Argonne National Laboratory

Harold Gaines

By Brian GrabowskiFebruary 20, 2013

Harold Gaines is an Engineering Specialist in the Biosciences Division at Argonne National Laboratory and has been dedicated to his work at the lab for nearly 39 years.

When did you start working at Argonne and what type of activities were you initially involved with?

I started working at Argonne in 1974. I visited the lab with my guidance counselor from Olive-Harvey Junior College in Chicago and I was very interested in the possibility of working at Argonne. He had a contact in the Electronics Division that he introduced me to, and from an education and career path perspective, my counselor played a key role in getting me interested in working at the lab.

I wound up interviewing for a position in the Applied Physics Division and accepted an offer to work at the lab shortly thereafter.  I spent the first nine years of my career as an electronic technician/reactor operator. Part of my job included being a fissile material handler responsible for working on fuel changes, and it was very interesting work. After that, I spent two years in the fabrication department in the Electronics Division, and finally moved to the Biosciences Division, where I’ve been for the last 28 years.

What role do you play at the lab and what kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I have multiple hats, but my day-to-day role is instrumentation work. It’s essentially me being focused on equipment and instrumentation repair and sometimes working on calibrations as well.

I work on the equipment being used in the labs, including things like centrifuges, water baths, stirrers, hot plates and incubators. People typically come to me first when they’re having any problems, and I’m normally the first line of troubleshooting.  If I need to call the contractor in for calibration work, then I’m normally the person that helps take care of this. Otherwise, if the repair is something I can do fairly easily, I’ll handle it myself.

From an overall work and cultural perspective, how have you found your experience working at Argonne?

I have been very fortunate because I’ve worked in family-type atmospheres in every division I’ve been in since coming to the lab almost 40 years ago. There has always been a strong sense of collaboration, camaraderie and cooperation. From a social perspective, things like Christmas parties and other activities have always been strongly embedded in Argonne’s culture as well. 

I’m also the President of the lab’s African-American Black Club and helped found the club when it started in 2004. Our mission is essentially to provide networking activities and a social climate for African-Americans here on site, and we’re also aiming to expose some of the inner city youth to the lab and trying to trigger their interest in science as a possible career path.

To expose the students to the lab, we have invited middle school and high school students from Chicago to come out for tours. We are also working to implement a scholarship program as part of the mentoring work we do. The scholarship is made possible by the support the lab has provided by participating in our fundraisers.  

Growing up, how did you get interested in science and electronics? 

Thinking back to grammar school, there was an electronics interest there, and also in science projects as well.  I’m not exactly sure what really triggered that interest in electronics, but it was there. I can also remember the science projects I used to work on in school, with light bulbs and different projects like that, which were of interest to me at that young age.

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