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Scrolling through the lines of G-code iterations, I rubbed my eyes as my cursor hovered over the “Run” button on the monitor. The image of the Arc de Triomphe taunted me. My finger rested on the mouse in anticipation, but the high stakes furthered my anxiety.
I had toiled endlessly to develop a printing system that would construct three-dimensional objects, ranging from chess pieces to human ears, using gels instead of plastics. After working out some kinks to my prototype – a high- resolution 3D-printer whose center was a labyrinth of rainbow-colored wires – I was ready for another test.
I clicked my mouse and retreated, unsure of what to expect. The machine emitted a cacophony of beeps. Gears clattered. Motors screeched. Sparks and crackles confirmed that something was wrong. My once-confident smile faded. I knit my eyebrows and reluctantly hit the red “Emergency STOP” button. The machine froze mid-print, and the lab went silent.
As a boy who yearned for tangible challenges, I gravitated towards LEGOs. I disregarded the sets’ pre-determined designs, preferring to construct my mind’s fabrications instead. My dogged determination to find the perfect piece meant spending hours rummaging through my ten-gallon tub. Years later, Zumba posed a greater challenge to my willpower. The fast-tempo Latin dance program was merciless to novices like me. Initially, I was afraid of humiliation, especially in front of my friends, and struggled to keep up with the instructors. But after dozens of embarrassing attempts, I finally found my groove.
I owe much of my resolve to saber fencing. I began as a “speed demon,” recklessly rushing onto the bout strip and hoping to slash my way to victory. With my lack of technique, I won a few matches, but I eventually started losing consistently. Practice after practice, I learned technique and tweaked my tactics. The sweat stains on my mask and the nicks on my lamé were tally marks of my improvement. I stopped rushing for victory and waited for my opponents to strike. A shift of their eyes indicated an imminent attack, but the tip of my saber was there waiting. After months of tedious training, my win-loss ratio grew exponentially.
Working as a summer intern in the lab of Dr. K, a chemistry professor at D, I was assigned a project that was gathering dust. The gel-printer, previously attempted by doctorates and undergraduates, represented the kind of challenge that I desired and provided the most important reality test of my perseverance learned from LEGOs, Zumba, and fencing. From day one, I remained confident and enthusiastic throughout my nine-to-five shifts, during which I familiarized myself with fabricating components, soldering wires, and experimenting with various hydrogel formulations.
From time to time, my mentor would stop by. The sight of his precious machine, now dismantled and inoperable, frightened him. One of Dr. K’s visits coincided with one of my tests. With him was a group of other scientists. They all watched as my hands deftly loaded gel-filled syringes into the contraption. I turned toward the Arc de Triomphe on the monitor, which presented a plethora of structural challenges. I moved the cursor over “Run” and paused. Questions inundated my mind: What if I fry the motherboard? What if the arch collapses? What if I embarrass myself?
I clicked, and the machine hummed. The printer’s needle-sharp nozzle extruded a shimmering line of gel 250-micrometers wide and stopped. The professor became ecstatic. His colleagues began to chatter. Their expressions confirmed the functionality of the printer. But I wanted to conquer the arch.
I returned to fine-tuning the printer, spending hour-after-hour in an endless loop of trial-and-error. Weeks later, I once again clicked “Run,” and the printer hummed. Although nowhere near the monument of perseverance and strength as its real-life equivalent, the little gel Arc de Triomphe that proudly stood on the build platform served as my own testament to the power of perseverance.
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