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.
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.
In the Berkeley Hills, above the National Lab’s Advanced Light Source, the view over Oakland’s twinkling night sprawl entrances. Look at all of those light-emitting objects! As LED lights have replaced sodium vapor models, I’m particularly fascinated in the shift as cities glow white, instead of orange.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory sits in the Berkeley Hills, so close to multiple centers of scientific and technological innovation; the intellectual climate on its campus is astonishing. One of the newer facilities on campus is the science-fiction-come-to-life Molecular Foundry. The most dramatic part of the building hangs in space above the bay. I can’t resist the image of a spacecraft coming in for a landing.