A Different Kind of Laboratory

Let's face it. Sitting in front of a computer all day can be mind-numbingly boring. Unfortunately, that's how I spent my summer job at Lincoln Laboratory. Don't get me wrong, the work was quite interesting. But it's really difficult for me to keep focus sometimes when the sun is shining outside.

So I was more than happy to visit another national laboratory where work has just a little more blue sky involved.

CAT-3 Wind Turbine, National Renewable Energy Lab, Boulder, CO

Welcome to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Boulder/Golden, Colorado.

My friend Heena (a fellow rising senior at Olin) spent her summer here, working for the National Wind Technology Center. She studied the dynamics and natural modes of turbines. But more importantly, she got to get outside and actually climb up these things!

Luckily, during my visit she took me along to the top of a turbine.

Climbing up a wind turbine

When Heena originally told me we'd be climbing up to the top, I thought we'd be on a ladder the whole way. Turns out even hardcore MechEs get lazy (they sometimes need to go up and down more than 10 times in a single day), so NREL built an elevator inside the turbine that takes you most of the way up. But you do need a ladder for the last 15 feet or so.

Here's a shot of Heena showing off the inside of the turbine.

Heena Shows off the Inside of a Turbine

But the coolest part was the view from the top.

View from top of CAT-3 Research Turbine, NREL, Boulder, CO

In the background you can see the foothills of the Rockies that border the Denver/Boulder area to the West. The narrow canyon you see as you follow the line of the turbine nose directly outward is Eldorado Canyon. This natural funnel makes the NREL wind site an ideal location for harvesting energy from high speed winds. It's also insanely scenic, especially if you're looking through rock star protective goggles like I was.

Overall NREL seems like an awesome place to spend a summer (though Heena tells me she definitely did her share of indoors computer work). And it taught me one of the biggest lessons of my summer: that I might be just a little bit happier if I can find a job that puts me closer to blue sky and the wild outdoors.

Posted in: