Since some weeks now, many colleagues have come back to the lab, others continue to work from home. These different working environments will continue to accompany us in the coming weeks. This week, Sophie Spangenberger met (online) with Michael Tovar from the X-ray lab at HZB in Wannsee.

You are responsible for the X-ray laboratory in Wannsee. How did you handle the lockdown?

Our lab operations are geared to the experiment and, of course, only work when we are there. The instruments run in 365-7-24 mode and may only go into standby mode once before Christmas. With the corona lockdown, we had to close the lab completely. This was the first time on this scale since the laboratory opened in 2015. I spent the last few days before moving to the home office together with my colleague René Gunder to shut down all instruments in a controlled manner and to bring the lab into an operationally safe state so that no accident would happen if no one could ensure safety on site. That was a very strange feeling and we really did not like it.

How did the reopening go?

On the first laboratory day on May 4, everything went backwards again. The restart of the instruments after the longer standstill took a little longer than planned because parts of an X-ray tube were clogged, which was not immediately obvious. In addition, the lab had to be equipped in accordance with safety regulations, including signs indicating the use of masks or minimum distance, room separation, etc.. At first, it was unusual to work with a mask, but we quickly got used to it.

Besides the X-ray laboratory, you are in the process of dismantling the Falcon E11 experiment as part of the reactor shutdown. What influence did Corona have on these procedures?

The E11 (“FALCON”) will continue to be operated at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland and we wanted to hand it over as soon as possible. Corona did delay the work, but by joining forces, we were able to have the instrument ready for transport by mid-June. PSI finally picked up the E11 on June 29th. After a short technical check they will rebuilt it in their facilities. Originally, an HZB team was supposed to accompany the reconstruction at PSI. This is not possible due to the current travel restrictions. However, of course we are also available for advice and support in the distance. And as soon as circumstances permit, we will pay an on-site visit. 

Did you have to drive to the lab during the lockdown?

At the beginning of the lockdown, in March, I was once on site to collect medically relevant protective equipment as part of the HZB donation campaign for hospitals. I was glad to be able to make a small contribution to improving the situation in this way. Another reason was the clearing of a laboratory to make room for a transfer of instruments from the University of Glasgow.

The X-ray school planned for May was cancelled. What happens now?

This is a great pity, because the school is in great demand and is proving to be very helpful for the participants. Correspondingly, our own motivation to run the school is very high. We are now considering alternative solutions in order to let it take place despite the restrictions, for example a higher virtual share. Nevertheless, the focus of the school remains on the practical execution of experiments in the lab and the interaction of the participants.

How did you feel your time in the home office and what remains?

I work a lot in the office and lab, presence is simply part of my professional life. That is why I did not make use of the home office option before Corona. However, during my home office I found out that I could handle administrative tasks very well from home, such as company contacts, orders, participation in webinars and video conferences. That is definitely a positive learning effect. I did not like the fact that there is a more or less smooth transition between private and professional life in the home office. I prefer working in a clearly defined environment.