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Posts Tagged ‘lab’

Lab Data

A classic science trap, wait for them to look at the spectrometer and pull the stick away.

A classic science trap, wait for them to look at the spectrometer and pull the stick away.

After seven weeks of work we have finally taken real data for our senior lab project.

Normally the class is broken into three week labs (2 for the lab, 1 for the report) but two friends and I are creating a new lab. Yesterday everything finally came together and we could actually hook everything up and get some really nice results.

The hard part of our lab is that it encompasses digital electronics, analog electronics, computer interfacing, frequency space, optics and beam vibrations. If we took a few of these parts out it would be a lot easier but not as satisfying.

What we are doing is using a novel interferometer to measure how far a metal beam is displaced at different resonant modes. The trick bit is that when not at a resonant mode the beam is moving fast and far enough to produce a 500 kHz signal. Getting this 10mV sine wave into a series of binary pulses that can be graphed on a computer is a little bit harder then we initially expected.

But now it works. Seven weeks in we can start doing some physics.

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Safety first, then kimwipes.

Safety first, then kimwipes.

It is like herding cats.

The first challenge in coordinating three undergraduate physics majors (2nd, 3rd and 4th years) and one 3rd year biology major is simply getting their schedules. They give you one and then it changes during the first week. Then the second week is spent finalizing schedules and getting their final ones.

With those in hand a table mock up of when they are available with when two can be in lab at the same time is fairly simple. But the challenge is figuring out hours for everyone while trying to consider things like not working with the same person the whole time, time for meals and not assigning random blocks in the middle of their free time (it is better to abut research time to a class).

So I finished a schedule, sent it out thinking it was pretty good.

Three hours later I heard back from one of them, I read what he gave me as time available. It was time he was in class.

By this time my piece of paper with schedules on it has several layers of colors, ink types and notations. If there are any more changes it will require a new weekly calender mock up.

After writing the above I received some more e-mails about the schedule and have scrapped the whole thing and started over. This time I set up four google calenders, one for each person. The calenders are shared between the four of us with each person able to only edit their schedule while viewing the others. The goal is that everyone will put up the hours they will be in lab, choosing times others can be there, and then others will schedule that time as well.

I started by setting up my times so it will be interesting to see how this will go. I also dropped my involvement from ten hours to five hours a week as the stress this was causing is not worth the payoff (which is essentially nothing at this point).

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These are probably some critical component of the Madison Symmetric Torus.

These are probably some critical component of the Madison Symmetric Torus.

Sometimes working in an experimental research lab as an undergraduate is not a fun experience. Lately (since getting into graduate school) I have not been motivated to work on or even care about the project I am working on. Simple tasks take much longer then they actually should and I often feel that our project is not welcomed in the lab. Part of it is that I came in sort of in the middle/beginning so I have no personal attachment to the project. The other is that most of my time is spent scavenging parts or trying to get the necessary equipment to do what needs to be done.

The main problem is that I hardly see the connection between our project and actual research, and even if there was a connection the research is not at the top of my list for what I find interesting. I guess that is a problem when my area of interest is a particularly narrow one.

Then again starting out in a situation like this makes Washington next year seem so much better in comparison.

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A Day In Lab

The door actually looks rather calm.

The door actually looks rather calm.

I spent the day in lab and wrote this up while waiting for code to compile. Eventually I stopped writing as I was slowly giving up as it continued to not work.

I have a camera that outputs in a YCrCb 4:2:2 image format with 24 bit color.

I have a FPGA (programmable hardware) board that outputs in a 9 bit RGB format.

I have a VGA display that takes all sorts of inputs but mainly 24 bit RGB color.

That is a difference of 1,677,690 colors between the image formats.

Converting from YCrCb to RGB requires a bit of multiplication, the problem being that I cannot use floating point numbers so I end with a giant 20 bit number that needs to be reduced to 8 then 3 bit number.

Then there is this whole I2C camera control connection that I am just ignoring at this point. I really hope it is not critical to the operaiton of the camera.

We use Quartus II to program the FPGA board and do all of the work. But sometimes it gets quirky or does not work. Namely I was looking at a previous years lab, a pong game, and a few compiles of my own code later I wound up with pong on my screen instead of the usual static.

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Look, it is science!

Look, it is science!

I have spent all day slightly sick writing my lab report for the above pictured lab. Twenty hours of lab work for seven data points. Not a particularly good return but I did learn something. I really dislike writing up lab reports in Microsoft Word. It is not only a pain but an agonizing experience that can only be likened to something involving bamboo shoots and toe nails.

Suffice to say that I spent the time writing my report downloading TeX for Mac so I can write my next lab report in LaTeX. I heard that it is better and it just looks more professional and science like. I mean why can’t Word support normal MathML so I could just write my equations in Mathematica and paste them in. I suppose I could learn the office special math language but for that effort I think I will just learn LaTeX as it will actually be useful in the future.

Back to the lab report, I enjoy (mostly) doing the labs but writing the report is sort of painful. I mean it is hard to write well about steps taken from a lab manual to get a desired result. 

At least I have the rough draft finished.

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Holidays

We are trying to plan a trip out to Santa Cruz Island.

We are trying to plan a trip out to Santa Cruz Island.

In grade school and even up to my Junior year of University I relished every weekend that had a missing Monday attached to it. Now that the first three day weekend of the quarter is upon me I do not look at it with joy but rather inconvenience.

I have lab class four days a week, on Monday I have my Senior Lab. By missing a Monday I do not get out of the work in any way, nor do I have individual access to the labs. As such my lab partner and I have to reschedule Monday’s lab session to another time or simply lose a day of lab initially dedicated to writing up our lab reports.

What makes it worse that in a month there is another Monday off. Why can’t the holiday land on a Tuesday or a Thursday where I have actual classes that can be cancelled? 

Maybe next (and last) quarter I should schedule my classes with holidays in mind.

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A Lab Day

 

Some winter days are just perfect.

Some winter days are just perfect.

Today was another beautiful day in Santa Barbara.

I only know this because I had to occasionally step out of my lab while waiting for our experiment to equilibrate. Otherwise I was in a windowless room staring at rotating column of water for several hours.

At least I am not counting pendulum swings.

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