Stick it to Me

Alternate title: “Why there has been no blogging for the last two weeks”

there is a part of the experiment we call “the stick”. It’s sort of a mechanical arm that vertically lowers different gadgets (a Microchannel plate, an electron gun, and a microwave horn) into the experiment. It may look sort of like a gun the terminator might use, it’s full of delicate and expensive science toys, and it lives in the trap vacuum, but overall the stick is is quite literally, a stick. So “Stick” became the name, and it stuck.

However, after the spending the last week on the front lines of the painstaking assembly of a new version of the stick, I’ve decided it might be more appropriately described as “the F****ing Stick.”

Our new stick took around 16 hours a day for five or so days straight to build. Ultra High Vacuum is a finicky thing: It is more than a little difficult to build something that cannot be touched. A single oily human fingerprint on a part that is to be put into UVH conditions outgasses (yup) and will degrade the vacuum. Enter hundreds of pair of clean nitrile gloves and more tin foil than I’ve used in all the rest of my life up until this point. AND: none of it was recycled. My “save the earth”, co oper soul was writhing in horror. Writhing in horror, that is, up until the point where it simply got too tired to care.

My work on the stick was oscillatory in relative coolness: at one moment I’d be screwing the microwave mirror into place and in the next I’d be using my bodywieght to stabilize a table as other people tightened bolts. Real thrilling stuff, experimental science. And always, in endeavors like this, there were speed bumps. Holes in the plans. Miscommunication between us and the machinist. Re-purposing of parts. Accidental misalignment, which calls for much dreaded redoing.

Worst of all throughout this entire process was the fact that I had to let least fifty potentially brilliant “that’s what she said” jokes about the F***ing stick simply dissolve into air because, well, I’m the only girl around and well, these are really distinguished physicists and well, it would awkward.

Despite all this (I admit it) whining, it turns out I’d only come in last minute on the saga of the (F****ing) Stick. Walter is a Canadian Professor, a superconductor physicist, and one hell of an on the fly machinist. He’s also actually retired and is volunteering his time at CERN. Retired, but you sure as heck wouldn’t know it from the way he runs around the lab or skillfully machines any part to make a ‘chewing gum solution’ a reality at odd hours of the night and day. Walter has been designing and helping realize the stick since February. Let’s just stay, the stick has been a long  time in the making.

And so by last night I found myself several days deep in the trenches of the war against the stick, running out of food, clean clothes and sanity. Not to mention: pushed to physical exhaustion and sufficiently and embarrassingly out-lapped by a 70 year old man.

Last night the F***ing Stick was completed and lowered into the unpumped experiment with a large crane and a lot of fanfare (by physics standards). We did the alignment of the instruments this morning and the pumpout of the vacuum systems this afternoon. I can now also proudly say that I’ve screwed down a flange (that’s what she said).

Finally this evening I was released from duty after only eight hours on, and despite the exhaustion I somewhat recklessly began entertaining the idea of riding into the mountains for a bit before riding home. All hopes of this were damped significantly however, when I was randomly stung by a wasp on my middle finger of my right hand as I was walking from the control room to the office. A brief shot of hot pain pulsed up my hand, my finger began to swell, and I suddenly remembered that I’d never been stung before and had no idea whether or not I was allergic. Five minutes passed and I wasn’t dead, so I figured I was alright.

I took the sting as a sign it was time to just ride home, for goodness sake. I made it home before the store closed so I could buy some food.



One Response to “Stick it to Me”

  1. Ultra Low Vacuum « the daily saga Says:

    […] it’s only a few seconds before I’m dissolved in alumin(i)um foiled and Nitrile gloved Ultra High Vacuum nightmares. Funny, really, how the universe likes to play with symmetries. In one world I’m […]

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