• Question: is it hard making new things

    Asked by lauren33 to Mark, Matthew, Mike, Paul, Sabina on 18 Mar 2014. This question was also asked by booboo123, saff123.
    • Photo: Matthew Malek

      Matthew Malek answered on 18 Mar 2014:


      Hiya, Lauren!

      “Is it hard making new things?” I guess it really depends on the things you are making.

      For example, when I was working at Oxford Uni on a search for dark matter, I did a lot of research & development on new hardware. Sometimes, the new things we made were pretty easy, like an enhanced cooling system for our electronics. It was necessary, because our equipment was overheating… but it wasn’t too difficult to make. (Generally needed some cutting tools, a few wires, and some fans! 🙂 )

      Other new things are more difficult! When I was working on the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory in Argentina, I built a solar powered laser calibration system for our cosmic ray telescopes. It was more difficult, but we used existing parts, like solar panels and the laser itself, and put them together in a new way to build the facility.

      Right now, I am part of an effort to build the next generation of experiment for detecting ghostly subatomic particles called neutrinos. As part of this work, we are developing new types of light sensors to give us better sensitivity. That’s developing entirely new technologies, so it is really difficult! We’ve been working on this for awhile… and it is still a work in progress!

      The payoff, of course, is that when you do make something new that was difficult, there is a lot of satisfaction that comes with it! 🙂

    • Photo: Paul Coxon

      Paul Coxon answered on 18 Mar 2014:


      Learning a new technique to produce new samples isn’t always easy – I make lots of mistakes along the way. Preparing my penguin silicon takes a lot of salt preparation steps lasting two days, then half a day to carefully melt the salt. The electroreduction step which texturises the silicon surface is quick, but then I have to wait until the silicon to cool. I only find out if my thin wafer of silicon has survived the procedure at the very end!

      A lot of attempts were ruined by the material shattering into small pieces. I’m trying to make the textured silicon areas as a large as possible so we can test their optical properties without the edges of the wafer interfering with my results.

      It can be very frustrating at times, but after a few months I’ve now worked out how to get the procedure to work properly and am now like a one-man penguin silicon wafer factory!

    • Photo: Mike Lee

      Mike Lee answered on 19 Mar 2014:


      I would say it is very hard to make something new – you have to be incredibly clever. Most things that are “new” are just improvements or slight changes to what we already have.

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