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

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 …

A Systemic, Land-Grant inspired, Vision for WSU and MME

It’s fall semester and a time for new beginnings at WSU. WSU’s new Provost Mitzi Montoyo is beginning the welcomed process of developing a new Vision/Mission statement for the WSU system. This will not be easy. In the last two weeks I’ve been told by several people that, “vision statements are pointless” and “every Land-grant school has the same vision/mission”. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I believe these statements are precisely our system’s problem. Those of you that are in-tune to the campus culture and have read My WSU Drive-to-25 recommendations and Taking Land-Grant for Granted posts know that this is a … » More …

On Onboarding

There comes a time when every community/team/organization must onboard new members to maintain vibrant resiliency while avoiding the pitfalls of isolationism and nepotism. Community is a fickle thing. You’d think we’d be better at this considering America as the cultural melting pot. Somehow though I’ve never received any formal training or discussion on the importance of initial conditions in the team building process. For those of you preparing to enter a new community, understanding what you … » More …

Applying Ethical Standards in Engineering

I’ve sadly had to resort to ethical standards at several points in my (still brief) career. The odds are that you too will be faced with an ethical dilemma during engineering practice. The purpose of this post is to A) establish the ethical standards governing our field, B) present a procedure for applying those ethical standards, C) applying the procedure through several examples I’ve directly encountered, and D) provide a means of last resort.
The ASME Code of Ethics
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is the society governing the mechanical engineering profession and controls membership and associations. ASME has a site … » More …

Rethinking Reports

I created the image above to look like a quality cover page of a technical report students would typically submit in my ME 406: Experimental Design course. The hand is included to make a point — when is the last time you were submitted a paper report you had to open by hand? Many of us in academia can quickly cite multiple examples. While many of us have remained reticent to digital trends enabled by the internet, times are quickly changing. » More …