23 June 2016

Small wonders

Science in a tight space requires ingenuity, tenacity and a really good pair of tweezers.

For more information on any of the above images, please click on the image.


By KRISTEN COYNE

We deal with a lot of extremes at the MagLab. Depending on the subject, we're the biggest, the newest, the heaviest, the coldest, the strongest.

And sometimes, we're the smallest.

When scientists put things in our magnets to study them, they don't have a lot of room to work with. The bores of the magnets — holes down the middle where scientists insert their experiments — are generally just a few dozen millimeters wide. And most of that space is taken up by other stuff scientists need to squeeze in to take measurements.

Which means we definitely sweat the small stuff here. With those narrow bores in mind, we build tiny parts for probes, fancy sticks with complex electronics used to slide samples into the magnet.

The samples themselves, often miniature works of art, fit on the tip of a pinky.

Working on this Lilliputian scale is a challenge for the scientists, engineers and machinists who make this stuff.

"The one thing that will make your life so much better is if you have the perfect tweezers,” said graduate research assistant Shermane Benjamin, who doubled the speed with which he assembled a special sample holder he designed after he acquired premier pincers. “Once you have good tweezers, honestly, anyone could do it."

We invite you on this page to take a closer look at the miniature side of the MagLab through a series of images by lab photographer Stephen Bilenky and others. For more images, visit the entire Small Wonders collection on the MagLab's Flickr page.