The year 2020 is here! “Cautious optimism” remains my default lens for the future, but a look back over the photography of the past decade (like this shot from the Molecular Foundry overlooking San Francisco during my sabbatical), I’m feeling a bit excited. The first major upgrade in my shooting platform is planned for 2020 (the Nikon D7000 is getting a well-deserved retirement) and I can’t imagine the improvement I’ll see when I jump an entire decade forwards in camera technology.
The incredible architecture of Berkeley Lab, like the Molecular Foundry hanging out into the space of Strawberry Canyon, is implanted into an otherwise natural setting. In that sense, being there reminded me of a sort of real-world Jurassic Park. (The flocks of turkeys and herds of goats on the grounds were a bit less threatening than dinosaurs, thankfully. The mountain lions were a different story…)
This auditorium in Berkeley Lab’s Building 66 was the site of weekly seminars, naturally, but it’s that balcony behind the podium that often interested me the most about the room. From there, I captured some of my favorite views of Berkeley, Emeryville, and San Francisco. It was just down the hall from my office and nearly always accessible. I won’t say I took the space for granted, but I will say I enjoyed the ease of popping down the hallway for a stunning vista.
In comparison with the pathways between buildings in Northern New York (mostly shielded against the elements), I’m a bit disoriented by the semi-exposed stairwells and walkways of California. The mixture of features I associate with being inside (like the door with full glass window) and those I associate with being outside (like the tubular steel guard rails) makes for a juxtaposition.
During sabbatical, I posted a lot of views like the one below: A dramatic dusk view of Berkeley and San Francisco from Berkeley Lab’s Building 62, where I spent my days doing renewable energy research. Ending a productive day, I’d step out onto the balcony a 30-second walk down the hall from my office to find these views readily available (when the marine layer didn’t intervene).
But to my memory, I’ve posted few shots of that balcony that was so integral to the sabbatical experience. Circling around to the adjacent Molecular Foundry, I took this image that (in the top left) shows that small balcony (with sun conveniently reflecting), as well as some of the lab infrastructure around in it. In the foreground is the liquid nitrogen storage tank for the foundry with its radiator covered in ice.
Even in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, there has to be a place to store the equipment that makes everything run. In the foreground of this view from Berkeley Lab’s Building 62 are the shipping containers and assorted equipment used by the physical plant to keep the lab running. I’ve always found the contradiction—using very expensive land to store mundane objects—to be an engaging one. Of course, if all of the land were employed for its “valuable” use and the practical aspects were neglected, the result would be that the land would cease to be valuable.
The laboratories of physical scientists across the planet have pulsed laser systems like this one, and many look quite similar: a collection of squat boxes covering optics, electronics, and beampaths. Above or below the surface of the table are additional boxes of electronics driving the lasers and detectors. This particular system is special to me for two reasons: (1) most modern laser tables don’t have rad wood grain paneling, and (2) this was the instrument I used during my sabbatical at Berkeley Lab last spring. Lots of good data emerged from its photomultiplier tube.
Students from Berkeley’s campus climb as high up the hill as they can to watch the sunset behind San Francisco and the Golden Gate, but the barbed wire fence of the Department of Energy National Lab makes for a cut-off point. Far on the other side is Grizzly Peak: another great view, but one without the immediacy of this particular spot. Inside the perimeter of the lab, I had the opportunity to experience a set of perspectives both scientific and literal that are beyond the scope of everyday Berkeley life.
Snow covered northern New York this week, and the temperature rests in the single degrees Fahrenheit; now is an excellent time to look back at the warm eternal-summer glow of California. Particularly in contrast to the >60-hour-per-week graduate students down on campus, the “standard” workweek of staff at Berkeley Lab was a remarkably normal trend. At the end of the day, with that sunset light arriving, the workers who keep the physical plant running come outside into the evening breeze and head home.
Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, a massive X-ray laser sourced from a building-sized particle accelerator, was undergoing upgrades while I visited. Construction in the area added an mundane veneer to the superscience happening inside.
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.
This physical plant building at Berkeley Lab has the broad A-frame structure and charming attic windows of an alpine lodge. It also has an evergreen-encrusted window to Berkeley and the Port of Oakland. In spite of the appearance and the surroundings, this is a highly utilitarian setting. Quite the juxtaposition.