Podcast: Resonance in a time of uncertainty | Duke Kunshan University

Podcast: Resonance in a time of uncertainty

“DKU Podcast” aims to convey the beauty of life in a poetic way. Song Gao, professor of environmental science, shares his resonance with science and music during Covid-19.

Listen to 'DKU Podcast'

Produced by Wendie Lu.
Audio editing by Bei Chen ’22.
Background music by Song Gao.
A Student Media Center production.


In 1859, the British writer, Charles Dickens, famously started his novel “A Tale of Two Cities,” set in the darkness and light during the French Revolution, this way:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”

One hundred and sixty-one years later, it is starting to feel some spring of hope after a long winter of despair, in humanity’s hard and seemingly unending fight with the Covid-19 pandemic. Wait, can we really hear and move towards hope in all this difficulty and uncertainty? I’d like to think so, echoing professor O’Brien in his recent podcast.

I’d also like to share my thought that in this challenging time, many unfamiliar situations resonate with the past, or even the familiar, albeit in somewhat novel ways. And let that “resonance” be of comfort and guidance to us, like “hope,” on the way forward.

Charles Dickens’ famous lines provide an example of such resonance in historical periods that humans have had to endure and go through. Two other cases of resonance also come to mind.

First, social distancing, a measure that has brought much of the world to a standstill to contain the spread of the coronavirus. It is not something we feel familiar or comfortable with. Yet, it is by no means a new concept. I came to realize this during my ongoing teaching of a chemistry class at DKU.

Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion (or VSEPR) theory is based on the simple idea that electron groups repel one another through coulombic forces to reach a relatively stable energy state. The preferred geometry of a molecule is the one in which the electron groups have the maximum separation possible. When I discussed this “electron distancing” for the benefit of molecular stability and its resonance with “social distancing” for the benefit of societal stability, it was a moment of reflection and enlightenment for my students and myself.

Photo: Aramis Cartam / Pexels

Second, the music in the backdrop of this podcast is a prelude in C-major by one of the greatest composers of all time – Johann Sebastian Bach. To me, this little gem piece depicts the calm and delightful in the beginning, only to be eroded with bits of shadows and uncertainty momentarily, eventually relaxing back to the bright and hopeful, all in stepwise fashions without a forecast or preparation.

Doesn’t it resonate with how Covid-19 has struck us ever so unknowingly but profoundly? Yet life shall go on when all is over and the new normalcy returns. The one thing that does change, as revealed by the ending of this music, it is a new world that we will face and embrace, having struggled, felt the pain, relied on science, reason and cooperation, and hopefully learned a thing or two as an individual, as a society and as a civilization.

In that process, let “resonance” help us connect, hope, act and move forward.

Email dkusocial@dukekunshan.edu.cn to find out how you can contribute to “DKU Podcast” and share your own words of inspiration.