Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

The Science of Emotion: Scientific Misfits

The Science of Emotion: Scientific Misfits

Photograph via Flickr by quatar

So I moved to this country almost two decades ago from India when it was still somewhat smart to leave. I was (and am) part of that generation that needed to leave the country to work in science, medicine or technology. Less than half a decade later, I visited home, and realized how different India was. The younger generation didn’t need to escape to fulfill their dreams, which were so different from my own middle-class, let’s-not-rock-any-boats dreams. Money flowed like water, and science wasn’t the escape route out of the drudge anymore. Everyone was in marketing, finance, call centers, or some form of offshore business. I didn’t fit there, so I was here. And that was that.

I live in San Diego, America’s Finest City. Don’t yell or laugh, that’s what they call this town—I had nothing to do with it. I moved here a decade ago from the east coast. The beginning of this century wasn’t great for us as a country. It made me think of what was really important—being able to work as a scientist, for which I had trained for decades, to do it freely without worrying about the Beltway sniper (remember those days?), or the color of your skin? San Diego beckoned and I ran to it. It’s not New York or D.C. No lines for theatrical plays, art shows, indie movies or new restaurants opening every weekend. But people are generally happy, they work hard, and then they relax at the beach—surf, swim, or hang out (in front of the TV, like millions around the country do).

I work in biotech and live in a neighborhood of overachieving parents, good schools, smart children, mixed races, and families with two kids and one golden retriever. My husband and I are Indian in looks and global in temperament. We don’t fit in and yet we do. San Diego is as much home as is New Delhi, and each time my flight lands after traveling over different continents, I marvel at the charm of this “finest” city, so beautiful, so smart.

I’m (usually) not taken by fancy words, emotions or unnecessary descriptions of how grand life is in San Diego. In fact, what is fascinating is that the most mundane of things can be serenely scientific. San Diego provides that kind of life (especially if you’re a scientist). And to answer the question that I get the most—what do you do with your free time in San Diego?—let’s take our road trip, for example. Any ordinary couple driving up Route 101 would enjoy the vistas, the blue ocean, the bluffs and cliffs. But no, my husband and I were fascinated by the produce going past us in trucks up and down the greenbelt of California. Limes, lemons, pumpkins, eggplant . . . it all reminded me of home. India. And of the childhood games we played on our road trips through mountains and plains.

So, my husband asked, how much do we pay for a lime? Eh, I replied, not sure where this was going. A quarter? Okay, so, look at that truck, he pointed at the vegetable carrier bouncing in the next lane, filled with green limes. And he asked the question very normal people ponder on road trips—how many dollars’ worth of limes are in that truck?

We calculated. Pulled out our iPhones to get the volume of the rectangular bin. Pulled my Acura next to the truck to estimate its length—6 feet of 1 Acura, so 1.5 Acura lengths of the lime truck. About 5 feet across. About 4 feet high.

Volume of the truck carriage area: ~9X5X4=180 cubic feet (or 311,041 inches3).

Each lime was 2 inches across (radius of 1 inch). So each lime would occupy a volume of 4/3 pr3=4.2 inches3.

So, number of limes per truck would be: 311,040/4.2= 74,057.

If each lime was $0.25, the not-so-little truck next to us had 74,057 X $0.25= $18,514 worth of goods.

We looked at each other and grinned. It was satisfying to know we still remembered our formulas (without googling) and calculated something completely useless (to us) but so valuable to the owner of those limes.

I nudged my husband. “You’re such a geek.”

He reacted (he’s very predictable, this man), “So are you!”

Yes, this is how we spend our free time in The Golden State. Science, finance, and a little bit of sunshine. And oh yes, the limes in our margaritas are fantastic.