Steven Glaser in his lab.

Heavy lifting

Outfitting the Glaser lab

November 1, 2015 by Thomas Walden Levy
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Fall 2015

At the northeast corner of campus, a stone’s throw from a century-old mine shaft meandering toward the Hayward Fault, lies another cavernous wonder: The Glaser Lab. Over the past two decades, civil and environmental engineering professor Steven Glaser has modified the space within the venerable Hearst Memorial Mining Building with an eclectic array of equipment to run research projects ranging from seismic safety and geothermal energy monitoring to designing intelligent sensor grids to measure Sierra snowpack.

1. CO2 stored in the red tanks is heated and highly pressurized to “super-critical” levels to simulate a geothermal zone when injected into the silver-wrapped vessel to the left containing hot sand. “It’s thought that if instead of water you use super-critical CO2 — a very strange state of matter that’s halfway fluid, halfway gas — there’s a big improvement in efficiency,” says Glaser.

2. With a two-foot-long section of battleship cannon repurposed into a “true triaxial testing” device, Glaser simulates underground geothermal conditions by squeezing an 11-inch cube of rock differentially in all three directions, at up to 200 psi, while heating it with steam up to 180 degrees Celsius or 356 degrees Fahrenheit. The device is set to simulate conditions at The Geysers geothermal power plant 72 miles north of San Francisco, a facility that produces about 60 percent of Northern California’s electricity.

3. Glaser is a coffee aficionado, specifically espresso, which he makes by grinding beans he’s roasted in this Gene Café roaster. Sweet Maria’s in Oakland sells him Espresso Monkey blend beans by the 50-pound bag. The coffee scent was too much for one student, so they MacGyvered the silvery aluminum tube that snakes up to a vent.

4. This Sierra sensor, like one of 150 Glaser that installed in the upper reaches of the American River basin to monitor snow conditions, is part of a wireless sensor network. The three-year-old National Science Foundation-funded project is, as Glaser puts it, “the largest ecological wireless network in the world.” The network monitors snow melt and water balance in the Sierra Nevada with sensors that measure snow depth, temperature, humidity, solar radiation effects and water content in the soil every 15 minutes at several levels — crucial information, Glaser points out, because Sierra snow melt constitutes 65 percent of California’s water supply.

5. The Abell-Howe crane, one of two in Glaser’s lab, can lift up to two tons — a must with many large experiments underway.

6. Glaser rescued the vintage Clausing lathe, manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1962, from the psychology department, which was throwing it away.

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