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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

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Precision Donuts

— by T. Isaac Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning and Communications

I am at a science-communications meeting in Science City, Japan.  Tsukuba, that is.  And I had my first precision donut yesterday morning.  There is simply no other term to describe it.

I don’t have a camera phone, so you’ll have to take my 1,000 words as a picture.

I woke up early and went out to forage for breakfast in the local shopping centre complex.  It is quite elegant here in downtown Tsukuba with pedestrian bridges and trees on the two-level maze of plazas and staircases and store fronts.  From across the street, I spotted a “Mister Donut,” and after 60 seconds of scanning my surroundings, I charted a route to get over there.  In five minutes, I was standing inside trying to gesture to the clerk what I wanted.

I selected a half-dipped cruller with a hint of cream filling visible from the outside.  Ordinarily, I would have passed it by, but in Japan, I knew that food is prepared with incredible intention and attention.  I sat down with my small tray and miniature iced coffee (well, it probably contained at least three molecules of coffee, but gosh, it was small!).  Now, the donut.  First, it had nearly perfect symmetry.  A perfect circle.  And as a cruller, it was twisted and formed into a pinwheel. (Not unlike the magnet’s of a cyclotron!)  Half of it was dipped in chocolate.  And actually, dipped is not the right word.  Enrobed.  That’s the right word.  And semi-sweet, thick chocolate, just firm enough not to drip or ooze but soft and melt-in-your mouth.  The cruller had been carefully split open and a drizzle of whipped-cream filling at an intermediate radius had been inserted.

A cruller donut

A non-Japanese cruller donut. Note the variations in radius! An imperfect toroid.

The result?  Mouth-watering!  It was like a French delicacy, an American over-indulgence, and a European minimalism all in one taste.

And it was precise.  The position of the chocolate was carefully planned, the location and amount of filling was measured and inserted with care, and even the placement of the donut on the tray was studied carefully, as every donut was oriented in the exact same position of its “spiral” crullerness.

And that’s really a taste (no pun!) of what I see everywhere in Japan.  Precision. Intentionality.  Things don’t happen by accident, things aren’t left to chance.  The 4:20pm bus I took from Narita airport to Tsukuba arrived at 4:18pm and left at 4:20pm.  Two minutes to load and unload.  Period.  No questions.  And its everywhere.  Public trash cans aren’t needed because Japanese wouldn’t leave someplace carrying something that would later need to be thrown out.  That would be unplanned!

We toured the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Centre (J-PARC) yesterday afternoon.  Same precision.  A building containing 24 neutron and muon beamlines that was more than 100m x 100m inside with 20m ceilings.  No dust, no dirt.  Although the earthquake didn’t do any significant damage, every crack in the cement structure was carefully labeled with pink (vertical cracks) or green (horizontal cracks) tape.

So, hats off to my Japanese colleagues.  They make incredible donuts and they do incredible physics.