One minute with Frank McConologue, mechanical designer

Frank McConologue of the Technical Division designs components for Fermilab’s scientific projects. Photo: Reidar Hahn

What do you do at Fermilab?
Just about everything that’s physically made starts out as a drawing. We design things; we produce drawings. The drawings go to our machine shop or our welders or they go to an outside machine shop or an outside welding outfit. They get made, and we use them in the experiments.

How long have you been here?
Seventeen years.

How has mechanical design changed since you’ve been here?
It hasn’t changed much, even from when this laboratory first started and things were done on a drafting board manually. Now the computer-aided design has made it more efficient, so that aspect is much better. But still, when somebody designs something, it really comes from the head. Whether you put it on a napkin or whether you do it with CAD, it’s still your idea. Technology doesn’t think for you.

How has working at Fermilab benefited you?
There was a laboratory meeting at the high rise with our last director. And one of my buddies says, “Hey, man, you’re lucky!” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “We are now the Fermi Research Alliance,” and it was said that we now have a deal with University of Chicago where they will pay half the base tuition. So they paid about $20,000 a year towards my son’s education. Holy cow! It’s almost like I got a $20,000 a year raise for four years.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on the Mu2e project right now. That’s a big project; that’s occupying probably 60 percent of my time. Forty percent of my time is with a man who’s outside of this division, a scientist by the name of Henryk Piekarz. It’s a design for the rapid-cycling superconducting magnet. Under most circumstances all the designers here work under an engineer, but in some cases you can work directly with a scientist, which is kind of interesting and cool.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s like making the 1957 Chevy. It was a team. Maybe one guy carved it out of clay and said, “That’s what I want,” but really there are hundreds and hundreds of people behind the scenes that are involved. Everybody has a little part, and it becomes reality eventually. It is kind of cool to be able to be here and get involved with something — I don’t care how minuscule it is — but to go out there and see it sitting on the floor in operation is a thrill.

Troy Rummler