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December 8th, 2012

Our New Lab Begins to Take Shape

It's all Bob's fault. I first met Bob at a Lunar and Planetary Science conference in the 1990s, when he wanted to talk to be about becoming a Jesuit. A few years later, after he'd joined, he spent a summer with me in Castel Gandolfo working in my lab. (Miserable fellow, just by being there he made me actually show up and work in the lab every day. We wound up publishing a really nice paper based on that work.) Later he went off to U Central Florida to do a PhD with my collaborator and friend Dan on measuring meteorite physical properties. We're hoping he'll join us full time in the Observatory next summer, once he finishes up his theology studies.

So he spent a month with us last summer and I set him up with a table in our lab. Now, our lab is quite an improvement over the closet I had in our old quarters, but still it's mostly just a bunch of old tables with various equipment scattered hither and you, and the meteorites themselves in a set of drawers and shelves organized more by size than by name. Unlike me -- I am really a theorist who's had to teach himself how to do lab work -- Bob has worked in real labs for most of his career. (He was at Washington U before he entered the Jesuits.) So I challenged him... "Daydream! What would you do with this space if you could turn it into a real lab?"

He found some cool architectural design software and came up with some spectacular plans (below the cut).
Bob's plans and descriptionCollapse )
Mostly out of amusement I passed these plans on to the director. I assumed that maybe in a couple of years we might be able to start to work on something like this, askng for little bits of money in future budgets.

But our director passed them on to our vice-director, who loves challenges like these... He quickly contacted a bunch of folks he knows, got bids, and then went to the Vatican with a request for a supplement to this year's budget. The Cardinal in charge not only approved, but on the request he added a hand-written note, saying in effect (and in Italian) "this is important; for the sake of the work, and the safety of the people in the lab, we need a first-rate set up here."

Work has already begun. We should have a lab like Bob's dreams in place by the time he gets here.

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