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Research trash?

  1. Jun 21, 2007 #1
    this really isn't the right place for this but a lot of practicing researchers reply here so i figured this was the best place to ask this.

    what is done with the remnants of experiments that fail/finish/lose funding?

    at the lab i'm working at right now we have a humongous SMES coil just sitting around collecting dust. it's the remnants of a project that ran out of funding but the thing probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. it seems like such a colosul waste of money that it just sits there and is useless.

    now i intend to go into research and am all for more funding for it but it is absurd to me that so much money is spent and then nothing comes of it. lets not make this a debate about the other places government tax dollars are wasted though. what is usually done?

    and does anyone want to buy a 10ft diameter SMES coil? probably only a couple hours of use???
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2007 #2
    Just because its not in use now, does not mean it wont be in use later.
  4. Jun 21, 2007 #3
    nope this will never be in use. the hts material is old tech, no one cares about it and SMES were discovered to impractical anyway.
  5. Jun 21, 2007 #4


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    Look for ways to recycle the items if no apparant reuse is found.
  6. Jun 21, 2007 #5


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    How you handle equipment that are no longer in use depends on who owns it. Capital equipment that is the property of the US Govt. is not easily get rid of. You need a lot of justification (and a lot of paperwork) for the equipment to be removed and junked. You essentially have to justify to the taxpayers why it is obsolete and will never be of any use.

    Now, if there is a use for it, then it certainly is possible to reuse it. I know this for a fact because I built a deposition chamber using a "used" vacuum chamber that was about to be junked. It was part of a project that no longer is funded, and it has been sitting in a lab for almost 10 years doing nothing. Luckily, through contacts, I was informed of its existence just at the time when I was about to buy something similar. So I had it transfered to my group and it now has a 2nd life.

    So yes. While you can't simply save something for the sake of saving it, if you have a project that actually can make use of something that has already exist, I would think that such cost-saving measure would be highly desirable, no matter where you work.

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2007
  7. Jun 21, 2007 #6
    i think i'm going to petition our head chair to turn the SMES coil into a pool, it's really hot around here right now.
  8. Jun 22, 2007 #7
    This is absolutely true. However, I'd like to stress another problem - professors, as a whole, are awful pack-rats. They see people spend three years building something and are understandably unwilling to trash it. It's not only difficult to get rid of equipment, there's little to no will to do so. And so university labs turn into graveyards for grad experiments. . .

    What's really awful is when they take this habit to industry. My former employer filled his private company's lab with - I'll be generous - "stuff" from bottom to top. Old posters in closets, old grad student samples from the 80's filling up drawers - I'd say 15% of the total lab space or more was taken up by equipment that never even got plugged in during years of working there. . . it was terrible.

    On the upside, I learned well how to throw stuff away, even if there's someone who wants it there. It's a skill that's continued to serve me well in the lab and at home.
  9. Jun 22, 2007 #8
    For companies that make gazillions dollars it is cheaper to be inefficient to some degree. It takes times, energy and money to be really efficient and foresee everything.

    Just like on a construction site, you will see they are stocked up real good. They can't just halt their work because they ran out of nails. Always have to have more than needed.

    I used to work for a cable company long ago, the stuff they threw away everyday costs thousands. One roll has 1000 ft of cable. But they would actually unwind about 500ft of cable and throw away the rest because it's hard to unwind the cable the closer you get to the center of the roll. So they would take the next brand new roll when needed.

    The point is, as long as there is profit, inefficiently is necessary to catch up on time. When profit or funding is scarce you might want to consider cutting on things.
  10. Jun 22, 2007 #9


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    Waste is necessary on time-sensitive, labor-intensive projects. I was taught this lesson while supervising a large construction project during check-listing. You always need more materials on hand than the job is going to take, and it's a whole lot cheaper to buy them all at once that to get more piece-meal when you run out. Then you've got extra materials to dispose of. When the project was done, I called my boss at the home office and asked when he could send up a truck to pick up the tractor-trailer-load of extra carpet, doors, ceramic tiles, shingles, etc, etc. He said "We'll get someone to haul that empty trailer back." At first, I thought he had misunderstood me, but when I started to explain, he stopped me and said "Have that empty trailer ready to go by Friday". Duh! I took enough materials to remodel my parent's bathroom and build them a new tile shower (my wife and I were apartment-dwellers at the time), and put out the word to friends and family that if they wanted to remodel or do home improvements, they had only a couple of days to come pick up the materials. I needn't have worried - that stuff practically evaporated! My boss made a final visit to the site and thanked me for getting that "empty" storage trailer ready.
  11. Jun 22, 2007 #10
    This is very true. It costs a LOT of money to store stuff. You need a surplus building, you need to track all the items, you have to pay someone to pick up unused stuff, catalog it, enter it into the computer that its in surplus, store it away in surplus. Now you have lots and lots of things piling up and taking up space and costing money. Its so much cheaper to just throw it away and buy a brand new thing when the time comes.
  12. Jun 27, 2007 #11
    Don't forget that many areas of industry have been fighting very hard to remove the waste that is mentioned in above posts as inevitable - see the Just In Time business model.

    In any case, academia doesn't hang onto decades old experimental apparatus that haven't been used in years because of some idea of efficiency. They do it because either its hard to get rid of, they don't want to get rid of it, or (more often, in my opinion), both.
  13. Jun 27, 2007 #12
    What does SMES stand for?
  14. Jun 27, 2007 #13
    Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage
  15. Jun 28, 2007 #14


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    just be sure you publish it. "amazing failure of widely expected result!"
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