Ira Leifer studies the atmosphere. He also has the geekiest RV ever, set up to measure methane levels on the go. It has, for instance, “a mast that rises up five stories, like a periscope.”
This is actually Leifer’s second mobile lab. The first one he set up in a rented camper van in 2010, after driving his equipment down to the Gulf Coast to measure methane in the wake of the BP oil spill. NPR reports:
[A]fter his research cruise ended, Leifer thought, “Why not sample the air on the way back home?” So he jury-rigged a setup for these delicate instruments in the back.
“It involved a lot of work with an air mattress folded in half, a giant tarp filled with Styrofoam peanuts, bungees holding things to the wall and so on,” Leifer says. “It really looked like a Rube Goldberg kind of weird device in the back with this gas chromatograph sitting in the middle of it.”
He ended up taking 6,600 measurements of methane with that setup, for the first cross-country study of this sort. (Houston didn’t measure up so well. Neither did L.A.) After that experience, he wanted a roving lab of his very own.
There is a point to this, besides creating the van least likely to get you laid. Leifer is working to get “a firsthand sense of just how much methane gas simply leaks out of refineries, pipes and wells before it can get to would-be customers.” Spoiler: There’s a lot.