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.