Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I had a horrible thought this past weekend. If the lab were to flood, and all the circuits on my machine fry... Or if someone was to realize the priceless value (well, I guess that's subjective) of the machine I've been slaving away on for the past year and a half, and break down the door and cart it away... Or if *gasp* something major were to break and the machine could no longer run...!!!

If any of those things were to happen, I HAVE NO VIDEO.

My Master's thesis is on the design, building, and testing of a machine that makes little plastic chips with tiny patterns on them. (Another post on that a different day, I think).

I have been making my little plastic chips since last June - almost a year - yikes! I have bins full of stacked petri dishes with parts. I have data coming out my ears, and enough profilometer measurements to choke a horse. I have detailed pictures of my machine and all its constituent parts.

But I have no video of it running and making a part.

So if the end of the world arrived and the earth was wiped clean - and then, of course, put back in time for the next conference I'm presenting at - there is the remote possibility that no one would believe my machine ran as I said it did. I can just imagine presenting data from a run of 100 parts, declaring that I made them all in two minutes apiece (which is a major claim), and some commenter from the audience goes "Are you sure? You didn't just sit there with a chisel and chip out the exact same pattern in 100 parts? Over spring break? For fun?"

And I couldn't refute it. Because, you know, I do own a set of very small chisels.

So this morning I decided to rectify this situation. I ran a few parts to warm up the machine first. (Technically it doesn't need a warm up period, but that goes against my practical engineering bent... people need to stretch before they work hard, right? I should give my machine the same treatment, I rationalize. Or maybe I just like watching it pop out pretty little parts.)

Then I whipped out the lab video camera, and taped the making of one part. Loading in the blank, starting the program, watching the heating, squashing, and cooling steps execute. Then, removing the demolded part at the end. Taped the making of several parts, actually. Do you know how hard it is to load in a blank and run a cycle with one hand (clean room gloves and tweezer required for loading) while taping said operations with the other? If I am watching myself load in the blank, I'm liable to be aiming at the wrong thing with the camera. If I watch the camera, I tend to drop the part with my tweezers, which also does not look good on tape. And trying to hold steady for a 90 second process? Don't get me started.

I got all of this coordinated on the third run, and everything was going well. I didn't make a peep throughout the video, so the only sound was the humming various lab equipment.

I had 27 seconds left in the cycle to tape. And then - "F**k this s***t!"

Say WHAT? One of the new grad students across the room had apparently had enough of his experiment not working, and chose that moment to express himself in this colorful manner. Loudly.


Part #4 coming up....


  1. Hahaha, keep it in! It makes it so much more authentic. I mean, what's a REAL lab without some swearing in the background?

  2. You're lucky you wern't in my lab this afternoon, something similar happened to me. Although i'm more a "primal scream while kicking things" type. Couldn't you have it on mute everytime you show it?

  3. Thanks for the laugh! You could always dub in music!! Actually, I agree with EthidiumBromide, it does make it more authentic...