Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lab work is better with goldfish

It's the start of another trip to the Arctic for the 2013 Polar Sunrise Arctic ACE Validation Campaign at Eureka, and the lab work begins long before I catch my 2:30 AM shuttle ride to the airport.
 Between springtime measurement campaigns, I am based at the University of Western Ontario in London. I am analyzing measurement data, writing scientific papers, going to seminar classes, working in our other lidar lab (Purple Crow Lidar) or running outreach programs at the CronynObservatory. With the 2013 campaign approaching, the focus shifts back to lidar measurements from Eureka.

The way I look at the 2012 measurement data changes from “Science! What does this data tell us about the atmosphere?” to “What can this data tell us about how we should run the campaign next time? Should we change any settings? What calibration runs should we do?” My long-distance-labmate Chris Perro (at the aolab at Dalhousie University in Halifax) and I both suggest things, compare notes, and re-visit anything we don't agree on. Our PhD supervisors Prof. Bob Sica and Prof. Tom Duck chime in once we've got a clear plan fleshed out.
This is Chris.
In the weeks leading up to the campaign, I gather all the equipment that I will bring with me. Chris ships any supplies and laser parts to me at Western in a fancy-looking armoured metal case, for me to include in my carry-on luggage This is either “fun” or “a pain” to get through airport security, depending on your sense of humour. I rate it as: More fun than trying to explain to US customs that you're going to work at an electron accelerator lab for the summer without saying the words “work”, “radiation”, “electron”, “nuclear” in your explanation. It is less fun than just packing the darned thing in checked baggage.
My pet goldfish help me unpack and inspect the laser pump chambers. What's a pump chamber? It's the thing that turns energy from regular light into laser light which is all one colour (bright green, in our case) and all headed the same direction. Without it, nothing works. This is a tiny piece of the whole laser setup.
Before packing, I check out all the equipment to make sure that it is all in good shape. The cylindrical rod in the pump chamber is carved from of one long “Nd:YAG” crystal (Neodymium doped with Yttrium, Aluminum and Garnet... it's a transparent and pretty light pink colour). The ends of the rod need to be polished and free from any defects or dirt. 

Feeling like Sherlock Holmes meets CSI, I use my magnifying glass and flashlight to inspect the ends of the laser rod in the pump chamber.
With everything tested and packed, I'm ready for the Northern adventures to begin!

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