Approaching the summer solstice, the start of fall-semester classes and their attendant labs seems far away, but a new class of St. Lawrence first-year students will be here before I know it.
This was one of the light sources students were interrogating: a sodium lamp, like the ones used in street lights (at least in the twentieth century—LED street lamps are becoming increasingly dominant now.)
After spending my entire adult life as a laboratory scientist, the web of gas lines and vacuum pumps and electrical cable seems normal. I do understand, rationally, that all of this looks overwhelming. There’s so much purpose and productivity behind the network, however, that it’s worth the sophistication.
The new steeple on Gunnison Memorial Chapel is installed (remember when it arrived?) and beginning to react with the atmosphere around it. This chemistry, in which copper metal transfers electrons to non-metal atoms from the air to become an ion, is called “reduction-oxidation” chemistry—abbreviated “redox.” Seeing this reaction happen on such a large scale, and produce such an awesome array of colors, is a treat.
A spooky edge creeps into the mood and the lighting of laboratory spaces when the lights are off and the everyday staff have gone.
Johnson Hall of Science is an unusually green building—particularly for one filled with hoods and hazardous chemicals. It also happens to have a truly surreal geometry that messes with your head a bit, if you let it. The ceilings have been sloped to better reflect daylight, reducing the need for electric lighting. The result is this Alice-in-Wonderland-esque lab space.
When you’re working with an ultra-high vacuum chamber, there’s no “popping down to the hardware store for a spare part.” Over the years, spares and replacements and antiquated equivalents and almost-still-good parts tend to accumulate in the cabinets of a physics lab. Cabinets start to look like set dressing in a sci-fi movie.
UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry is truly massive, occupying five interlinked buildings in a massive complex (with tendrils reaching out to half a dozen other buildings.) Even the courtyard at the center of the complex actually functions as the roof for two more floors of subterranean lab and office spaces (including my own.) From an aerial photography context, I suppose you could call this my self-portrait.