SPIDER WEB: The Introduction

“So how do you feel that graduate school differs from undergrad?”

That has been the most common question that I have gotten over the first three months of my master’s degree at MIT. To be completely honest, there are some things that haven’t changed at all: I live in my sorority house, my friends are mostly the same, I still sometimes choose 25-cent ramen noodles over real meals. The one big thing that has been different for me is the magnitude of time and energy I have dedicated to lab work.

This semester, I’ve been working with a postdoc in my lab, Dr. Michael Roesch, on developing the continent’s first comprehensive mixed-phase cloud inlet system. The goal of our inlet is to simultaneously sample droplet residuals, ice residuals, and interstitial aerosols and get read-outs of all three. The project is run out of the “Fab Lab” (note: “Fab” for “Fabrication” and not for “Fabulous”) which is part of the Cziczo group at MIT.


Over the course of the last six weeks, we have gone from theory to fully fabricated instrument. The result? SPIDER — phaSe seParation Inlet for Droplets, icE crystals, and aeRosols.

One of the first days of construction on SPIDER! Printed parts are on the left.

There are a couple cool features of SPIDER’s design and construction that I feel should be shared with the world. First, almost 70% of SPIDER’s parts are 3D printed using the Formlabs Form2 printer. The printer gave us the power to make custom parts that fit our needs and save a ton of money. For this project, we decided to switch to the tough resin as we felt it was much more likely to withstand the cold extremes of Mt. Washington and the weight of the inlet. 3D printed parts were used mostly for support structures of the inlet but also for a little bit of decoration!

SPIDER was built to be modular — the top part houses a glass chamber while the bottom part houses the instruments and electronics.

Designing the supports for SPIDER took a lot of brain power from me and Michael. We needed something that would be lightweight yet sturdy. We decided to go with aluminum framing, supported by 3D printed parts. Over the course of February, we CADded the 3D parts and built the housing.

Working on the bottom chamber of SPIDER. Before any of the paneling was added, I fit pretty nicely inside!

SPIDER also has some cool electronic components to it. In order to monitor the temperature of the system, Michael wrote a program to view 16 simultaneous temperature readings using Arduino. We ran a calibration (which involved collecting snow from the ground outside the Green Building), and Michael’s script can now show corrected temperatures at a nearly 1 second resolution live for all 16 sensors!

Once the script was written, the next challenge was untangling all 16 sensor wires.

After nearly six weeks of hard work, we had a beautiful, finished SPIDER system. Unfortunately, with all the things to do on its last day or so, I forgot to take a picture with full paneling and insulation — whoops! I’ll have to get one after our campaign ends. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the finished guts of SPIDER.

Isn’t she beautiful?? Sitting atop SPIDER is a 3D printed isokinetic inlet and a 3D printed large PCVI. SPIDER is controlled by 6 Alicat Mass Flow Controllers, including one which can run up to 250 LPM. Everything that looks teal or green is 3D printed.

So, now what? On Wednesday of last week (April 12), we deployed SPIDER on it’s big field campaign! From the twelfth through the twenty-sixth, SPIDER will be living on top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Right now, Michael is spending the week on top of the mountain with our new friends at the Mount Washington Weather Observatory. Today, he is setting up SPIDER so that it can start it’s Mt. Washington Experimental Beta Test — SPIDER WEB.

Over the course of the next week and a half, I’ll be keeping a bit of a field work blog via my Twitter account and Medium. Stay tuned for more information on our site visit, our trip on April 12th, and then my week on top of the mountain.