The utilitarian, earthquake-resistant architecture of Berkeley Lab amid the verdant hills of the East Bay seems like a science-fictional setting—a location that can’t possible exist—in contrast to San Francisco in the distance.
St. Lawrence University’s campus is quiet for the moment; athletes have returned early from break but pretty much everyone else is still on winter vacation. The snow adds an extra layer of dampening.
When they return, the school will once again take on its weird ski lodge vibe.
Berkeley Lab’s Frei Group was kind enough to share their space with me, and I could not have done that work without this high vacuum line. I’ve always loved the way understanding the components of a system can take a complicated image like this one and break it into understandable parts. This image, in particular, gets less odd after the realization that this is two lines, mounted back-to-back, in the same Unistrut frame.
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.)
In St. Lawrence’s Raman spectroscopy and microscopy lab, the most potent laser illumination source comes from a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet. This is a pretty ubiquitous laser source, but I happen to like it because it also demonstrates the value of nonlinear optics: though this laser is emitting light at 1064 nanometers (in the infrared), a suitable doubling crystal can combine two of those 1064 photons together to make a shiny new 532 nm photon.
The foreground of an image from the Berkeley Hills is usually a dark network of trees and trails, but the conveniently timed headlights of a car at Lawrence Hall of Science lit up the dry grasses of midsummer. Their oranges matched the sunset.
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.