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TRIUMF | Vancouver, BC | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Can a Physicist Get Excited about an Elevator?

by Nigel S. Lockyer, Director

The short answer is YES. And not because its an easier way to carry two cups of coffee without spilling them or because elevators remind me of Albert Einstein’s famous musings about acceleration and frames of reference. No, its because the TRIUMF main office building presently has no elevator.

The auditorium and the theory meeting room are on the second floor. During the rainy season (OK, let me be more precise, during the winter months), when Vancouverites are not enjoying beach volleyball by the thousands, pounding the Grouse Grind, sailing on English Bay, or picking up after their dogs, a few science-curious people (more than 100) show up at TRIUMF for two lectures on numerous Saturdays during the school year. Lecturers are from Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, or TRIUMF.

Attendance is strictly limited by our auditorium size. People are turned away. Some gung-ho high-school students travel an hour by bus, drag their mom or dad along, and listen to lecturers about cosmology, radiation therapy for ocular melanoma at TRIUMF using a proton beam, the higgs boson, stars exploding…and so on. But what happens when grandma or grandpa shows up? Well sometimes she or he gets a helping hand up the stairs and in some cases it just doesn’t work…and they don’t come back. OK, enough is enough. Somebody build us an elevator!

Its not just for the public. When we have a Board of Management meeting at TRIUMF — a group of 40 people, vice-presidents of research from our owner universities — the on-site catering staff must carry 40 lunches and desserts up and down the stairs. Let’s see now, 40 people, who drink two coffees and one water, that’s 120 pounds, then add food…and it is a lot of trips. OK, enough is enough. Somebody build us an elevator!

Our former Director, one of the founders of TRIUMF, is Erich Vogt. A tall man, a heroic man. A bionic man…well at least a bionic knee. He fights his 80+ year old body up those stairs every day to his second-floor office. OK, enough is enough. Somebody build us an elevator!

Now a Vancouver hero and Olympic icon is Rick Hansen, of Man in Motion tour fame. He was a student at UBC and yet he hasn’t been to TRIUMF yet. One of my goals is to get Rick to TRIUMF. I am a big fan of his as are many at TRIUMF and in Canada. However, we can’t get him to the auditorium, since he is in a wheel chair. OK, enough is enough. Somebody build us an elevator!

Finally, we got it. Within about two months, TRIUMF will have a new elevator.

Oh, I forgot to tell you, it goes up only one floor.


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  • David

    Does this mean you have to supply gym memberships for the catering staff now?

  • Perhaps indeed! Maybe it will be a manually operated elevator…and we can use our arms instead of legs to haul things up and downstairs.

  • Nancy Malarkey

    That’s it. My next vacation I will be headed to Triumf for the elevator ride. How fast does it go?

  • Well, its probably a 90 second ride between floors. But then again, if it takes 45 seconds to go half the distance, it would take 22.5 seconds to go the next quarter, and then 11.25 to go the next 1/8th, and then 5.675 to go the next 1/16th…and will the elevator actually ever reach the second floor?! (A silly attempt to channel Zeno’s paradox.)

    But yes, please come by! We have free public tours…

  • Pity I can’t come for a ride, but am completely chuffed that you have people come over for free lectures. I think a manually operated elevator would not work around physicists – you would all be vying to break the thing apart to see how it works and how it can be improved!! 😀 Still – happy days!!

  • Amanda Bizzinotto

    In my school we also don’t have an elevator. And they usually say the stairs are good for us! Because we arrive at school almost sleeping and the practice of an exercise helps to wake us up! So we arrive more attentive to classroom.

  • Indeed! We do like to look inside swiss watches, u.s. elevators, and european cars.

  • Good point; the stairs are one way to ensure that people are alert. Maybe we’ll only let people on the elevator that are awake. // More seriously, fitness is a real concern that deserves attention. At TRIUMF, we have a corporate team that runs in the annual 10k Vancouver Sun Run. We also have teams that play volleyball, roller hockey, tennis, golf, and basketball when its not raining out. And, with a site that is about 12 acres, there are many days where I spend a good deal of time walking back and forth to meetings.

  • Sharon

    I find it fascinating that the physicists want to calculate how much work it takes to carry lunch up the stairs!