University physicists are sitting up on a grim "death watch" this morning at the Everett St. Cyclotron Lab after starting up the balky 745-ton machine for a non-stop, three week marathon run.
Because of a faulty transformer, officials fear they may not be able to crank up the atom smasher again if they let it stop before new parts arrive next month. Two men shifts have been assigned to the temperamental cyclotron on a 24-hour guard: one man is never allowed alone in the same room with the high voltage instrument.
The molecular mixup started Sunday night when the cyclotron first showed signs of this collapse. Gerald P. Weiss 2G was the first to witness the starting transformer burn out.
"A Plain Headache"
"I finally shut it off," he said afterwards, "because I didn't want to get the blame for it. If you ask me, the thing is always breaking down. "It's a plain headache." Weiss is a research assistant at the cyclotron laboratory and a graduate student in nuclear physics.
The last major breakdown occurred last spring when water from a puddle in back of the laboratory leaked into the building and caused a short circuit in the cyclotron's magnetic coils. The machine was out of use for six weeks while the puddle water was drying.
This last breakdown was especially inopportune since it delayed the thesis work of three graduating seniors for more than a month.
A question of safety in the laboratory arose as the temporary repair job left wires hanging in the transformer room. Dr. William M. Preston, Director of the Cyclotron Laboratory, refused to give a definite statement on the present safety conditions.
"There is a certain amount of hazard in all such research projects, as opposed to industrial machines which have imperfections ironed out by frequent revisions," he said.
Complex Body of Magnets
The cyclotron which requires two buildings to house it appears as a complex body of magnets, vacuum tubes, and wires. It is used to supply radio-activity for experiments, and is powerful enough to generate a hundred million electron volts.
The Naval Office of Research which finances the cyclotron project at the University, seemed unconcerned about the temporary breakdown, and Navy official Lt. Cmdr. P. G. Conwell told Preston that the Navy Department was sorry it happened. The cost of the repair will come out of the Laboratory's $25,000 monthly budget.
Preston said that if damage costs ever mounted higher than the laboratory's budget, he would present the bill to the Navy with an ultimatum.