Thursday, June 2, 2011

In the Lab, Midnight

I'm in the lab right now, sitting in the dark and surrounded by the hum of... air conditioning? Air conditioning is the reason why I have to wear long pants and bring a jacket to work in the middle of Arizona summer. The cool air reduces vibrations, which are the bane of any laser physicist's work. And the lights are off so that they don't contribute noise to the data that I'm acquiring from this experiment. Cold and dark--these are conditions that we try to create in order to approach, as much as possible, the ideal world of physics: one in which everything is simple and noiseless. Indeed, there is something other-worldly about being in here at midnight, seeing the green glow of the laser and hearing the neverending hum of the air conditioning.

The first few weeks of summer have passed by like a dream. Even though I've been working here in the lab, there is no regular schedule. During the afternoon, one of the other students may want to use the laser for his own experiment, and I'll have to come back in the evening, or late at night, like a guard assuming his post in the last shift. Almost everyone I know is away from Tucson for the summer. The campus is a ghost town, and I feel like I'm witnessing something post-apocalyptic as I wander across its lonelier alleys. It's not that the place looks especially forlorn compared to any other place. But compared to the hectic, crowded, noisy campus when class was in session, the difference is striking.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, found yourself unable to fall back asleep, and decided instead to read a book, or simply stare at the ceiling? When that happens to me, I feel peaceful, but blank. And right now, that's how I'm feeling.

--Derek

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