Anti-Matter: Winding Magnets

After the fast pace and high times of low temperature superconductivity, I could hardly believe my luck when my next physics internship brought me to Brookhaven National Laboratory, on Long Island in New York.  I was assigned to an experimental team that studied a special form of anti-matter, known as positrons.

From the BNL weekly newsletter
Here is a picture of me in the BNL weekly newsletter in 1988

But the good feelings eroded quickly when my new managers drove me to an out-of-the-way machine shop, and brought me to a metal-turning lathe, and pointed to a bottle of epoxy and huge coil of wire. My assignment, they said, was to stand behind the lathe, winding massive electromagnets.  (There is a joke, by the way, among summer students and others at these national laboratories: watch out, or they’ll put you to work winding magnets. In my case, this was both figuratively and literally true!)

As I mentioned elsewhere, I enjoy working with my hands.  I’ve worked in a hardware store, painted apartments professionally, spent 7 years in a cafeteria as a short-order cook, built furniture as a hobby, and I’ve been told I am tiny-bit-better-than-average operator of most precision machining tools, such as lathes and universal milling machines. (Later, during my Ph.D. years, I became arguably the top machinist at the University of Illinois for working with a very exotic and difficult-to-machine metal, known as molybdenum. But more on that story later…) And I was determined that no matter what, my damn magnets would be the best damn magnets ever wound at that damn lathe! But after two solid weeks of magnet winding in the hot Long Island sun, feet swelling with pain, hands covered with epoxy, nose hairs long since burned away by the chemical fumes, and with no end in sight, I was ready to give up.

But I didn’t give up!  I did the smart thing: I convinced my managers it was in their interest to use my talents differently.

Read here to see what I did: Anti-Matter, from the workshop to the laboratory.