A long time ago – perhaps more than 20 years – I saw a film on television called The Effect of Gamma Rays of Man in the Moon Marigolds. The film bowled me over when I saw it, but with the passage of time I forgot exactly why it had affected me so. All I remembered was a single scene in which a mother, overwhelmed with conflicted pride for her daughter, utters the words ‘My Heart is Full’. And for many years this phrase has haunted me, and I intermittently tried to locate the film so I could find out why it affected me so. Recently I succeeded, but I haven’t had a chance to watch the film until this evening.
It is now just gone 3 a.m. and I have been up nursing the Boltzmann constant experiment to the correct temperature. The temperature has been wiggling by several thousandths of a degree (!) but now seems to have settled down – the last wiggle was only 0.5 thousandths of a degree – and I hope I can kick off the experiment soon and get to bed. I have been monitoring the two computers which control the experiment remotely from home, and I took the chance to watch the movie. I was not disappointed.
The 50 year old script chimed with so many themes which are completely contemporoary in this new millenium . The concepts of radiation and mutation are particularly arresting, but I was also taken by Matilda’s lesson about atoms and their history
He [my teacher] told me to look at my hand, for a part of it came from a star that exploded too long ago to imagine. This part of me was formed from a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun. And this part of me — this tiny part of me — was on the sun when it itself exploded and whirled in a great storm until the planets came to be.
And this small part of me was then a whisper of the earth. When there was life, perhaps this part of me got lost in a fern that was crushed and covered until it was coal. And then it was a diamond millions of years later — it must have been a diamond as beautiful as the star from which it had first come. Or perhaps this part of me became lost in a terrible beast, or became part of a huge bird that flew above the primeval swamps.
And he said this thing was so small — this part of me was so small it couldn’t be seen — but it was there from the beginning of the world. And he called this bit of me an atom. And when he wrote the word, I fell in love with it.
Atom. Atom. What a beautiful word.
It’s a great film. Catch it if you can.