And so it begins. The lab is ready, our mass spectrometer is here, and our automated sample prep system is being tested. The days of leisurely, online parts-shopping are long gone; time to build, run, and do science.
I now spend my days mostly in the lab, putting things together, taking them apart, and ultimately re-designing (or at least tweaking) our apparatus. You know, iterating, as you do.
The mass spectrometer arrived in early July, and as the engineer from Nu Instruments was performing his tests, Ian and I were putting together the automated sample prep line on the other side of the lab. We've been trying to find all the bugs in the hardware and software so they don't pop up unexpectedly later on.
The work is slow; but there have been days that have just gotten away from me.
Time flies when you're troubleshooting.
I might walk in one morning to discover a new problem that has manifest itself overnight, like a pneumatic air hose that has come loose from its barb fitting. After mending it, I might try to figure out the root cause—the "unknown unknown" if you will—so that problem won't reappear later on. Once it was a high rate of helium consumption that was fixed by lowering the standby flow rate; at another time, it was an unresponsive lifter ultimately caused by too little applied torque in the motor control program. It astounds me sometimes how much seemingly random knowledge one must command (or be able to Google) to realize scientific equipment. That's one of the reasons why I require my students to buy Moore's classic book, Building Scientific Apparatus, as well as Horowitz and Hill's equally legendary Art of Electronics (which even has its own Wikipedia page).
When are we going to get to the science?! We will, eventually. If experience has taught me anything, it is to be patient; one simply cannot rush good science. Intent and resolve are key at this stage. That, and a sense of urgency (to borrow from Thomas Keller).
I have been taking photos occasionally as a record of our progress. It makes me feel better to see the profound changes the lab has experienced since we moved in about a month ago. Scroll through them below.
We are still waiting on some crucial lab tables and other furniture, so the space is far from complete. We still have unpacked boxes! The new students arrive in a couple weeks, so things are about to get much more hectic.