We have over 3,000 kilometers of cable. These are run-of-the-mill ties we use all over the place. In a pinch, we've also been known to use them as measuring sticks. And sometimes, when we run out of caution tape, we string together quite a few and use them to cordon off an area we don't want people to disturb.
We had one of those mechanical kung fu chipmunks in the lab. He became a mascot for our team, so we made these patches for our standard, lab-issued jackets.
These measure your dose of radiation. The one on top is active and reads out your dose as you get it. The lower one gives you your cumulative dose each month. When we initially started working during this shutdown period, we didn't know how radioactive it would be. They sent in teams to measure, but we still had to plan everything before knowing how radioactive it was.
This is for my phone and GoPro camera. I'm doing a film project with a friend to film all of this shutdown period. People don't understand what happens down there.
We carry around general tools. If you go in and forget a wrench, it probably takes an hour to come back up, get the wrench, and then come back down.
We work on several stories of scaffolding. Murphy's Law says the guys above us will occasionally drop a wrench.
I've been using the GoPro as a documentary kind of thing, but I've seen more and more people using them to refer back to their work.
We don't want to transfer finger oil to the stuff we're installing. Theoretically, sweat and finger oil could lead to corrosion in certain conditions.
We took the entire detector package out on a crane and refurbished it in our clean room. We were connecting all these panels of pipes. From one side, we named the panels from the left, looking toward the center. From the other side, we named them from the right. I kept getting confused, so I just put the L and R on my shoes so I could look at the detector and know.
The electronics are extremely high-tech, but the tools are often not and the work is more hands-on and artisanal. There's a craftsman kind of mentality. We tend to look more like cabinetmakers than high-tech engineers.
We often use bolts made of either carbon fiber or PEEK [polyether ether ketone]. These materials have lower radiation than metals but are still quite strong. This means they cannot break without serious damage. And because of their low mass, they won't degrade as much as other metals.
I spend a lot of time crawling on my knees to get to the work area. Then there's scaffolding all over the place. Sometimes I'm at the wrong height for what I need to be working on, so I'm kneeling to fix things all the time. The kneepads are not required, but they keep me from feeling like an old man at the end of the day.
Neal David Hartman likens his job to that of a miner: He spends much of his day deep underground, disconnected from the world. But Hartman's work is more high-tech than that of the average mineworker. A mechanical engineer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, Hartman does repairs and refurbishments on the world's largest, most powerful particle accelerator. This machine, which uses magnets to smash together particles moving at almost the speed of light, allowed scientists to identify the Higgs boson in 2012. Better known as the "God particle," the Higgs boson helps explain why much of the universe's mass exists.
"It is the most bizarre mine you can imagine," Hartman says of the ring-shaped tunnel, nearly 17 miles long, that houses the accelerator. (Among other things, it is home to more than 1,600 superconducting magnets.) "It really is like another dimension where we're mining knowledge, not minerals."
After operating successfully for three years (and helping two scientists win the Nobel Prize in physics), CERN's accelerator was shut down for maintenance in February 2013. Now Hartman and dozens of other engineers pass through a biometric reader each day, descend underground to enter the machine, which stands eight stories high, and crawl inside different pockets to do their respective work. Hartman's job is to design, install, and maintain one of the accelerator's smallest subdetectors, which records and maps the particles flying out from superfast collisions.
The accelerator is set to start back up in early 2015, with nearly double the energy it had before. Scientists are hoping to use it to re-create the conditions that existed just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. "We want to understand the fundamental laws of nature," Hartman says. "There will always be something more to understand about our world, about where we come from. The work we do here is all geared towards answering those questions."