Looking cool at -196 °C

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Collecting liquid nitrogen for ULTRASPEC, complete with hipster safety glasses

It’s been another manically busy week in the lab, and progress has been slow. But I did identify and help to solve several potentially serious glitches with ULTRASPEC, and I now have almost all the juicy content for a small chapter of my thesis. It will need a lot of wordy input, and some more research before I really know what I’m talking about, but it’s far more substantial than I was expecting for one month in to the PhD!

The downside to working on the instrumentation at the moment is that the cryostat (insulated bucket which holds the CCD) has to be kept cold at all times. This means filling it with liquid nitrogen (77K, or -196 °C) twice a day, including weekends. This is what exciting science looks like on TV (see photo above!), but in reality it’s actually very tedious.

The most exciting bit of this week was actually a gig last night at the Library Theatre. This really is a theatre, and not somewhere you’d usually expect to watch a hip-hop brass band (the very entertaining Renegade Brass Band) followed by a 9-piece Israeli funk band (possibly the best live performance I’ve ever seen, from The Apples), all for a measly £8. Absolute bargain! Dancing like a maniac for 3 hours is definitely the best way to end an exhausting week.

Hopefully by the end of next week I’ll have completely finished all the testing, and I’ll be ready to start something new. In the mean time, I’ll just continue with the mind-numbingly repetitive key-strokes until all the checks are done. Whoever said astronomy was exciting has clearly never tried testing every possible read-out mode of a modern CCD detector a hundred times!

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