Here’s a business idea: Fix microscopes. And make house calls. To the poles.
Too late, Jim Janoso has beaten you to it. Toting a suitcase crammed with mirrors, lenses, flashlights, tiny screwdrivers, small allen wrenches, oils and canned air, he travels to the world’s most remote research outposts so scientists can better look at little things. “I never thought I’d get down here,” he says while swaying side to side on a laboratory stool as our ship makes its way south. But he’s bound, for the third time, for Antarctica. It’s been more serendipity than calculation that made him microscope mechanic to the poles. He is trained as a mechanical engineer and has worked in the aerospace industry, for the forest service and a concrete manufacturer. Happenstance introduced him to the former proprietor of Northern Focus Optical, which traveled mostly to middle schools and high schools tending to microscopes in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Janoso took over the firm in 2003 and branched out to higher-end microscopes and expanded his circuit into Alaska and some its most isolated camps.
Word of mouth soon enough landed him a gig in the Antarctic. Now, he says, “I sometimes forget where home is” (actually Roundup, Mont.) while going to polar regions for their spring and summer season and roaming the lower 48 states much of the rest of his time. As we bob across the ocean on the way to Palmer Station, he dissects the ship’s high-end microscopes.
There will be more microscopes awaiting his trained eye and steady hand when we arrive. Janoso sometimes gives long-distance direction on the art of microscope maintenance to their handlers around the world. Careful about moving from -40 to a heated room lest condensation creep in between the lenses. Mind how you move from the warm to the very cold or risk cracking glass.
Other problems require his rare skills and the spare parts he’s toted with him. Inevitably, he’ll need something that’s not stowed in his bag. Sometimes, he’ll borrow tools in the ship’s machine shop and fashion a fix. Just as often, the repair will have to wait until next year – if ice and weather and research funding gaps don’t conspire to delay him longer. “I’ll go anywhere,” he said. “I love it.”