Featured Research: Machine Shop

Few events in nature are as chaotic as a volcanic eruption. So if your job is to capture thermal images of that eruption, it’s critical that the equipment be foolproof enough to work without constant adjustment.

That was the problem facing Michael Ramsey, a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, when he approached machine shop supervisor Tom Gasmire about building him a mechanism that would hold the filters Ramsey uses to take those images.

“They wanted to be able to take filters and mount them in front of the camera so they could go from one filter to the next and change the image the camera was taking,” says Gasmire. Each filter allows the research team to capture the energy coming from the wavelengths the volcanoes emit during the eruption. That information reflects the volcano’s temperatures and the minerals it spews.

“It gives us a kind of fingerprint to say the ash coming out of that volcano is at this temperature and is made up of these minerals,” Ramsey explains.

At first, Ramsey wanted to test the six filters through a manual slide mechanism. But the camera wiggled too much, and it was impossible to capture anything that was moving. To resolve this issue, he decided to move the filters to a wheel that is roughly the size of a dinner plate. Gasmire refined the idea, creating a carousel driven by a motor that would allow the filters to constantly rotate. The machine shop cut the metal and built the device, and the electronics shop designed a controller and battery.

“A lot of projects are that way – they develop over time,” Gasmire says. “It expands the thought and how to get things accomplished, and that’s what we’re here for. We support these groups and help them complete the projects and move forward.”

Ramsey’s group needed the new device working for a research trip to Guatemala, and says, “it was a bit of a nail biter” to make sure it was built and tested in time. But it worked well, and he was pleased with the results.

“I would definitely say they came through for us,” Ramsey notes. “It’s fun to work with them. You give them a little leeway and say, ‘Create something that does this,’ and they do a good job with it.”

Already, he has plans to further tweak the design based on his group’s experiences using it in the field; he’d like to add a lock to click the filters in place instead of allowing them to rotate freely.

That’s fine by Gasmire; it’s what he’s been doing since he began working in the shop in 1982.

“This is where you come for dreams to be expanded,” he says.


Machine Shop