During the summer of 2009, I fulfilled a research fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. I’ve previously written about my experiences there in this blog. One of the major areas I researched was the history of Greek philosophies regarding matter, fundamental materials, and the nature of reality. I wrote a script and created various animations to use for a three-part video about the philosophers and their theories. Over the next year, in between working on other projects, I recorded narration and put together timeline sequences in my video software for the three segments. But there the project stalled out, because all I had was my own voice talking with B-roll footage over the top. It was too boring, even for me. I needed to interview an expert to provide primary footage, using my narration only to stitch it all together. But I was back in Utah by then with no available experts around that I knew of.
During the summer of 2014, I fulfilled a Research Experience for Teachers in astronomy at Brigham Young University, as I have described in my other blog (http://spacedoutclass.com). While talking with Dr. Eric Hintz, my research advisor, he mentioned a paper he had written with a BYU philosophy professor named Daniel Graham. It regarded a Greek philosopher named Aristarchus, who calculated the size of the Moon based on the extent of a solar eclipse. I realized that I had found my expert literally right in my back yard.
I e-mailed Dr. Graham and he consented to talk with me, and we spent a fascinating 90 minutes discussing the various Greek matter theories and philosophers. He agreed to allow my students and I to videotape him answering our questions, and even gave me a book he had edited on the philosophies of the pre-Socratics.
In my next post, I’ll describe this interview and provide a transcript. Before he came to our school, my students needed to prepare for his interview. I introduced the Greek matter theories as the first of the three threads that led to modern chemistry (I’ve written about these threads before at this post: http://elementsunearthed.com/2009/07/31/three-threads-to-chemistry/ ). Students were assigned individual philosophers and asked to become familiar with their lives and theories, then create a series of questions that they could ask of Dr. Graham. I looked over their questions, made suggestions, and had students revise them so that they wouldn’t be redundant. I sent the list to Dr. Graham to review before his interview.
Meanwhile, my 3D modeling students were learning how to use basic character design software such as Sculptris by Pixologic. I had them use illustrations and sculptures of the philosophers to create torsos in 3D. We also used a new program I found called Make Human, which allowed a basic human figure to be morphed into whatever shape we wanted. The students used Make Human to create the basic head, then imported it into Sculptris to form the hair and beard around it, then took the pieces into Daz3D Bryce for final assembly, texturing, and rendering. Our purpose was to create a series of images and animations to use as B-roll in the final videos. We also hoped to add morph targets and bones and animate the heads talking through quotes of the philosophers. This would require modeling the inside of the mouths, including tongue and teeth, and wound up being too much of a challenge for my beginning 3D students.
In addition to the animated torsos, I had students use Bryce to build recreations of temples and other buildings found in the cities where the philosophers lived, such as Miletus, Abdera, Acragas, Ephesus, Athens, and Elea. We had to find diagrams or illustrations of these temples. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Using only artists’ renditions and photos of a scale model found in Ephesus today, the students who did this temple had quite a challenge. Not all of the temples were completed, but many of them got at least the buildings done with excellent detail. It pushed our computers to the limit.
One of the many projects I’m trying to finish up this summer is to complete all these animations along with hand-drawn illustrations of the philosophers. I have a watercolor painting I did several years ago called The Elusive Atom that included many of these philosophers, and I’ve used Adobe Photoshop to isolate the philosophers from the background. I also have my pen-and-ink illustrations using homemade ink as well as homemade watercolors. I’ve gradually been building up these projects so that when I do the final editing of the video segments and include Dr. Graham’s interview footage, I will have enough materials.
I knew it would take some time to transcribe and edit the interviews, and that I would have to recreate my original animations (they were designed for SD video six years ago and I now want to do this video in HD) and revise and re-record the narrations. I wanted to start using all these materials now, so when my students created the large timeline banner on atomic theory, I made the banner cover all the history of chemistry and included many 3D images, illustrations, and photos of books from the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
I have not given up on creating a series of videos, posters, a book, and other materials for this Elements Unearthed project. My need to earn a living as a science and technology teacher has kept me too busy to do much more than write a few blog posts now and then. But I keep filling in pieces, such as the tour of Adonis Bronze I reported on in my last post, and research of other ancient art forms. I took a group of students on a tour of Nevada mining towns last year. I’m only halfway through blogging about my trip of Colorado mining towns in 2012. What I need is two years of free time and about $100,000 in grants to focus on this project, travel to the places I still need to visit (there are many), and put everything together. Have boxes of tapes I need to capture, but not enough money to purchase the hard drives needed. So if you know a rich patron who’s got money to spend on such a project, please let me know!
In the meantime, I’m still trying to keep this blog going despite having so much happening in other areas of my professional life. It’s been a crazy year. Mostly I’ve been involved in aerospace and STEM education activities, and I’m writing about some of them in my other blog.