Hébert Labs

Hébert Labs

At the turn from the 19th to 20th Centuries the United States were at war with Spain. Desiring a technological advantage, the United States government gave a $50,000 grant to Samuel Pierpont Langley so he could develop an engine with a power-to-weight ratio sufficient to achieve and sustain flight. Then they gave him an additional $70,000 to develop an airplane capable of carrying a man. They wanted to be able to observe Spanish forces from above.

120,000 tax dollars later, Langley had only two failed launches to show for all that expense.

A week after Langley's second failed attempt, two bicycle mechanic brothers from Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright, flew their airplane, the first airplane, at Kitty Hawk, and they did it for a cost of only $8000. The scientific method applied to creative thinking, even when constrained by frugality, won out over a budgetary "bigger hammer."

In the parlance of the scientific method, it was empirically shown that spending more money is not the solution to every problem, and government involvement is not necessary to the advancement of science and technology.

To the contrary, government involvement in science and technology can be quite the hindrance. And I am not the first to notice this.

 

If you had demanded that the NIH (National Institute of Health) solve the problem of polio not through independent, investigator-driven discovery research but by means of a centrally directed program, the odds are very strong that you would get the very best iron lungs in the world--portable iron lungs, transistorized iron lungs--but you wouldn't get the vaccine that eradicated polio.

Samuel Broder,

Director of the National Cancer Institute
(parenthetic added)

 

So Hébert Labs are dedicated to private research, and development, and to the ideal of the scientific method applied to un-fettered curiosity and un-stifled creative thinking. It is here that I do my work, directed only by my own curiosity and interests.

Background

In January of 2001, I began work on a self-funded R&D project. The DOD Explosives Safety Board held a conference, The UXO/Countermine Forum, in May of 2000. I was given a copy of the proceedings by an acquaintance, and in them read that the best technology for detecting buried landmines was a trained dog. Chemical vapors of the landmine explosives are present in the atmosphere above a landmine site, and a trained dog can smell them.

In a moment of inspiration I believed it might be possible to develop a man-portable mass spectrometer which would meet or exceed the sensitivity of the canine olfactory system (part per trillion or better), and began working to find out.

At the time I owned Binah Corporation. It was there that I began testing the various aspects of my idea. One by one I proved each of the critical components which were necessary to expect a complete system to work as I envisioned.

In time I closed Binah Corporation and moved from a 4 bedroom 3 bath executive on a corner lot in Dallas, TX to a 40 acre ranch in rural Oklahoma. It is there that I built a set of home-based facilities wherein I conduct my work.

Hébert Labs are those home-based facilities. Though I do accept contract work from time to time (i.e. rarely), by far most of my work is my own self-funded research and development.

The Facilities

Hébert Labs consist of five facilities in three buildings.

  • an office & library
  • a physics lab
  • an electronics lab
  • an annex
  • a machine shop

The Office & Library

The first building houses my office & library. The ground floor is divided into two sections; In the anteroom is my library and my office is set up in the back area.

In all my years of academics, undergraduate and graduate school, I bought every book, both required and recommended, for every class I took, and I never sold a single one back. Each of those books is now housed in my library.

Additionally, I kept extensive files of all my course work, homework, exams and reports. And of course I kept hardbound copies of my senior research project report, my masters thesis and my doctoral dissertation. All of these are housed in my library.

I also have collections from some of my professional activities. In the early 1990s I worked for a few years at the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I began there as a student intern, was an applications physicist II at the time of the project closure, and ended my time there as a contractor working on the disposition of the assets following the project closure. During that time I amassed a collection of project reports, documents, technical drawings, publication preprints and conference proceedings. These too are housed in my library.

But science isn't my only profession. I am also a fully licensed and ordained Southern Baptist minister, and was the pastor of a small congregation for several years. Consequently I have many books on theology, history, languages, commentaries, and of course all of these too are housed in my library.

Finally, I have several artifacts and documents that I consider parts of my special collections. These are things that appeal to me for such varied reasons as personal history, past accomplishments, or simply because I thought they were "cool." Examples of items in my special collections are an antenna from the ion source I worked on at the Superconducting Super Collider, a Channeltron CEM from my dissertation project, and a few leaves of incunabulae and illuminated medieval manuscripts.

The Electronics & Physics Labs

The basement of the same building is also divided into two rooms. One is my physics lab and the other is my electronics lab. And really, what's the point of growing up to be a scientist if you don't get an underground laboratory?

My electronics lab is set up to fabricate prototype printed circuit boards. I use an LPKF C60 to mill features into the PWB copper layers, eliminating the need for those highly caustic acid baths normally associated with circuit board production.

Sometimes, buying an expensive piece of equipment is the most cost effective choice. Such was the case with the LPKF C60. I could certainly develop and build my own, but it would have taken years, and it would have cost far more than just buying one.

On the other hand, buying a lamination press would have cost thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars. It took some time, and effort, but I built my own for significantly less.

And, of course, the equipment to electroplate through holes and vias would have cost thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars too, but it is a necessity when building multilayer boards. Once again it was dramatically less expensive to develop and build my own.

Similarly, for an SMT reflow oven I use a PID controller and a laptop computer to regulate a Black & Decker Infrawave toaster oven. I literally saved thousands of dollars.

The net result is that I can design and produce my own electronics in-house, and for a fraction of what it would cost to send them out for fabrication. Moreover, I don't have to wait weeks for them to arrive. Finally, and most importantly, since I never have to send my design data outside for fabrication, my proprietary data stays proprietary.

Next door is the physics lab. This is where the fun happens. The physics lab houses things like my oscilloscopes, DVMs, an arbitrary waveform generator, a  time domain reflectometer (TDR), a benchtop furnace, a laboratory oven, a vacuum oven, vacuum pressure sensors and controllers, thermometers and temperature probes, the kind of test and measurement equipment you'd expect to find in such a lab. It is, after all, here that I conduct experiments, perform tests and take measurements.

It is also here that I keep my small vacuum system test stand. It incorporates a 6-way cross mounted on a 50 l∙s-1 Pfeiffer Balzers turbomolecular pump that in turn is backed by a 200 l∙min-1 roughing pump. This system can easily achieve vacuum pressures in the 10-6 Torr range, and has even reached the 10-7 Torr range (with just a little effort and a bit of patience). But most importantly, it can be stored out of the way when it's not in use. (The same can not be said for my full-sized ion pump vacuum system test stand, which is why it is not housed in my physics lab.)

The Annex

Behind the first building is an annex building. It is a one room multifunction building that is pressed into service as needed. Currently it houses the lamination press and electroplating system from my electronics lab, and several files and books that find no place in my library.

The Machine Shop

The final facility of Hébert Labs is the machine shop. Located down the driveway, it is a 30' x 40' metal building with 2 full-sized service bays and three work-station areas.

The machine shop houses pretty much what you'd expect to find in a machine shop - an air compressor, an assortment of welders, band saws (vertical and horizontal) - but most importantly it houses a ShopTask CNC combination mill/lathe. I bought it while still in graduate school so I could fabricate the hyperboloid surfaces of the quadrupole ion trap that was the subject of my doctoral dissertation.

In short, whether I need to fabricate a new experimental device or work on one of the family vehicles, I can do it in my machine shop.

Hébert Labs Library

This photo is of the Hébert Labs library. The same building also houses my office and labs (see below).

Hébert Labs facilities

Behind my library is an annex which houses lesser-used books, files and equipment.

Not pictured in the drawing above, located a few hundred feet south, is my machine shop (see photo below).

Machine Shop