Monday, October 10, 2005

Science is Made out of Metal

Hardly anything in fantasy is ever made out of metal, except swords. On the other hand, there's a lot of metal in science fiction. That might be a practical rule for distinguishing between the two fields.

And the difference between science fiction and real science? Real science involves physical chunks of metal, not just descriptions of it. The ideas that appear in our theory papers are just science fiction until we take our designs down to the machine shop and build something. That's what the scientific method means.

All the magic in our modern world is made out of metal, and before I started working in this lab, I took all those tiny, shiny things for granted. But someone has to make them. Even if they come from a factory, someone had to make the prototype. Look at the spring on your clickable ballpoint, and imagine trying make that. Now think about the parts inside the computer you're using. The ball-bearings on the fans.

We have a need for lots of "simple" things that don't exist, can't be bought off the shelf. Boxes, flanges, mirror mounts, but made out of vacuum-safe or magnetic-field-proof materials, at specific sizes, to hold custom made mirrors and lenses and cells. The sheer amount of skill, patience, and practical knowledge that goes into the creation of these things astounds me.

So anyway, I'm going to be taking a shop class this quarter. I'll probably blog about it. But it doesn't start until tomorrow, so I don't have any interesting experiences (finger amputations, brushes with death) to report just yet. Stay tuned.


The class has been cancelled.


Jonathan said...

I just couldn't resist. Here's a song you really should hear:


Ashi said...

You only think magic's made of metal because you're a physicist, you'd see magic made out of rock if you were a chemist:)

But I do think it's amazing how much time they put into our instruments. And how expensive they are :P

$140 for a small steel box... $1000 for glass wool covered with aluminum....

Mary said...

Chemical magic seems much more old-fashioned; potions and secret formulas. One of these days they'll discover that eye of newt actually is a powerful antibiotic, or something...

As for the cost, because I know our machine shop guy very well, and because the money doesn't come out of my pocket, I don't grudge them a penny of it. I think they should be paid more.

Ashi said...

Do you mean Jeff? Or do you mean Jim?

And I don't mean that they're over-priced, I meant the commercially bought ones we get from MDC etc... but I recognize that they have to make those things 'by hand' as well.

Still, I didn't realize the machine-shop people were underpaid.

Of course, my view of economics is very different and disgruntled from that of most Americans.