The Hall of Failure


with the Wing of Obsolescence


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Exhibit Hall #3 : Quenching

The Hollow Cathode Discharge Metastable Atom Source experiment from 1992 to 1994 was the source of many additions to the Hall of Failure. The cause? A horrific attempt to quench (aka depopulate) the 21S level of helium from the mixed 21S and 23S metastable target emerging from the hollow cathode source. The idea is relativly simple, shine enough light on a 21S-->n1P transition, and let the atoms decay down to the ground state. The trick is to shine a bright enough light onto the atoms as they travel the short distance from the source to the collision region.

In a roughly two year period, at least five different light sources were tried. All failed. Below are a couple of the more interesting failures (or at least the ones we have pictures of).

name of piece: Hollow Cathode Lamp
artist: Ron Lockwood
date of acquisition: 1993
description: This was a specially built hollow cathode discharge, to serve as an intense source of helium resonance light. It was not bright enough to do any quenching. But, it was hot enough to cause the glass-to-quartz seal inside the discharge to fail.

A few other wacky numbers from the quenching fiasco:
  • 6 trips to the appliance repair shop to pick up replacement magnetrons
  • 36 type-N recepticles destroyed
  • 17 ceramic connectors for microwave cavity tuning destroyed
  • 14 helium discharge tubes destroyed
name of piece: Magnetrons
artist: Ron Lockwood, Garrett Piech
date of acquisition: 1993-1994
description: Another attempt at quenching was made using Microwave discharge lamps. The microwave power for the lamps was supplied by magetrons exactly like the ones found in microwave ovens. In fact, the first lamp was powered by a modified Toshiba microwave oven. After the magetron was burned out in a 'freak' accident, a replacement was purchased from a local appliance repair center. The repairman/salesman was reluctant to sell a magnetron to someone off the street (legal liability and such), but Ron handled him with the now classic line, "I know what I'm doing, I'm a physicist!" Pictured are three of the total of nine magnetrons Ron and Garrett went onto destroy.

name of piece: Mode Mixers
artist: Ron Lockwood, Garrett Piech
date of acquisition: 1993
description: A mode mixer 'stirs' the microwaves around inside a microwave oven to cook food evenly. If you instead try to use your microwave oven to light a discharge lamp, you need a mode mixer to couple the microwave power into the antenna feeding the lamp. Pictured are parts from a couple of home-made mode mixers that melted in the microwave oven.

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last updated: May-31-1997