Instructables
Picture of How to Pack: Shipping Big Science
So, say you have a $20 million dollar science experiment, and you need to ship it to somewhere like Antarctica.  How do you do it???

The KECK2/BICEP radio telescope project here, at Harvard, needed to do just that, and hired the American Repertory Theater crew to do the packing.

You can tell immediately that ART have been doing this, have passed down their best practices, and have been paying attention to how to do it right, for many years.  You can also immediately tell that their team features clear communication and well-thought-out designs, by how easy it is to assemble their crates, and by the confirmatory labels that make mating parts match to each other.

The job they did was SO amazing, that I had to document their techniques.
 
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Step 1: Packing Theory

Picture of Packing Theory
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Anyone who has ever packed anything, from a homemade ceramic mug that you only need to get across the state, all the way up to this telescope that needs to cross many continents, knows that shipping can be a dodgy proposition.

The secrets are to have 1) a structurally sound box -- one that isn't going to crush or crumple, and that is well-supported and braced on the inside and 2) make sure the item you are packing is surrounded -- tightly packed -- with material, or generally otherwise constrained -- so that if the box is impacted, the object experiences little of the force.  Packed, literally.

The ART crew did all of this with very high quality materials (e.g. no two-by-fours -- all milled lumber), the right types of materials (angle brackets when necessary, stiff foam when necessary), a clear minimum of excess packing material, very exact measurement and fitting tolerances, and a generally all-around incredibly high level of expertise.

A good enclosure has a satisfaction all it's own, but how much more so when you get to put part of such a grand instrument inside of it! Was this telescope an optical telescope or some fancy microwave gizmo for detecting B-mode polarization?

reakter3 years ago
It's always nice to realize that others also pay attention to the details, both ART for taking the time to fabricate the case, and you for noticing.
Wow! That's a lot of science! ;-)
Goodhart4 years ago
Very nicely put together ! (so to speak).
... and the mark of true genius lies in finding the right people to do the job. Of course it makes sense to have the theatre company pack your radio telescope.
caitlinsdad4 years ago
1. Would Tim Anderson roll over on his kon-tiki because this shipping crate might end up as landfill on the tundra or drift out with the garbage tide? Sure, it may be good quality formaldahyde-free plywood but you could have used some eco-friendly packing fill.  I would have printed some cut-out patterns for furniture on the crate so it would get reused, at least not for firewood, it does get  cold there.
2. Why not let the engineering students have a crack at designing a shipping container so that the contents would survive a drop off a ten-story building...wait, that's the other school.
3. How much does FEDEX charge to ship that?

Nice job.

westfw4 years ago
Another interesting thing to watch is set-up or tear-down of a high-tech trade show floor. Picture 100+ vendors, each with some sort of fancy "booth" (some two stories tall) and all sorts of relatively delicate high-tech gadgetry (nothing quite so delicate or pricey as this telescope, of course.) And it all has to go up and come down in about 8 hours.
Or professional theater troops with big traveling shows. If you've ever been to such a show you know that it seems as if that stage has been there forever. Little do most know but that stage was contructed from scratch using modular stage elements by techies like myself.

Time from the show coming in with the semi's full of stuff to the end of set-up including lights and sound checks, aprox 4 hours.

Tearing it down and packing it up again - aprox 2 or 3 hours.

Show itself - 90 minutes.
kelseymh4 years ago
Oh, and for anyone who cares...here's are some publications from the BICEP telescope:

An overview of BICEP (conference proceeding)

BICEP's performance envelope for CMB polarimetry (published in Ap.J.)

BICEP measurement of the CMB polarized power spectrum (published in Ap.J.)

...And it's pretty cool that the second hit from Google is this very Instructable!
kelseymh4 years ago
Wait a sec....so, are you a post-doc in Harvard Astrophysics, or a member of ART?!? Either way, this is an absolutely awesome writeup, showing some of the "behind the scenes" (okay, should I really say "backstage"?) stuff that goes into making real science work. Rated and featured, because Science is Cool.