In praise of Steve Innes

On 2011-Oct-19, in Death, physics, Progress Report, by paul

Yesterday, my machinist (okay, I like to think of him as MY machinist!) Steve Innes was going to come over to my laboratory to talk about the last design work for our experiment, and pick up the stock needed to finish construction. I was about to sketch the last
drawings he needed to finish, and I received an email announcing that Steve died this past weekend. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Gone.

I’m still not really adjusted to this reality of his death, and I’m pretty upset. I really liked Steve–he loved what he did, and I really admired
his grasp of mechanical design and his ability to translate this ability into tangible functional and BEAUTIFULLY machined equipment.
His work was absolutely top notch. Invariably when I set out to design some apparatus, I would run into either a design logjam—either I wouldn’t know how to get where I wanted to go, or there would be too many ways to get there and I wouldn’t know what the best method was. I’d call Steve, he’d come over, and we’d have a design discussion at the whiteboard. Problem solved. Steve had a design intuition that was invaluable; every experiment I did had his hand in the design, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I would NEVER have received tenure at the University of Southern Maine without his help.

I owe my career to him, and I’ll never be able to thank him, and that’s very upsetting, and sad, sad, sad.

So, to Steve’s wife, and children: please know that Steve will be much missed by me, everyone in the Physics Department, the Planetarium, and countless others at USM—and that he has contributed enormously to everything we do. I’m very, very sorry for your sudden and shocking loss.

And, to all experimental physicists out there—thank your machinists for the enormous contribution they make to your research. Do it now.

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