Sunday, March 22, 2009

Solar Mirrors & Personal Revelation

I've finally uploaded my thesis presentation video to the Internet. The address is

(yes, I know it's ugly and long, but it should work). I haven't had time to watch it yet; it's 100 Megabytes, so it will take a little while to download; the video itself is probably between 15 and 20 minutes long and is a brief overview of my thesis research, including a few rounds of Quan'da'ry.

One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the storage room attached to my classroom at Riverton High School were the mirrors. The four mirrors are enormous – about 5 feet in diameter, each – backed with thick insulation, and stacked against the wall in the back of the room. When I queried my cooperating teacher, he mentioned that the University of Utah had given them to the former physics teacher. The university had used them to collect cosmic rays and high-energy particles; he didn't know what the teacher had intended to do with them. He also felt they were both too bulky and too delicate to use in many applications, and so had thought about throwing them away. My first thought was to create a massive solar collector/oven. And, finally, on Friday, we did. We took the mirror outside, aimed it towards the sun, and then stuck a wet pizza box in front of it. When the box entered the focal point, where all the light was focused, it instantly burst into flames. A stick instantly turned into a sparkler. And spray smoke from a can outlined the exact focal point well enough that we took pictures for the High School Physics Photo challenge. Thankfully, the coolness factor of using the mirrors as part of a massive solar collector hooked my teacher, and we (hopefully) plan on starting a new tradition in the Riverton physics department of having a pre-Spring Break solar cookout. We'll set up the three concave (light-gathering) mirrors facing towards the sun, then have students bring their own food, put it on a metal skewer, and roast it in sunlight. The other convex mirror we'll set up so that we can teach interested students about the difference between them and their properties. The actual planning of the event, along with safety and people-management (since thousands may want to be involved... and then we wouldn't have enough time to accommodate everyone) I'll work on this next week. I'll take some different food items tomorrow to see which ones work best, along with how long it takes to heat/char them.

I thought of an amazing (to me) metaphor based around a massive concave mirror and relating it to gaining direction from the Lord and preparing for General Conference. I know, it sounds like a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.

Most people are happy to bask in the light of the sun and simply feel its heat. And while there is no doubt that plenty of energy falls on anything left out in the sun, gathering and concentrating sunlight is a much more effective way of using the sun's light.

In the same way, in life many of us are willing to simply bask in the light of the Gospel and the divine guidance that we receive. We go to Church, read the scriptures, and attend General Conference, all the while simply thinking, “That was really nice.” But most of the events don't really change us, the same way that leaving a piece of metal out in the sun won't have much of an effect. Hence, in order to allow the Gospel to change us, we need to find a way to focus it in our lives.

The first step in creating a solar collector is to create a large piece of glass. Glass is made of many different particles that are all fused together into one whole. In the Gospel, the first step is to exercise faith. Faith is like a seed; as we learn about the commandments of the Lord and keep them, our faith grows and we are better able to understand the Gospel.

The second step is to shape the glass into a concave or parabolic dish. This is a time-consuming and difficult process which requires, at the very least, abrasive tools and a lot of work. Essentially, you cut and grind off excess glass such that the remaining surface is perfectly smooth and also perfectly curved. In the Gospel, this is repentance. Our beliefs and actions, while they are probably mostly in line with the teachings of the Gospel, need constant work in order to shape them into a form to receive personal revelation. Repentance is often time-consuming and can be painful, involving the sacrifice of things we felt were an integral part of ourselves... in order to become what the Lord sees in us.

The third step is coating the glass to make it into a mirror. Now, you or I could just cover it with aluminum foil, aluminum tape, or metallic spray paint, but none of these last for very long... and all of them are actually somewhat poor reflectors when compared with a real silver coated mirror. Hence, I am going to submit that, in order to coat our glass we need some outside help. We ask a mirror-maker, who coats the glass first with a shiny silver coating, then with another coating to protect the silver. The reference here is to making sacred covenants in order to gain access to the blessings of the Lord. While there are many seemingly similar things to baptism, Temple marriage, and the Sacrament, it is only when these things are administered in the correct way, with the right authority, that we can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and other promised blessings. Anything else, while it may seem effective at first, is a poor substitute. Each of the blessings given by the Lord has a dual purpose – to both lift and protect us. The Holy Ghost, for example, helps us to make good decisions and avoid potentially dangerous situations.

Once we have a functioning mirror, we need to keep it clean and in proper working order. That may involve something as simple as using Windex or, in an extreme example, stripping off the coatings and starting all over again. If we neglect the mirror, over time it will lose its function. Once we have created our “inspiration collector,” we need to keep it polished and clean, too. We need to endure to the end, repenting on a constant basis.

Now, we need to direct the mirror towards the light. Solar mirrors are interesting. Since the sun is constantly moving across the sky, directing the mirror towards the light is much more complicated than just aiming it upwards. In fact, ensuring that it is always pointed in the right direction means making constant minor adjustments throughout the day. The more adjustments that are made, the more effective the mirror's collection abilities. In the Gospel, this is daily prayer, daily scripture study, regular Temple attendance, and weekly Church attendance. These are the little, everyday things that occur throughout the day to remind us of Christ and keep our lives focused on Him. If we keep Him in our minds, then we open ourselves to personal revelation. If we forget and focus our collectors on something else, then that will be the center of our thoughts and the source of our ideas.

Finally, we need to choose a focus. A big solar mirror that is set up perfectly, with nothing at the focus, looks just like a big solar mirror. It doesn't accomplish much. But the moment you put anything in the focal point, the light concentrates on the object, changing it into something new. In the same way, if we go through the motions of attending Church, reading the scriptures, and attending General Conference without a chosen focus, the light of the Gospel will have no lasting impact upon us. We need to choose something on which to focus the light. Yes, it will probably be painful (but not as painful as putting your hand in the focal point of a solar collector!), but it will change who we are and help us gain the light of Christ. I think that this is the step that we often forget, but it is an essential step in making sure that the efforts to build a system for receiving personal revelation are put to use.

So, in order to receive usable sunlight we need to build a large glass, shape it into a dish, coat it with reflective and protective coatings, preserve it, direct it towards the light, and find something on which to focus. To receive personal revelation, we need to build our faith, repent and change our natures, make and keep sacred covenants, endure to the end, seek out sources of divine light, and choose aspects of our lives on which to focus that light.

My challenge for each of you is to go through the steps of receiving personal revelation, and, before General Conference in two weeks, choose at least one focus – one major question or issue to take to the Lord – something on which the light of Christ could help you improve. I promise that doing so will help you become a better person and apply the Gospel in your life.

I know that Jesus is the Christ, and that He wants to speak to us and have His words make an impact in our lives. We can't be content to simply bask in the light of the Gospel – we need to focus it and allow it to change our very souls. As we do so, we will grow and be even more able to receive revelation... and the cycle starts anew.

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