It’s four am, and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in a white house, and it’s ringing. Something is happening in the lab.
What do you want to answer that phone? Is it a physicist with the experience and knowledge to deal with the apparatus?
Even if he’s only just gotten back to bed after two hours of dealing with a colicky baby? Well, tough, because you’re stuck with him.
Yesterday was Not A Good Day…
The Empress of Eastern New York decided to get fussy Saturday and Sunday nights, which was officially
brushed off diagnosed as “colic” (that’s medicalese for “your baby cries inconsolably for no clear reason”) yesterday at the pediatrician’s (we did, however, learn that SteelyKid is gaining almost 2oz/day– she’s up to 9lbs 1 oz, a gain of 9oz in the not-quite-five days since her last appointment). She wouldn’t go back to sleep after her 1am feeding, and it took a couple of hours of soothing to either get her calmed down or just wait out the crying.
At 4am Monday, we got a flurry of phone calls– first Campus Safety, then one of my astronomer colleagues, then Campus Safety again, telling me that there was a flood in the basement of the science and engineering building, where my lab is. The third call said that the lab was 1-2 inches deep, and the on-call plumber was on his way.
“Well, he’s a plumber, he can figure it out,” I said, and tried to go back to bed. But, of course, I was now Awake, and ended up going over to campus to see what the hell was going on.
This is the third time my lab has (at least partially) flooded, all of the issues relating to the incredibly kludgey way that the water situation in the basement is handled. The drains for the building are higher than the level of the basement labs, probably because they used the low-bid architect, so some sort of pump needs to be used to get the water out.
The sink in my lab drains into a barrel under the sink, which contains a sump pump that pumps the water back up to the level of the first-floor sewer drains. As you might guess, this cause some problems when the power goes out– the sump pump wasn’t put on the emergency backup circuit until after the last flood– or when the sump pump burns out. This is a problem, as I have a water-cooled turbo pump and some big electromagnets that require cooling water, with a flow rate of a couple of gallons/minute (measured by running it into a bucket for a minute according to my wristwatch). The cooling water is on 24/7, so no matter when the power goes out, it’s a problem.
After the last disaster, when the power went out and my lab flooded an inch deep, we took two steps to avoid future problems: one was to put the sump pump on the backup power, the other was to add a line to divert the cooling water into the floor drain (this was cleared with the appropriate people, so it’s not a waste disposal violation). I thought we had the whole thing taken care of. How foolish of me.
Yesterday’s flood happened because the floor drains for the building work on the same principle as the sink drain in my lab, only bigger. Any water going into the floor drain runs into a tank somewhere, with a great big “sewer ejector pump” to pump it out into the sewer system. There are three of these pumps for the S&E building, and all three went down Sunday night, when they lost one phase of the three-phase electrical power. No pump, no drain, and my 2 gallons/minute of cooling water backed up into, well, every lab with a floor drain, plus a couple where it just seeped under the walls, somehow.
So, at 5am, I had to shut the vacuum pumps down, and move stuff around so Facilities could wet-vac up the lab. For the third time in seven years (well, this is the first time Facilities has done it– I wet-vacced it myself the first two times).
My project for this week is to spend a couple thousand dollars to acquire a hefty recirculating chiller, and set up a closed-loop cooling water system for my lab, because I am well and truly sick of this shit. I’m also looking forward to getting somebody else to pay for this, because running water is not something I should have to be spending my time and grant money on.