Machine Shop:research, project hub Research

Aprons hang from a coat hanger, safety goggles rest on a shelf. But that’s only the beginning of the encounter with Linfield’s machine shop. Stepping farther into the shop reveals a menagerie of machines and tools and an array of metal trinkets, scraps, pipes and shavings.
Located across from the physics department in the basement of Graf Hall, the machine shop houses the equipment and machines used for a variety of reasons by a variety of people, from physics students and faculty to many other Linfield departments. Some of the equipment is as old as the shop itself, but this little-known campus resource is used more than you may think.

Created for research
The machine shop was established in the mid-1950s (sources from Linfield’s Web site disagree on the exact year) to facilitate research for the Linfield Research Institute, which was established to support undergraduate and faculty research.
“In order to do this and do the research, we had to have a shop to support it,” Tainbo Xie, professor of physics and chair of the physics department, said. Xie said research back then dealt largely with surface physics and field emission.
“Surface physics is talking about a shallow layer of surface of the material,” he explained.
According to the physics department Web site, Hewlett Packard acquired part of the research responsibility in 1971 and opened a division on what is now Keck campus. When that division closed, the company donated its land and buildings to create that section of campus. However, a great portion of the its lab was eventually moved to today’s machine shop, where the aged equipment still works and receives quite a bit of use.
The shop contains two lathes, two milling machines, two welding machines, a shear to cut metal and a metal-bending machine, Xie said.
Unused glass-blowing equipment sits around the corner in another room of the machine shop. Gordon Kroemer, director of environmental health and safety, said a class used to make glass tubes for electron microscopes on the glass lathe. He said an art student has used it in the past, but, largely, the equipment isn’t employed.

Ergonomic functions
Research isn’t the shop’s only function. Gordon Kroemer, director of environmental health and safety, works in there frequently as part of his job.
“Part of my job is ergonomic, well, surveys, but I help people adjust their workstations to themselves,” Kroemer said. “Some of the times that means we try to get equipment that’s adjustable, but sometimes it doesn’t quite fit even then.”
Ergonomics is also called human engineering, and it’s a science that involves coordinating systems, such as workspaces, with worker needs to operate at maximum productivity.
For instance, Kroemer’s office chair was two inches too short when he got it. So, he used the machine shop to construct a device that elevated it to his desired specifications.
“I wouldn’t call myself Mr. Fix-it, but I’m able to fix things,” he said.
Other projects he’s worked on over the years include repairing a vehicle a few years ago that was used to move raisers for graduation and helping create keyboard trays for around campus.
Kroemer said that he works on individual projects as well. Occassionally during lunchtime, Kroemer can be found in the shop working on a Stirling engine, a heat engine also called an external combustion engine. The first time he heard one running, he said he didn’t know it was on. It is as quiet as an electric motor, he said. He said he enjoys working on it, but it’s not quite done.
Despite one or two physics students, Kroemer said he is usually alone in the shop, which, he said, could he used more.
“If we didn’t have it, there would be a lot of things that we would have to farm out and it would be expensive and take time,” he said, adding that spending 30 minutes in the shop fixing something is much less costly than buying a new equipment.

Evolution for teaching and research
“The shop later on became mostly for the student research and research by the faculty members,” Xie said.
Using the machine shop allows students and faculty to create tools and equipment for their research. Such equipment may otherwise take a lot of time and money to acquire. Xie also said the shop is used to modify existing equipment.
“[It’s] less expensive to make [them] homemade,” he said.
Students and faculty use these machines to develop grant research for student-faculty collaborative research, general lab work student theses and projects.
Senior physics major Josh Lovell spent much of his past summer in the shop conducting individual research.
“I’m actually creating my own solar cells in the lab,” Lovell said.
To make the cells, Lovell said he evaporated thin films of metal onto semiconductors. Solar cells are used to convert sunlight into electricity, but Lovell said his research creations are different than the commercial solar cells currently used.
The machine shop was an essential resource for Lovell’s research.
“I used the lathe to make bolts and screws and other structures like that,” he said. “I used the mill to make holding devices for my silicon wafers.”
Essentially, Lovell was using the machine shop to build the tools needed to conduct his investigations.
He also used it to create and modify parts to renovate an old vacuum system formerly belonging to LRI. The parts would allow the system to run effectively for use in his research.
“I spent a good two weeks going from 8 in the morning to 4 or 5 in the afternoon just in the machine shop,” Lovell said. “If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of my research.”
Ergonomic functions
Research isn’t the shop’s only function. Kroemer works there frequently as part of his job.
“Part of my job is ergonomic, well, surveys, but I help people adjust their workstations,” Kroemer said. “Some of the times that means we try to get equipment that’s adjustable, but sometimes it doesn’t quite fit even then.”
Ergonomics is also called human engineering and is a science that involving coordinating systems, such as workspaces, with worker needs to operate at maximum productivity.
For instance, Kroemer’s office chair was two inches too short when he received it. So, he used the machine shop to construct a device that elevated it to his desired specifications.
“I wouldn’t call myself Mr. Fix-it, but I’m able to fix things,” he said.
Other projects he’s worked on during the years include repairing a vehicle that was used to move raisers for graduation and helping create keyboard trays for the campus.
Kroemer said that he works on individual projects, as well. Occasionally during lunchtime, Kroemer can be found in the shop working on a Stirling engine, a heat engine also called an external combustion engine.
The first time he heard one running, he said he didn’t know it was on. It is as quiet as an electric motor, he said. While he enjoys working on it, it’s not quite finished.
Outside of one or two physics students, Kroemer said he is usually alone in the shop, which, he said, could be used more often.
“If we didn’t have it, there would be a lot of things that we would have to farm out, and it would be expensive and take time,” he said, adding that spending 30 minutes in the shop fixing something is much cheaper than buying new equipment.

We have a class for that?
Xie identified another value of the machine shop: It works as a tool to train students hands-on in technology. In fact, the physics department offers a machine shop lab class, which Xie will teach in the spring.
“The other function is to teach basic machine shop techniques,” Xie said. “The students learn a lot. Some students, they take to it and come here all the time to work.”
A lot of the materials in the machine shop are old, but Kroemer said he thinks this is beneficial.
“For teaching, it’s kind of nice to have older equipment because it’s more hands on,” he said.
New, computer-numerical-controlled equipment operates using computer programs instead of the old equipment, which is manual. This allows students to learn more about operating the machines as well as the metal used for their projects.
The class covers material such as how to use a drill press, lathe and other machines and how to weld and make metal boxes.
But students in and outside the class use the machine shop to create all sorts of contraptions for class demonstrations, research, theses and just for fun. Xie said he has seen students make parts for rockets, cars, airplane models, heat pump models and much more. Sometimes the creations are more complicated, he said, such as parts for an e-beam evaporator.
Lovell hasn’t taken the class yet, but he said he looks forward to enrolling in it next semester.
“It was a skill that I wanted to learn,” he said, explaining that much of his summer research was done through trial and error. “It was a very valuable resource for me and learning experience.”
And physics department members aren’t the only ones who use the shop. Xie said many departments, including psychology, biology and chemistry, use the shop to modify or create equipment.
For instance, Xie said the psychology department made testing cells for research, which would have cost more than $1,000 to purchase. Art department members also use the shop, he said, when working with metal to create artwork.
“I think it’s very good thing for Linfield to have,” Xie said. “It’s very useful.”

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