A day for science instruments and the people who use them
On Nov. 16, Yale celebrated the tangible evidence of its commitment to scientific inquiry and research excellence: its array of instrumentation.
The inaugural Yale Day of Instrumentation offered the full gamut of gadgets, from custom-designed computer chips to cosmos-searching spectrometers. The event at Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium brought together researchers from chemistry, physics, surgery, neuroscience, engineering, genetics, astronomy, cell biology, radiology, and other disciplines.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that what’s going on at Yale in instrumentation is mind boggling,” said Peter Schiffer, vice provost for research and professor of applied physics and physics. “Telescopes, microscopes, DNA sequencing, chemical analysis, imaging of every sort, high-performance computing. It’s spectacular.”
Schiffer noted that President Peter Salovey has made science an academic priority for the university, and said that a unified community based around instrumentation is essential to that effort.
Earlier this year, the University Science Strategy Committee highlighted instrumentation as one of four cross-cutting science investment priorities for the years ahead. The committee urged investment that would support the development of high-capacity, centralized instrumentation and engineering facilities to enable novel measurements at the frontier of discovery across STEM fields.
Jeff Brock, Yale’s incoming dean of science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said scientific instrumentation is vital to the increasingly important field of data science. “Where does the data come from? It comes from instruments, and one instrument that I think is sort of a meta instrument is the knowledge base that all of you bring to the instruments that you work with,” he said.
The event featured presentations from nearly two dozen faculty members, students, researchers, and staff who work with instruments devoted to such things as detecting dark matter, controlling the dynamics of molecular assemblies, and deciphering the folding mechanisms of genetic information in an individual cell. In some instances, Yale researchers either designed the instruments or fabricated parts for them on campus.
Pieter van Dokkum talked about the development of his Dragonfly telescope; Hui Cao discussed her work creating a variety of lasers for medical imaging; John Geibel explored the progress of 3D printing for biological organs and vessels; Bonnie Fleming gave an overview of components being constructed at Yale’s Wright Lab for mega-scale physics experiments; and Mark Johnson recounted his lab’s work documenting chemical reactions by combining mass-selective vibrational spectroscopy with cryogenic ion processing.
“You can’t buy the bleeding edge. You have to make it,” said associate research scientist Joel Greenwood, who talked about his work on instrumentation for neurotechnology. “Scientific advancement and instrumentation are tightly interconnected.”
There were presentations on a variety of related topics: the need for educational courses devoted to the design and fabrication of instruments, the current state of portable and durable instruments for archaeologists, ongoing efforts by the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association to design and construct a cosmic ray detector (and get NASA to launch it), and the role of instrumentation at the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.
“This is the most fun ever. It’s like Christmas morning,” said Ruth Montgomery, who detailed the instrument resources available at the Yale School of Medicine. Lisa D’Angelo and Chris Incarvito gave presentations for resources at Yale’s main campus and West Campus, respectively.
Throughout the event, there was discussion of diodes, drones, optical tweezers, liquid argon time projection chambers, cryo-electron microscopy, holographic laser traps, and integrated wave guides.
Faculty members Karsten Heeger and Joerg Bewersdorf, who were co-organizers of the event, urged the participants to make connections with other researchers across the university and learn more about new instrumentation that can benefit their work. Such connections will be the foundation for a Yale community of collaborators using instruments in new ways, they said. Organizers also held an instrumentation photo contest as part of the event. Winners are posted on the event website.
The event was sponsored by Wright Laboratory and the Office of the Provost.