Willard Libby got his Nobel Prize for radio carbon dating. He was at UCLA, but note that he is on the list of Nobel Prize winners that have been at Columbia. As Laboratory Assistant I distilled water! This concentrated the tritium content and allowed others to use what looked like the equipment in this photo to determine tritium concentration and hence to "date" the water sample, i.e. determine the amount of time that has passed since the water was in the atmosphere.

The chlorophyll molecule contains a magnesium atom, and zinc and magnesium have similar chemistry. As an undergraduate Research Assistant my job was to develop an experiment that determines how often the magnesium atom is replaced by zinc, using activation analysis, i.e. irradiating the sample and examining the signature of the radioactive decay. When I was ready, the UCLA nuclear reactor was shut down for maintenance, so Libby made a phone call and scheduled me to irradiate my concentrated spinach at Atomics International, done on Saturday with overtime pay.

He was demanding, his mouth twitched, and he wore a straw hat. If you saw that hat on the peg on the wall in the secretary's office, you knew he was in his office, and everyone in the lab would be nervous that he would come into the lab and start ordering people to do things. To quote him when he asked me for a Buchner funnel, "It's a simple thing, now git it!"