One of the most rewarding parts of scientific research is the way it enriches my appreciation of the universe. The more I learn, the more beautiful the world becomes—it’s what drives me to stay curious, to keep asking questions. With that said, there is a substance called sand I know almost nothing about, and I should make it clear that this is by choice. I never want to understand sand.

Throughout my career, I’ve studied subjects as varied as the birth of whole galaxies and the presence of dark matter in our universe, but I would like sand to remain a total mystery to me. I never want to know what it’s made of or what it’s for, nor do I want to know why it sometimes exists as a castle and sometimes only as a smooth hill. I don’t want to know whether sand comes from the ocean or the sky. I want to know nothing about sand.

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Perhaps sand is the fuel that powers hourglasses, or perhaps it’s a hot liquid you can’t throw away. I am able to enjoy both of these possibilities without feeling any special desire to find out which one is true. If someone were to tell me that sand is a special kind of polished dust that protects us from the sea, I wouldn’t ever want to know for sure if that person was right or wrong.

Sometimes I’ll idly ponder profound questions such as “Is sand possible?” and “Where does all of the sand go during the night?” I treasure these moments…

Why does sand feel the way it feels under my feet as I wander on the beach in the morning? Can sand ever be found underwater? Sometimes I’ll idly ponder profound questions such as “Is sand possible?” and “Where does all of the sand go during the night?” I treasure these moments, not because I hope to learn the answers to these questions, but because I enjoy the idea that I can never learn them.

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I often say that sand is a living, breathing contradiction, a wonderful enigma that teases me at night. Perhaps sand is a soft rock, in that it is something that we may calmly step on in order to observe waves. And then there might be those who say sand comes from the ground-up powder of kings’ bones. To be honest, I can’t tell if that’s true, or whether there are any people who say that.

I prefer it this way. I prefer to be confused about the nature of sand. And I thank you for respecting that.

However, I will add that personally, I suspect sand is dried blood.

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