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Carl Rago Has More than Just a Job

Rago's son delights in the paper-maché Godzilla. (Photo courtesy of Carl Rago. Click for larger image.)

In 1997, Carl Rago and a few of his fellow SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory employees constructed a 9-foot-tall paper-maché Godzilla, rigged with two fire extinguishers shooting out its nose, and secured it on top of a small electric car. The group constructed the deranged float in conjunction with the Sand Hill Race—a soap box derby hosted just outside SLAC by a local business. Godzilla never raced with the other cars, but the monster made quite a splash at SLAC before making its way to someone's front lawn for Halloween.

This is just one reason Carl Rago says working at SLAC is more than just a job.

"It's a family experience," Rago says. Photographs of friends and coworkers cover his office walls, immortalizing stunts like the giant Godzilla. One photo shows Rago putting a unique twist on his regular appearance as Santa for the MFD Christmas party. Wearing an airtight biohazard suit, he appeared as "Bio Hazard Santa." 

Years later, Rago's on-site activities are no less quirky. Two years ago, he arranged a barbeque for the Linac Coherent Light Source engineering group titled "Dogs and Diagnosis," where attendees enjoyed hot dogs while a certified psychiatrist jokingly diagnosed them with various disorders. Patrons posed for photos holding a picture frame and making odd faces. More photos chronicle Rago's long, colorful career at SLAC.

Rago frames himself for diagnosis at the 2006 Dogs and Diagnosis barbeque. (Photo courtesy of Carl Rago. Click for larger image.)

Rago began working at SLAC in 1978, building liquid helium systems for bubble chambers. After his first trip to the accelerator tunnel, Rago was hooked. "It's beautiful," he says. "Many people don't think so, but it's beautiful." Rago spent 17 years as department head of the MFD, before moving over to the LCLS project.

Currently an administrative engineering manager for the LCLS Ultrafast Science Instruments group, Rago focuses on the lab-wide shift toward increased project planning and preparation. "Photon science is different than what we've been doing with high-energy physics. We'll have more users and shorter experiments and have to fit a really tight schedule. [The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource] is already doing that," he says. "It used to be that if something didn't work you would do anything but shut down the machine and fix it. That won't work now. Performance on a schedule will be more the rule, requiring extensive planning, documentation and process control.”

"I've had a few different jobs here at SLAC, but they're all just jobs," says Rago. "The passion for building, the dedication to the lab and the people, that's what makes it worth it."

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, November 19, 2008