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Archive for January, 2012

Nuremburg Chronicles Empedocles

Anaxagoras and Empedocles, from the Nuremburg Chronicles

In my last post, I showed the statistics of what this blog has accomplished so far. I feel very good about where we’ve been, but now it’s time to describe where I plan on going this coming year.

Given that I am not teaching chemistry this school year, my work on the Elements Unearthed project has slowed down a bit as my attention has been diverted elsewhere by the astrobiology projects (the podcasts and CLOE animations) and other projects that I’ll describe next week. I anticipate teaching chemistry again next year, and I am in the process of writing up a series of grant proposals (all of which have to be done by Feb. 1) that, if successful, will provide funds for purchasing some iPad tablets and probeware that will allow us to do some environmental field research.

fluorite and emerald

Fluorite and emerald crystals in the collection of Keith Proctor

In the meantime, I have a large backlog of videos that I have taped of various mine tours and interviews I’ve done across the country. I need to edit these into final videos and report on them in detail on this site. In order to keep myself on track, I’ve created a schedule for when I’d like to do each video and the topics I’ll cover here as I work on them.

This January, 2012, I am going to start at the beginning and look at ancient chemistry and our knowledge of the elements in prehistoric and early historic times. Then in February, I will start to work on my Greek Matter Theories videos. I have previously created all the script and narration and have even set up the video files and begun the graphics and animations. It’s high time I finished these. I’ll start with an overview of the Greek Ideal in philosophy and science, then talk about Thales and the Miletian School, then Parmenides and Zeno and the Eleatics. In March, I will talk about Heraclitus and Empedocles and the atomic theory and Plato. In April, I’ll move on to Aristotle, Epicurus, and the debate on elements versus atoms, ending in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinus and how atomic theory came down through the Middle Ages.

In May and June I’ll discuss the practical side of chemistry, with a look at ancient crafts, including metalworking, glass making, and other medieval technologies, including a detailed look at Agricola’s De Re Metallica (which I have many photos of).

Dalton molecules

Diagrams of molecules by John Dalton

By July I should have the funding I need in place to start the field research. My plan is to partner with another school, perhaps Tintic High School or Wendover High School, to travel out to nearby mining sites and use the probeware and iPads to collect and record data on soil and water environmental conditions, such as the pH of soil and runoff water near old mine dumps. I’m especially interested in seeing if the EPA efforts to mitigate contaminated soil in and around Eureka, Utah have been successful. I’ve talked about those efforts in previous posts (especially here: https://elementsunearthed.com/2010/06/09/the-legacy-of-the-tintic-mining-district/ ), so I won’t talk about them again now. We would use GPS coordinates and GoogleEarth to set up a grid of sample sites both in and out of the recovered area. We would sample the surface and two feet below ground. It would require several trips and coordination with local students to gather the data, but it is a project that would fit very nicely with the research I’ve already done. If I can get enough money together, I would like to rent a portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer which can read element abundances nondestructively on the site.

In preparation for all this, I need to make one more trip to the Tintic district in June to photograph and videotape the mines in the southwest area, which were the first mines discovered, including the Sunbeam and Diamond mines. One of my great grandfathers, Sidney Tanner Fullmer, died as a result of injuries suffered in an accident while working in the Diamond mine, leaving my grandmother an orphan to be raised by her aunt and uncle. So this history has a particular interest to me.

One thing I plan on doing, if we can work out a partnership, is to set up an evening in Eureka at Tintic High School where townspeople can come in with photographs and tell their stories of mining and life in Eureka before and after the EPA efforts. We’ll scan the photos and videotape the recollections, then combine all that with the video I’ve already done of the Tintic Mining Museum and local area. Ultimately, my students will help me script and edit a three-part video on the Tintic District, perhaps even done well enough that we could market it to KUED, the PBS station in Salt Lake City.

Tintic load site

Ore loading platform in the Tintic Mining District

The months July, August, and September will be dedicated to this effort and will result in the best documentation created so far on video of the history and present of the Tintic Mining District.

October will be dedicated to Zosimos of Panopolis and such Arabic alchemists as Jabir ibn Hayyan. November will begin a discussion of European alchemists, from Roger Bacon and Ramon Llull through the Middle Ages. I’ll draw on the many photos I’ve taken on alchemical texts at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. The history of alchemy will continue through December, 2012 and on into January, 2013. In February and March, 2013, we’ll discuss the emergence of modern chemistry through Boyle, Priestley, and Lavoisier through Dalton, Avogadro, Berzelius, and others.

In April through June of 2013 we will switch gears and talk about nucleogenesis and the origin of the elements, then the physicists and chemists that have helped us understand the structure of the atom and quantum mechanics. From there, I will probably begin to talk about individual elements and how they are mined and refined, with examples of the mining districts where they come from, such as the history of the Viburnum Trend in Missouri and the lead mines there, or the gold mines of Cripple Creek, Colorado. I really do have enough materials now to keep this blog going for at least two years. And I’ll be gathering more all the time. I will also dedicate occasional posts to my efforts as a chemistry teacher and to science education in general, including my experiences at conferences, etc.

Van Helmont

Portrait of Joannes Baptista van Helmont

Well, it is an ambitious schedule. I hope to do at least one post per week, probably on weekends. I hope to complete at least one video segment every two months or so. Next week, I’ll start us off with an overview of the history of chemistry.

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Once each year I like to go over the statistics for this blog in detail to see what posts have been the most popular, which search terms are finding this blog, which videos are most watched, etc. I’m not doing this just for an ego trip, but to be able to report the impact this site is having. I have had some very generous sponsors over the three years this blog has been running, especially the American Section of the Société de Chimie Industrielle (which paid for my fellowship in 2009) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which provided such a wealth of resources in its collections on the history of chemistry. It was during the time of my fellowship that this blog really began to find an audience, and it has been growing ever since.

Stats for the Elements Unearthed

Monthly Stats for the Elements Unearthed Blog

So here is where this blog stands: As of today, there have been a total of 67,620 visits to this site. As seen by the histogram, the number of visits has shown a definite annual pattern consistent with the school year – visits are lower in the summer when school is not in session, rise in August and September, stay high in October and November, dip a bit in December due to Winter Vacation, then rise again in January and February and peak in March, then gradually decrease as the school year winds down in April and May. This same pattern has repeated for the last three school years, but has grown each year. Last year, in the 2010-2011 school year, my best months were slightly above 3000 visits. Now they are topping out above 4000 and I hope they will hit 5000 by March.

Granted, compared to some popular blogs with thousands of hits per day, 5000 per month doesn’t sound like much. However, I am pleased – this is a rather esoteric blog dedicated to the history of chemistry and chemistry education. The yearly pattern shows that I am reaching my intended audience of high school students and teachers. This is also shown by the types of searches that reach my blog.

Although there are always some unrelated search terms that somehow reach my blog (the biggest ones are “Ocean City, New Jersey” and “Punxsatawney Phil” because I visited both places in 2009 and showed some pictures), by far the majority of search terms are related to chemistry and its history or to science education in general. I’ve gone through the search terms and compiled them into categories, mostly so that I can make plans for the future. Here are the top searches that reach this blog: (1) Greek Matter Theories (3473 searches) with Aristotle, Democritus, and Thales being the biggest ones; (2) the Periodic Table of elements (2288); (3) beryllium (1600); (4) Alexandre Beguyer de Chancourtois (1397) – this is a bit surprising, but apparently my animation of his telluric screw periodic system and description of his work is one of the few sites out there about him; (5) the Tintic Mining District (1041); (6) the history of the periodic table (868); (7) science education (862), especially using iPads in science classes; (8) early modern chemistry (822), including Lavoisier, Boyle, Priestley, Dalton, and Newton; (9) alchemy (732), with love potions, Khunrath, Basil Valentine, Zosimos, and Maier the highest; (10) water and wind turbines (618); (11) strange attractors (586) – this is another odd one, since I only mentioned it once, but it was in my most popular post; (12) mercury (554); (13) early technology (514), such as Roman glass, Pliny the Elder, Agricola, Neri, and others; (14) mining in general (455) – such terms as overburden, open pit mine, ball mill, and headframe; and (15) Cripple Creek, Colorado (315).

Top Posts for this blog

Top Posts for the Elements Unearthed Blog

The videos that I have created for this project are posted on this blog (under the video tab) and on YouTube. The History of the Periodic Table, featuring Dr. Eric Scerri of UCLA, is my biggest hit so far. All parts of this video have been watched a total of 11,474 times as of 1/7/2012. There are even a few derivative works on YouTube that take parts of my video – a section on Henry Moseley, for example – and combine it with parts of other videos with Bill Nye, etc. I’ve had quite a few comments on how useful this video has been for chemistry teachers out there, and I am very pleased with the results so far. There is also a version with Portuguese subtitles done by a professor in Brazil; I’m not sure how many times that has been seen. My separate video that showed only some animations of the periodic table has been watched 416 times.

The second most popular videos have been the two parts on beryllium – its properties and uses, and how it is mined and refined. It has been watched a total of 3219 times, with the separate video on the geology of beryllium watched itself an additional 153 times. The Discovery of Synthetic Diamonds has been watched 745 times and the demonstration of Glass Blowing 754 times. These have been the most popular videos related to this project.

In conclusion, the most important question is: Have I succeeded in my attempt to bring the history of chemistry and chemistry education to the general public, and specifically to teachers and students? All indications, based on these statistics, are that I am succeeding and that that success is continuing to grow.

The last several posts have been about astronomy and space science education, and although some search terms have reached these posts, not many have. For various reasons, not the least of which is that I want to keep this blog focused on my original intent, I am starting a new blog which should be up and running by Wednesday night on space science education and resources for teachers to use now that we are in the golden age of astronomy. I will be doing quite a bit of education outreach on these topics over the next few years, if all goes well, and they deserve to have their own blog. I will include links here once that is ready to visit. I will post to this new blog once per week on Wednesdays.

The statistics also point out which topics have been most popular, and give me direction on what to post about in the future. In my next post, I will give you a schedule of what I intend to discuss over the next year and a half and when I will have the related videos completed. I will try to post once per week, probably on weekends. I have much more material from my fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation that I haven’t shown or discussed here yet, and I look forward to digging into it all. I have also visited many sites related to mining and refining of the elements which I have only mentioned in passing. It’s time to edit all that footage and photos into videos for this site and YouTube. I expect the next few years to be busy, productive, and rewarding and to reach even more people than I already have.

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