Wafers but no ice cream: Volunteering at the National Museums Collection Centre

You can read John’s previous blog post here.

The New Year arrived and with it my next trip to Building 4 at the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton. Although it was a grey and windy day, it made no difference to my volunteer tasks as a view of the outside weather conditions is not required for my duties – just as well, as there are no windows where I work! My exposure to the world came at lunchtime, which almost was a picnic in the grounds, but more of that later on.

On arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see the incredible work that has already gone into the new building. Pre-Christmas it was the beginnings of a shell, with foundations and masses of ironwork constructed. Now it has a roof on it, many walls built within the structure and is a hive of activity. Although this seems to have little to do with my current volunteer role, it has interesting parallels as precise and detailed drawings must be used for the building construction, albeit they will have been ‘drawn’ by computers and not with ‘quill and ink’ as are the drawings that I work with.

Building work continues apace at the National Museums Collection Centre
Building work continues apace at the National Museums Collection Centre.

Working in the Museum is ever changing, thoughtful, enquiring and most of all fun. One of our tasks that day was to find, measure and photograph some silicon items which closely resembled CDs, formally called Silicon Wafers but apparently lacking in flavour and hard to digest. But more about lunch later. Silicon is one of the key components of integrated circuits such as those used to power computers, cell phones and the like. The wafer is a thin slice of silicon which can be treated in many ways. It is a very high quality semi-conductor, ideal for the production of such circuits. Components of an integrated circuit can be installed inside a silicon wafer in addition to being installed on or around it. If you wish to know more, the ‘www’ is a great way to find out!

John Hutchinson
Here is yours truly with one of the wafers.

Our standard engineering drawing project was planned to continue but the replacement rolls and cubes (or ‘boxes’ to the uninitiated) which we needed had not been delivered. These cubes are used to contain up to 16 completed drawings on four rolls once they have been photographed, measured and entered into the collections database. Whilst this may seem like an ordinary day partly wasted, we switched into ‘out of the box’ think mode and determined that we could temporarily improvise on our cubes until they arrived. It is this sort of challenge that adds additional interest to my work – there is not a day goes by when we do not need to take some form of decision using our experiences and knowledge, which is very satisfying and rewarding.

We had been advised that at lunchtime, GPS would help us! Work was going on within Building 14, where we normally have lunch, and so this did not give us much choice as we were assured that ham, cheese and silicon wafers were not for the faint-hearted! As part of the ongoing maintenance to most of the mezzanine floor of the building, it was temporarily closed off to everyone, hence access to lunch areas was restricted. In search of sustenance, we then found that the road to the North side of the building was also No Entry! An about turn took us round the other side and in the distance at the far corner of the building was a park bench… Fortunately this was not meant for us and we entered through the back door and had a much needed lunch – without wafers and no ice cream!

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