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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

Could smaller hydrogen liquefiers be better?

This is a pre-print of my October 2020 article for Cold Facts Magazine by the Cryogenic Society of America.

Although the minimum work to liquefy hydrogen is 3.92 kWh/kg,[1] the current best performance for industrial scale hydrogen liquefiers is near 10 kWh/kg. In other words, the best hydrogen liquefiers are only achieving 40% of the theoretically possible efficiency. This energy cost to liquefy hydrogen is approximately 30% the energy content of the fuel at the lower heating value. Given the current trends towards renewable energy and low carbon content of cool electro-fuels like hydrogen, humanity is overdue for fundamental innovations in hydrogen … » More …

Reflections on privilege, decadence, and my life to become an academic

It’s Labor Day weekend and the beginning of the third week of a quarantined fall semester due to COVID-19. Over the last couple of weeks our community was home to considerable displays of decadence — parties of 100s without social distancing or facial coverings. Now the National Guard is coming to town to help cope with the surge of COVID-19 cases. Pullman topped the New York Times list of highest percentage of COVID-19 cases per capita on Labor Day. I hear the increased frequency of the Medivac helicopter flying over my house transporting people to Spokane; reminding me of the day I nearly lost my … » More …

How we master engineering through daily practice

“How do you practice to perform as an engineer?” — HYPER lab mentor PK Northcutt II

The question was simple and sincere. But I (Jake Leachman) had no answer. I had been an ‘engineer’ for over a decade and was now teaching others to be ‘engineers’, but I had nothing. With a decade of experience practicing football, shotput and discus, Jazz trombone, you name it; I had practiced for decades but could not identify a singular act or trait in engineering that could be considered deliberate ‘practice’ as I had, well, practiced with these other professional performances. Sure I’d given students homework problems to do … » More …

Learning how to say thank you; from one professional to another


Looking back over my life a consistent thread has emerged with the people I’ve tried to keep around — they know how to say thank you, or express gratitude, in memorable ways. Although this could be a nuance particular to me, my guess is you’ve noticed similar trends in your life. So why is it we so often struggle to say thanks as a community? How am I supposed to teach aspiring professionals to say thank you, professionally and appropriately, to other professionals? I had … » More …

You had an idea! Now what?

It’s awesome when it happens. A new concept or idea for something to solve a problem for yourself or someone else just popped into your head (more on that here). For me the hair stands up on my neck and I want to run to the nearest person and tell them the idea and why it’s important. Evidently I have a crazy look on my face when this happens because it’s scared people before. Here’s the deal — excitement like this is contagious, and unless you’re careful to get your ducks in a row, it could lead to false hope/promises and unmet expectations.

What … » More …

Grit and Overcoming the Fear of Failure

A Forward

By Yulia Gitter

As I sat on my back porch late one night chatting with some colleagues from the HYPER Lab, we somehow managed to come up on the topic of failure. This has always been a subject of interest to me because I have failed a lot in my life so far, but have always been able to bounce back quickly and thrive nonetheless. Knowing only a very small part of my colleague’s background, I just blurted out “have you ever failed at anything?” I meant no harm by the question but was genuinely curious as to what his response would be. … » More …

HYPER lab Stories from Summer 2020

Every semester young and old members of the HYPER lab complete a work specification document and review it with Mark Parsons and I. This work spec develops an anticipated plan for the term while identifying ideal team-mates and overall goals. Ideally, this plan merges the personal drive and overarching individual goals with those of the lab. At the end of the term the final story of work is submitted in a format that allows the story of what was accomplished to be easily told to potential employers or supporters. To build on this tradition, I realized this summer that these stories have a greater … » More …

Core Tenets of Complex System Evolution from Thermodynamics

It was no less than Albert Einstein who said, “Classical Thermodynamics is the only physical theory of a universal nature in which, I am convinced that, within the framework of its basic concepts it will never be overthrown.” Around a century later this statement holds true; classical thermodynamics remains a cornerstone of physical law with physicists trying to resolve the predictions of quantum gravity with the laws of thermodynamics.

After over a decade of teaching thermodynamics and system design, it’s time to more formally merge these disparate fields. If the Laws of Thermodynamics do indeed apply to and govern everything in the physical universe, they … » More …

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 …