Henderson trims armature that will be used in an electric
talk shop about their craft
it and they can build it -- a solar race car, armature for submarine
motors, components for a tumor-disintegrating device.
versatile craftsmen are the four employees who make up the staff
of the physics department
Some of their work orders include detailed blueprints, while other
jobs start with handwritten notes or verbal descriptions. It's
at these latter times that foreman Rodger Ashley and machinists
Frankie Henderson, Roger Morris and B.H. Kent pull up a chair
in the shop's office and discuss how best to build what's needed.
they use stainless steel and aluminum to forge their work, said
Ashley, who's been in the department since he started at U.Va.
30 years ago. The tool makers also collaborate with other shops
on Grounds, such as the chemistry department's glass shop, to
custom-build an apparatus.
is a really neat job," said Kent, the junior member of the
team, who came on board three years ago after the factory where
he'd worked for 19 years closed. Devastated at the time, he now
says it's the best thing that ever happened to him. "I went
from designing circuit breakers at my old job" to crafting
tools used in medical and cancer research today. A recent project,
he recalled, involved making a wristband that monitors blood pressure,
heart rate and other vital statistics. They are now being tested
on the U.S. military, he said.
Ashley tests the solar race car that he and the other machinist
"pit crew" built last summer per U.Va. engineering
project that gets Ashley revved up is the solar race car. He and
his staff worked with engineering students, who designed the car
from the ground up. "I welded and constructed the frame based
on their specifications," Ashley said. Last summer, U.Va.'s
car was one of 29 that qualified to race from Washington, D.C.,
to Orlando, Fla. It was a big feat, as it was the first time U.Va.
had entered the national competition, said Ashley, who's looking
forward to being part of the race car team again this year.
biggest change all the machinists have faced during their tenure
at U.Va., which totals 73 years, involves using technology. For
example, the lathes they use to build tools and components are
now computerized. Ashley said he misses the old equipment, similar
to what he was trained on as an apprentice years ago, but concedes
that the level of precision the new machines can achieve is far
superior. His colleague Roger Morris, who's been at U.Va. 20 years,
compared the old and new equipment to the difference between mowing
hay with a horse versus a tractor.
B.H. Kent calculates the materials he'll need for a job.
trimming armature to be used in electric submarine motors -- a
job he's doing for the materials science department -- Frankie
Henderson said he liked working with his hands and building things
because he could see immediate results. Trained as a machinist
in the army, Henderson said he finds the cancer and medical research
projects most interesting. Both he and Kent regard their work
on the video tumor-fighter, a device that disintegrates brain
tumors in humans, especially intriguing and gratifying. They made
a component for the device, invented by a U.Va. physicist, that
connects the laser unit to the skull.
has been at the machine shop for 15 of his 20 years at U.Va. "It's
a good department," he said. "The professors here who
utilize our services respect our work and let us know it."
Morris agreed, adding, "I don't think there's a better-equipped
facility on Grounds."
addition to providing tangible services to their customers, Morris,
Henderson and Kent also teach graduate and exceptional undergraduate
physics students a course that introduces students to a machine
shop environment and emphasizes safety, Morris said.
wishing to place an order with the machine shop should contact
Rodger Ashley at email@example.com
or call 924-6567. The shop's hourly rate is $18.50.
Marshall, who administers the machine shop, along with the physics
department's electronic and computer services, sings his staff's
praises. Himself an alumnus of the department's post-doctoral
program, Marshall explained that there are three levels of machinists.
In ascending order they are: machinists, tool-and-dye makers,
and model-makers. Ashley, Henderson, Morris and Kent -- all model-makers
-- provide the highest level of precision craftsmanship, Marshall
said. They're especially good at welding and fabricating high-vacuum
systems, which is important for physics research, he said. "Systems
are clean and welds are sound, something that's hard to accomplish."
the shop's primary focus is equipping labs in the physics and
chemistry departments, it provides service to departments throughout
the Grounds and to companies and organizations affiliated with
U.Va. research. The shop's work can be found as far away as Switzerland
and at nuclear and particle physics labs worldwide.