Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

Is it parahydrogen or para-hydrogen?

Here’s a paradox of paramount importance: which paradigm is right — parahydrogen or para-hydrogen?

Should a hyphen (-) be used to describe this paranormal spin-isomer of hydrogen with ‘parallel’ nuclear spins?

In this post I’ll review the history of the name, present style guides for the use of a hyphen, and risk ripping the field apart in a debate analogous to the Oxford Comma.

“Astonishing Successes” and “Bitter Disappointment” the history of hydrogen’s specific heat

The discovery of hydrogen’s para- and ortho- nuclear spin isomers was the triumph of Werner Heisenberg’s new quantum theory. So much so that the Nobel Prize committee specifically cited this … » More …

How to make cryogenic Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) shields

MLI Basics

The Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) Shield (aka thermal radiation blanket) is very important in cryogenic systems. MLI shields insulate components from thermal energy transferred via light on rockets, satellites, and cryogenic experiments. The shield consists of 10s of alternating layers of polymer mesh and reflective mylar (metalized nylon) film. To understand how MLI blankets work, consider an equation approximating the resistance to radiative heat transfer:

R_rad= 1/(A_s σϵ4(T_s^2+T_sur^2)(T_s^2+T_sur))

where As = radiating surface area, σ = Stefan-Boltzmann constant, ϵ= emissivity, Ts = the absolute surface temperature, Tsur = absolute surroundings temperature. Or more generally: q” = σϵ(T_sur^4-T_s^4) assuming the surface is at lower temperature … » More …

How we made (and remade) the HYPER community website

It took 10 years for me to start calling the HYPER laboratory a community. In one month we’ll have had a website for six of those ten years. In many ways those first six years were much like the six year tenure process we follow as faculty. While we’ve continually added content (>300 posts and >75 pages) within our core themes of Research, Teaching, and Service, we’ve never really sat back and thought about how to make the site truly great. This post tells the story of how the site evolved, from starting as one of the ‘guinea pig’ sites my neighbor friends (Steve Locker … » More …

‘A Fee is a Price’ transferred to Grading Rubrics

Most professors face the problem of developing a “Grading Rubric“: or the list of scores and deductions to be given for attributes of an assignment. To give you an idea of where rubrics are at in engineering education, the leading voice in engineering education pedagogy, Richard Felder advocates rigorous assessment with rubric transparency. Contrast these complex grading rubrics with what one of my good friends recently told a class: “You lose a letter grade every time your group is responsible for schedule slip that could have been avoided if you had cared… — if you hold final construction up, even by a class, you’re down a … » More ...

Remotely difficult? How WE manage the HYPER lab from near or far.

Now that the COVID-19 epidemic has forced authorities around Earth to act, many of us are waking up to the new normal of having to manage experimental research communities from afar for extended periods of time. Most lab PIs travel so much that lab management seems remote anyways. But when only essential personnel are allowed in the lab, how do you keep people engaged without skipping a beat?  In this post we’ll cover how we keep the HYPER lab’s ~35 members working together regularly, and how this allows us to transition quickly to remote work with even a very hands-on experimental hydrogen cryogenics laboratory. We … » More …

How HYPER uses 6S for Success

It’s really simple. Continuous improvement results in speed, more success, and safety. Procedures are easy to continuously improve — they handle complex tasks with ease, they take input freely from many, they always take blame when something goes wrong, and they never complain about change. I enjoy good procedures. So… Why do we bury procedures in complex lab manuals that are never where we need them? Why do we leave procedures in passive black and white prose instead of fun active colorful mental maps? Why do we teach procedures in individual lab exercises that nobody else will ever use? » More ...

How to identify and handle an abusive adviser, boss, or colleague

Whenever I’m repeatedly asked for advice about a topic it becomes a post on this blog. Around this time of year many undergraduates and graduates working in the HYPER lab are considering offers to advance their careers. The most common, and rightly critical, question is how to find the right mentor and colleagues for that next phase in life while avoiding the abusive adviser/boss/colleague (I’m going to use ‘authority’ from here on) that could stall your career for years. It’s no easy task — you’re typically granted only a 30 minute choreographed interview in your potentially new authority’s carefully orchestrated office before deciding whether to … » More …

Laboratory Space and the Conservation thereof

One of my thermo professor friends has a joke, “The first law of laboratory space is that it must be conserved, at all costs.” It’s only partly a joke — laboratory space is as serious of an issue as it comes to research faculty. We make decisions to come to a university, and stay or go, based on lab space. There is never enough space for everyone. Changes to policy result in changes… and there always seems to be someone who ends up unhappy.

So high up on the list of thankless jobs that people will hate you for is developing a policy for managing … » More …

The puzzle of lab management

The question of how to reliably recruit brilliant students came up in a project management workshop I recently attended. Evidently I budget substantially more money and time for working with undergrads because I’ve got an ‘army’ of ~20 now. It’s working well. But I’m sure many of you are puzzled over how and why I manage this many.

Quickly the question of ‘why’ bother managing ~20 undergrads working in the lab:

There’s no better way of ensuring you have the right person for a job than years of experience working with them.
There’s no better way of preparing someone to work in … » More …

How HYPER hit it big and so can you!

“Hi my name is Jake Leachman, I’m a new faculty member at Washington State University and I want to solve your hydrogen storage problems.” It was the fall of 2010 and I was having my first phone call with a DOE hydrogen and fuel cells program manager.

The program manager responded: “Kid didn’t you hear? Secretary Chu (DOE Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu that is) tried to eliminate the entire hydrogen program last year. All the pros in hydrogen are looking for jobs now. You missed the boat.” Door slammed.

I hadn’t heard. I’d just come fresh out of a cave in Wisconsin (literally … » More …