Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The lost tribologists of Argonne

I received the grim news that tomorrow marks the last of our "casual Thursdays," which can only mean one thing and that is summer is coming to an end. Yet one feels that it has hardly started. I wanted to spend a bit of time visiting my student interns in their various environments; last Friday I high-tailed it down to Bloomington Normal to see the students at Illinois State; yesterday I went to visit Ellen Briggs at Argonne. A slight thrill of nostalgia as I entered once more through the visitor center, three long summers have I spent there, but not three long winters thankfully.

I discovered that Ellen was working with a group involved in developing oil additives. Her project was looking at using naturally occurring minerals as lubricants, rather than the conventional synthetics, the idea being that whatever comes from nature can return to it without harming it. One may argue the validity of that argument I suspect. In any event, she showed me round her little kingdom, wherein she makes various tribological measurements of scuffing and friction and so on. Tribology is one of those subjects (apparently unfamiliar to Firefox since it is questioning my spelling) that I have always been vaguely aware of but not known anything about. I joked to Ellen that from the sound it smacks of something anthropological. It turns out I'm not alone in that thought. Later I learned from the group leader that the DoE bureaucrats told him to find a new name in funding proposals because there were always questions about why DoE should be funding Native American research.

I noted that the stimulus has struck home at Argonne because the roads were all asunder in a massive resurfacing project, the first since about 1957 I wouldn't wonder.

1 comment:

hyvä elinikäinen said...

It's thrilling to be part of the inspiration behind one of your spouts. Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity :)