Occasionally, a member of the UR community will notice strange artifacts and landmarks around campus and wonder: “How did this come to be?”

This is precisely how I began investigating the pig-painted nitrogen gas tank near Wilmot Hall, home of the Institute of Opticst. An amusing souvenir of the Institute, the gas tank has sat behind the Wilmot Annex for many years, yet few know its story.

So, I put on my detective’s hat and began searching for clues.

My first contact was River Campus Facilities—people who were most likely to be familiar with the nooks and crannies of campus.

Unfortunately, Assistant Director Kevin Gibson explained that he and his coworkers had inquired about the pig before, and even after years of working at the University, no one seemed to know much about it.

At first it felt like failure, but years of watching “Supernatural” and reading Sherlock Holmes had prepared me for this moment. I turned back around and pointed my magnifying glass in another direction.

Editors on the Campus Times suggested I present my inquiry to the Director of Optics, Xi-Cheng Zhang.

From here, I began riding a cascading tidal wave of emails.

Zhang redirected me to his administrative assistant Gina Kern. Through Kern, I became acquainted with Professor Carlos Stroud.

Stroud, who has worked as a professor at the UR for 40+ years, had written a book in 2004 on the history of the Institute of Optics. His book, “A Jewel in the Crown: Essays in Honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Institute of Optics,” includes a detailed history of the Institute, along with an archive of related anecdotes.

I believed the book would be my answer; yet to my dismay, upon exploring its chapters, I saw it contained no information about the pig-painted nitrogen tank.

But this was no time to give up.

I emailed Stroud, who replied almost immediately. He instructed me to contact Professor Lukas Novotny, a previous professor of the Optics department, who now teaches at the Technical University of Zurich, in Switzerland. Stroud explained that the pig was supposedly owned by Novotny’s group of research students.

There was no way a professor in Switzerland would reply to my ridiculous question.

However, at this point I was far too invested in the story to back out. I emailed Novotny. To my astonishment, Novotny also replied within the hour. (These are some really friendly and efficient professors.)

After a two-week-long email journey, I finally found what I was looking for— the pig had been painted by research students of Professor Erdogen, who has since left UR and became CEO of Semrock Company. Erdogen’s group at UR was called the “Periodic Index Grating (PIG)” group, and the pig gas tank was their mascot.

The story of the decade-old Wilmot Pig may seem small and insignificant, but knowing its irrelevant history could only bring a student closer to the UR community. After all, a person’s idiosyncrasies are the most beautiful thing about them, so why shouldn’t this maxim apply to an educational institution as well?

The pig is yet another badge of pride to pin on our backpacks and more fuel for our school spirit.

Or, perhaps, I’ve become too emotionally invested in this story.



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