Physicists are famous for having heads wrapped around theories, but it’s been laboratory technician Dennis Tierney’s task to make sure they keep their feet planted on the ground, or at least on the floor of the Department of Physics’ machine shop, by fabricating a hammer as part of their Xavier experience.
“If it’s not on a computer, or connected to a Bluetooth, most students today aren’t interested,” says Tierney. “And it is important that even a physics major knows which way to turn a screwdriver because sooner or later a physicist will probably have to work with a machinist. And many of our students have never had a shop class because they were too busy taking AP physics. But even if they never pick up another screwdriver, they at least have some vague idea what it takes to set up the machines used in an experiment.”
Two at a time, students report to Tierney’s shop and learn the basics—and a typical 4H project this isn’t. The proper-sized drill bit, proper tolerances, correct tap size, thread pitch and more, are all based on a blueprint and specifications of .003 of an inch in all dimensions.
The project takes eight to 12 hours of lab time. Tierney, final arbiter as to whether the finished hammer passes muster, offers them this advice: “Pay attention to detail, watch what you’re doing and you’ll save a lot of time down the road. And that’s true with everything else you do in life, too.”