Thursday, May 25, 2006

Trap Day!

Wait, didn't I already have a post called "Trap Day"?

Well, yes, and we saw the trap pretty much every day after that for a while, but this is an even better trap day than that.

That trap used a set of magnetic coils which had been handed down to us from grad student generation to grad student generation. Unfortunately, those coils were too large for our purposes. To make any progress, we were going to have to replace them. Last September, we did that... And the trap stopped working, for reasons we never exactly figured out. I thought it was never going to work again, until that day in January, when it finally did... With the old, too large coils.

Last week, right before we left for Hawaii, we opened the vacuum system and put in a different set of smaller coils. (Then we sealed it up and gave it the week it needs to bake out and pump down.) I was morally sure they would never work, and ready to quit if they didn't. It would have meant eight months worth of work down the drain, and no way forward.

But we got a trap! We got a trap! We got a trap! And on the first try. That never happens. Ken, at least, has been through this process many times, with a couple of different post-docs, and it just isn't supposed to work that fast. And this despite the fact that the chirp laser was seriously messed up this morning (Ken is now killer at fixing diode lasers) and the argon laser is dying (Pati made it work, eventually) and the Ti:Sapph laser control box kept messing with the lock (Ken and Pati together) and we ran out of liquid nitrogen (it takes an hour to fill) and the vacuum is still fluctuating and the trap cameras all got moved, and the new coils blocked their angles of view... In spite of almost everything going wrong that could go wrong, we got got a trap on our first try.

And now we have coils that will work, in there, and a mock-up of our cavity, and our impossible project is still on, and Ken can say in his thesis proposal (coming soon) that a major hurdle has already been overcome.

But I don't want to press our luck. Maybe we should quit while we're ahead, take a break to savor the success... Maybe we need to go back to Hawaii, now.

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