DIY at Columbia Physics Design Lab


These parts included items such as turntable stands for studying the quantum properties of atomic thin foils, flanges for ultracold vacuum chambers to house quantum materials for imaging and manipulations, and components for new laser configurations. “It’s usually a lot of very small parts for very complex, very cool systems,” said Clara Wilson, a staff engineer who joined Columbia last year from JILA to help reinvent the space. .

For much of the 20th century, scientists had to build almost everything themselves for their experiments, Columbia physicist Cory Dean explained, so workshops of university machinery, carpentry and even electrical were the norm. . But over time, commercial vendors began to appear to supply specialty parts and parts, and college support became less common.

Pupin Hall maintained a workshop where a machinist still made parts to order, but a new generation of physicists at Columbia, including Dean, wanted to take over the process. “To support modern physics, we need on-site space to build, overseen by a skilled person who can provide the tools and guidance to help us bring totally new ideas to life,” Dean said. “The Design Lab will play a vital role in the future of physics at Columbia.”

Today, Pupin Hall, Room 1111 is a collaborative creative space where users come together to brainstorm ideas with each other and with Wilson to explore how best to implement them on the various machines available.

The machines run the gamut from the cutting edge, including a trio of 3D printers and a newly installed laser cutter, to centuries-old eves like massive iron grinders and drill presses. The oldest piece of equipment is a bandsaw from the 1950s, while Wilson’s favorites are the 1960s lathes that still work perfectly after all these years. “Plus they’re painted a really nice Columbia blue. I don’t know who did that or when, but it adds a nice touch,” she said.


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