Experimental science isn't for the faint-of-heart or easily discouraged. Thompson supposedly broke every cathode ray tube placed in his not-so-deft fingers in route to discovering the electron, to the great exasperation of the technicians who facilitated his work.

Here's a contemporary breakdown of experimental challenges from the physicist Chad Orzel that has one really cool picture and one droll description of equipment persnicketiness. Enjoy!


Eamon Knight said...

Way back when I was a wee frosh, we did Milliken's experiment in physics lab. The primary objective was to measure the charge on the electron. The secondary objective was "to gain an appreciation of the perversity of inanimate objects".

Stan said...

For a time, I was engineering manager of a processing facility for integrated circuits. This lab was small and dedicated to small lots of custom analog IC's, and being small, it had some antiquated and wobbly processes.

One of these was the process of epitaxial deposition, which was done under high pressure in a very large quartz bell jar. It stood about three feet tall, and had a wall thickness of about an inch.

Occasionally, and for unknown reasons, the pressure would suddenly start to increase in an out of control manner. The operator would run away and sound the alarm; the whole processing area would evacuate at a dead run.

As manager, my job was to go inside and try to shut off all the inputs to the process before the thing exploded.

I remember, in excruciatingly slow motion, what it looks like when many shards of quartz bell jar blow past your head at warp - whatever.

I wasn't hurt, I had on full face gear, and the explosion was directed upward, missing my lower body. It's something one doesn't forget.