August 2013 Archways

The Coolest Place on Campus

Bryn Mawr’s machine shop has created a robotic hand, a leech probe, and an atom trap that houses one of the coldest places on Earth.

By Nancy Brokaw    Photos by Thom Carroll

As the go-to problem-solving group for science students and faculty, the Science Support Services Department oversees inventory control, monitors the stock room, receives all deliveries for the Park Science Building, and runs one of the coolest places on campus, the Machine and Instrument Shop in Park Science.

With a full complement of equipment (including two CNC milling machines, a Hardinge 10-inch swing by 14-inch long instrument lathe with taper attachment, a 36-inch throat Grob vertical band saw, and a Hypertherm plasma cutter with a one-inch-thick max steel capacity), the machine shop staff works closely with students and faculty to bring their ideas from concept to design and implementation.

Rob Cunningham, the shop’s chief instrument maker, is at work on a new addition to the shop, another computer-driven milling machine that enables the shop to fabricate in hours what previously took days—and to work at an extraordinarily small scale. As Richard Willard, director of the Science Support Services Department and the machine shop, explains, “We were able to machine a part that had slots cut in it that were 10/1000ths [of an inch] wide. To put that in perspective, 10/1000ths is two and a half hairs. That little piece of equipment—it holds leech nerves, and the slots are for probes used to energize the nerves—was made elsewhere for $10,000. We looked at it and said, ‘Hey, why spend $10,000? We can make it right here for nothing’… and we did.”

Rob Cunningham, the shop’s chief instrument maker, is at work on a new addition to the shop, another computer-driven milling machine that enables the shop to fabricate in hours what previously took days—and to work at an extraordinarily small scale. As Richard Willard, director of the Science Support Services Department and the machine shop, explains, “We were able to machine a part that had slots cut in it that were 10/1000ths [of an inch] wide. To put that in perspective, 10/1000ths is two and a half hairs. That little piece of equipment—it holds leech nerves, and the slots are for probes used to energize the nerves—was made elsewhere for $10,000. We looked at it and said, ‘Hey, why spend $10,000? We can make it right here for nothing’… and we did.”

Willard and physics graduate student Donald Fahey survey the optics used for a piece of equipment that uses lasers to trap atoms. “One of our faculty members, [Professor of Physics] Mike Noel, needed cold atoms for his experiments,” explains Willard. “The laser beams enter at different angles, forming a trap for the atoms.”

Willard and physics graduate student Donald Fahey survey the optics used for a piece of equipment that uses lasers to trap atoms. “One of our faculty members, [Professor of Physics] Mike Noel, needed cold atoms for his experiments,” explains Willard. “The laser beams enter at different angles, forming a trap for the atoms.”

The red coils in the trap are electromagnets that create the magnetic field through which Noel’s team can collect the atoms. This particular piece of equipment was designed specifically for Noel’s research needs, says Willard, adding that “it’s one of the coldest things on Earth—because the movement of atoms is what makes heat, and there’s so little movement here.”

The red coils in the trap are electromagnets that create the magnetic field through which Noel’s team can collect the atoms. This particular piece of equipment was designed specifically for Noel’s research needs, says Willard, adding that “it’s one of the coldest things on Earth—because the movement of atoms is what makes heat, and there’s so little movement here.”

 

Ying Pan ’13, who already held patents on several prosthetic legs, turned her attention to developing a design concept for a prosthetic hand.

Ying Pan ’13, who already held patents on several prosthetic legs, turned her attention to developing a design concept for a prosthetic hand.

 

Working with Pan from her design concept for a Dynamixel Giant Hand, Willard and his crew mocked up a large-scale prototype as a proof-of-concept. To make the thumb rotatable—and give it a real grip—it was detached from the rest of the fingers. Three motors—called Dynamixel motors—are connected to each finger.

Working with Pan from her design concept for a Dynamixel Giant Hand, Willard and his crew mocked up a large-scale prototype as a proof-of-concept. To make the thumb rotatable—and give it a real grip—it was detached from the rest of the fingers. Three motors—called Dynamixel motors—are connected to each finger.

 

Estella Barbosa de Souza ’14 and physics Ph.D. student Kristen Recine inspect a vacuum chamber designed to detect dark matter. Manufactured by an outside firm, the chamber contains charged copper plates, fabricated by Willard’s shop, that pick up the electron charge associated with a potential dark matter signal.

Estella Barbosa de Souza ’14 and physics Ph.D. student Kristen Recine inspect a vacuum chamber designed to detect dark matter. Manufactured by an outside firm, the chamber contains charged copper plates, fabricated by Willard’s shop, that pick up the electron charge associated with a potential dark matter signal.

 

 

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