantum Computing, a YouTube video: I animated quantum statevectors whirling around a Bloch sphere. A blog post on Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life: hand-drawn physics diagrams overlayed musings on free will and determinism.

1.2% of a proton’s mass comes from the three quarks that compose it. What else is there? The binding energy between them. Like quarks in a proton, we’re stronger together.