Monday, June 3, 2013

The usual

I wanted to share with all of you a bit of the troubles I've encountered lately, in case you think science is some glamorous thing wherein everybody has spotless laboratories filled with beakers of colorful bubbling liquids.
The system I'm building involves vacuum pumps... a lot of vacuum pumps. Six multistage roots blower pumps, seven single-stage roots blower pumps, and nine turbomolecular pumps, to be precise (plus an industrial compressor). I won't explain the details of how it all goes together, but I'll point out that the really important bit is those six multistage roots (msr) pumps. They back up the entire system, so if they don't work, the entire system doesn't work.
Now here's my problem.
The pumps we bought originally don't work the way they were meant to. They pump nitrogen gas just fine, but they die when pumping helium. And we need them to pump helium.
Now, we've managed to find a pump that does work the way we need it to, and after long negotiations we've set up an agreement with the original vendor to swap the pumps we have for the pumps we need. But each of these pumps weighs nearly 500 pounds, and it is not a simple matter to package them up and ship them across the country. Nor is it a simple matter to get the paperwork completed for a swap of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. But that's what I've had to do, because that's part of my job.
The occupation "scientist," it turns out, includes a lot of things. Sometimes, like recently, my job is Purchasing Department or Shipping/Receiving. Sometimes it's Statistician or Data Analyst. Sometimes it's Electrician, Plumber, Machinist, Historian, Writer, Programmer, Debugger, Sys Admin, Benchwarmer, Babysitter, Mathematician, Engineer, Translator, Teacher, Mentor, and occasionally even Futures Forecaster (aka Mind-reader).
Being a scientist isn't always great. Heck, it isn't always fun. But it's rewarding.