Saturday, July 26, 2008

Physics virtual swap meet

Now this is a modest proposal whose time has come. It's common that experimental physicists gradually (or not so gradually) accumulate some pieces of equipment over the years that are laboratory "white elephants". These items are typically acquired for some specific research project or direction, and then over the years as research goals and priorities change, they can end up sitting around gathering dust. Surely someone else somewhere could make productive use of these items. Maybe someone should set up a trading post, where we could list these things and arrange reasonable trades or purchases.

Yes, used equipment vendors exist to address these needs, but they're not not always easy to do deal with, and frequently they offer pennies on the dollar. (For example, at Rice we have an 11-year old electron microscope. It's got a problem that is likely to cost about $10K to fix, though annoyingly the microscope vendor refuses to have a reasonable return policy - if we bought the relevant part and that didn't fix the problem, they'd refuse to take it back even for a restocking fee. Two different used equipment vendors have offered around $8K for the whole SEM (!), while they both offer the same item for sale on their sites for more than $100K.) I also know that people buy and sell scientific equipment on E-bay, but that suffers from some of the same problems. The point here isn't for scientists or universities to make money on this - it's to match up scientists/engineers with equipment that they could use and that currently has the wrong home.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea. I know there is an unloved Dilution Fridge somewhere that needs a home in my lab...

Anonymous said...

Put it on ebay and let the market set the price. what's wrong with that?

Doug Natelson said...

There's nothing wrong with using ebay, if that's what you want to do. I do think that a specialized site catering to scientists and engineers may do a better job at finding interested parties.

Aaron said...

How difficult is property management at a University? I know from a couple conversations I've had at Sandia that buying used capital equipment from a private party is incredibly difficult. Also, say a swap of a used dilution fridge for a scanning raman microscope is negotiated between two university professors. Would both need to justify the swap as equitable to some university suit?

Anonymous said...

I am going to grad school this fall. There is school that I can go to and it's mediocre, but its in-state (if I'm going to be going to classes in person it has to be in-state as I have a mortgage and have to work full time at a local job).

That being said, I can attend a more prestigious university but I can only take classes online (the whole degree would be online as the school is 1,000 miles away) because of my situation. What should I do? Opinions? I know that I will get a better experience going in person and that it would be more fun, but, that being said, is it worth the sacrifice in prestige? There are no prestigious universities that I can attend locally for my area.

Thanks,

Kris

Doug Natelson said...

Aaron - Property management is not too insane at universities, in my experience, especially if the item in question was purchased with university rather than federal funds. If it's university property, they typically have a depreciation schedule that tells them its alleged "blue book" value. You would be required to get at least that much for it or equivalent, and you'd probably be required to show that no one else at the university wanted the item before doing anything with it. Yes, someone would have to justify that the swap was equitable, though this may not be too difficult if pricing information/depreciation information is simple and available. I'd imagine that as long as everyone gets at least their depreciated value, everyone should be satisfied.