When I’ve published photographs from UC Berkeley’s student machine shop in the past, I’ve tended to focus on the enormous, ancient, and immovable machine tools that dominate the shop. The tiny details at the edges, however, are the key to making everything function. Here we see the array of a Allen wrenches, tool bits, and cutting oil necessary to turn a chunk of steel into a precise part.
Berkeley’s machine shop really is one of my favorite places–so much so that I keep posting on it. It’s so unlike the world of modern consumer technology, and simultaneously so integral to accomplishing much of my scientific work, that I can’t help but feel an attachment.
Today’s shot features one of the enormous lathes that take up the majority of the space in the shop. Every control is manual, mechanical, and enormously satisfying to actuate. Once it’s up and running, the amount of kinetic energy is pretty intimidating.
Today’s photograph is of the wall of that shop with its endless array of bits and blades for the plethora of machines that require them. Clicking through to view the full-sized image is particularly rewarding; each of those little strips of color is a label, put in place decades ago, describing the bit type and size, along with taped-up charts of conversion factors and tiny tutorials on how to use it all. Even a single drill bit is patterned with a mosaic of dents, dings, and damages that tell a story of the countless times it has been used; to see so many together, in one place, tells a story of generations of scientists working their damnedest to convince their experimental apparatuses to cooperate. More than plaques on a wall or papers in a file somewhere, this is the real testament to scientific achievement.
UC Berkeley’s student machine shop has a truly fascinating collection of old machines that are still fantastically useful. (I’ve posted on it before.) This particular photograph is of a lathe’s controls–both those for moving the tool bit relative to the metal as well as those for the automatic feeds.
When everything I work with in the laser lab is computer-controlled, it’s refreshing to work with a machine that works entirely from a clever design of gears and cogs. There’s a solidity and strength in a device that is completely independent of interference from microprocessors.
Berkeley has a Student Machine Shop, and my scientific experiments would never get off the group without it. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve needed a part that has never before been made–I can only imagine in my mind what I need. I make some preliminary drawings, and I head up to the shop to machine this fantasy part from aluminum or, more rarely, steel. To see that form from my imagination slowly becoming reality is one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. (It’s probably worth noting that I started as a sculptor before transitioning to photography.)
This particular photograph is of a milling machine, used to make planes, grooves, and holes in metal. In many ways, it’s a lot more flexible than a lathe (the other ubiquitous machine shop tool), but also a bit more threatening looking.