Archive for July, 2012

mining terms

Mining terminology, at the Creede Underground Mining Museum

As mentioned in my last post, I am embarking on a two-week tour of Colorado mining towns. Before I go, there are some basic mining terms that any greenhorn or tenderfoot like me should know before venturing into a mine. Many of these terms come from the Cornish miners who came to America to work when the tin mines in Cornwall played out in the 1800’s.

First, the basic parts of a mine: you always refer to a mine as if you are facing into it. The part of the mine you are working to drill, load, and blast is called the “face.” The left-side wall is the “left rib” and the right-side wall is the “right rib.” The ceiling is the “back” and the floor is the “foot.” The back is also called the “hanging wall” and the floor the “foot wall” depending on the orientation of the ore vein.

Ore body diagram

Diagram of the original ore body.

A “tunnel” is horizontal and must see daylight at both ends. If it only opens to the outside on one end, it is called an “adit.” If it doesn’t connect to the outside at all, it is a “level.” Levels are like the various floors of a building, only underground in a mine, and they provide access to the ore body. A vertical hole that connects with the surface is a “shaft.” If it is a hole that is dug down from a level or an adit, it is a “winze,” and if it is dug upward it is a “raise.” A hole dug to follow a vein horizontally away from a level or an adit is called a “drift” and to dig out a large ore body going up or down is called a “stope.”

The valuable mineral that you are trying to dig out is the “ore,” along with useless rock called “tailings.” Usually the ore is injected as a hydrothermal body along a fault or other natural zone of weakness in the rock, and the entire mineralized zone is called the “ore body” or “lode.” If it is found as a large vertical mass with branches, it is an “ore chimney” and if it is a thin line following any direction it is a “vein.” Sometimes ore is found as crystals deposited along the walls of a natural chamber. This is called a “vug.” When a vein reaches the surface, it is an “outcrop,” and when parts of the outcrop erode away and are carried down into river valleys by water, avalanches, and gravity it will pile up in still areas of the stream, such as the inner parts of meanders along with gravel. These are called “placer” deposits (pronounced “plah-cer” and not “play-cer”).

exploratory mining

Prospectors mine the placers and conduct exploratory mining

The first miners in a new mining district are prospectors, because they are looking to find, develop, and sell a good “prospect.” Typically the first discoveries are placer deposits, because they are easy to find and work using pans, rockers, and sluices. Once the placers are played out, the prospectors head upslope to find the source outcroppings, or the “Mother Lode.” Once they find evidence of ore (such as associated minerals like iron pyrite or chalcopyrite, quartz, etc.) they will “stake a claim” by pounding stakes in the corners of the land and starting to dig exploratory shafts or adits using hand tools such as picks and shovels. They will use a windlass to haul the “muck” or loose rock out of a developing shaft with a bucket. Claims have to be an allowed size (a long, thin swath of land) and registered in the county mine office to be legal. It’s good to set up with a partner so that when one of you leaves to register a claim, the other can guard it from “claim jumpers.”

Samples of the ore are taken to an “assay” office where they are analyzed chemically to see how much valuable metals are actually in the ore. If the ore is rich, or “high grade” or if the vein widens and appears to continue, the prospector will usually sell out to a mining company with the resources and capital needed to further develop the mine.

Once the mining company buys out the prospectors, it starts to build the infrastructure needed to enlarge the mine. The irregular prospector shafts and adits are enlarged and shored up with timbers. The top of a shaft is boxed in with a “collar” and an adit’s entrance is shored up and extended outward to prevent loose rock from falling into it. This becomes a “portal.” At the top of a shaft, a “headframe” or “gallows frame” is erected out of large timbers or steel with pulleys called “sheave wheels” at the top. A braided rope or cable is brought over the sheave wheel and attached to a metal cage called a “skip” which can carry men or ore buckets in and out of the shaft. The other end of the cable is brought to a “hoist,” which is an electric or diesel winch. As the skip is raised and lowered in the mine, a series of electric bell chimes are used to signal the “hoistman” how far to raise and lower the skip. A mark on the cable tells the hoistman when the skip is “on the level.”

mine expands

After a mining company buys the prospect, it expands the mine and adds infrastructure

As the mine deepens, it will usually encounter underground aquifers or water tables which become a major problem as they start to flood the lower mine shafts. The main shaft must be dug lower than the lowest level and a pump installed to remove the water. This low-lying shaft is called a “sump” and the pumps used ran on steam, diesel, electricity, or compressed air. The biggest of these were the famous Cornish pumps found in some mines.

Eventually the shafts are too deep to economically raise all ore cars, sump water, and men to the top of the shaft. A drainage and ore removal adit is sometimes dug at the bottom of the mine that will drain out the waste water and allow easy passage of ore cars out of the side of the mountain. These adits usually have a slight downward slope to the outside so the loaded ore cars can be more easily moved. Waste rock was simply dumped out of the shaft or portal and created a “tailings pile” downslope from the mine or mill.

integrated mine

Integrated mine and mill. As the mine develops, drainage adits, interior shafts, reduction mills, smelters, and other structures are built.

As the mine gets bigger, with additional levels every 100 feet and a complex set of drifts, adits, winzes, raises, interior shafts, stopes, etc. it becomes advantageous for the owners to build their own mill instead of sending their ore elsewhere for processing. A mill is built on the side of the mountain below the lowest portal. It first sorts, then pulverizes the ore into powder, then concentrates the ore mechanically or chemically. The concentrate is then shipped by rail to a smelter for final processing and purification. Sometimes the concentrated ore is heated in a retort or furnace but not separated into its final constituent metals. This combination of metals is poured into bar-shaped or cone-shaped molds and cooled, creating “dore bars” or “buttons” which contain gold, silver, and other metals.

Once the mine is exhausted of ore, or the shaft extends down below where it can be economically drained of groundwater, or the price of the final metal drops so the mine can no longer turn a profit, it is closed down (sometimes temporarily). Today, mines have to post bonds that force them to reclaim the mine and make it safe once mining has concluded. But in the old west, the mines simply shut down and left everything where it was. Tailings piles are the most obvious evidence of mining, and the rocks are often stained a yellow, orange, or reddish brown color from iron sulfides and sulfates. Rotting timbers poke from the ground, and rusted metal scraps adorn the slopes. Drainage water still seeps from adits, often contaminated with metals or other effluents. And the shafts and portals remain, too often a temptation for the unwise to explore. A few people die each year from cave ins while exploring old mines, or get killed by handling old dynamite left in mines. In some states, such as Utah, a concerted effort is underway to close all of these abandoned mines in the name of public safety but at the expense of history. Other states, such as Colorado, seem to strike a better balance between history and safety.

Mining terms B

More mining vocabulary terms. From the Creede Underground Mining Museum.

Now there are many more terms, such as how a typical miner spends his shift to drill, load, shoot, and muck the face. We’ll talk about these later as they come up on my journey. I’m amazed at how many mining terms have made it into general vocabulary, such as “big shot” [blasting out a large section of the face], “hang-up” [when ore is blasted to fall into a lower chute but gets stuck], “getting the shaft” [to buy a worthless mine], etc. For better or worse, hard-rock mining has had a big impact on our history and our culture.

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About a year ago I wrote a post about the grant game. Since returning from the NSTA conference in Indianapolis I have been writing as many grants as I can, both medium and large. Altogether, I have written seven different grant or program opportunity applications since September 2011. I have been quite successful this year, winning three of the seven.

The first success was to be selected, along with Carolyn Bushman of Wendover Jr./Sr. High School, as an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador for NASA’s SOFIA project. Much of the details are on my other blogsite, www.spacedoutclass.wordpress.com, since it is about astronomy instead of the chemical elements. I found this out in January, and was even interviewed by the local Fox news station (but the story never aired). From February through May I prepared for this opportunity by taking an online astronomy course through Montana State University. We will be flying aboard SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) sometime this school year. We are still waiting to hear which group of astronomers we will be teamed with and when we’ll spend a week at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center preparing for our night flights.

what if prize winner

Website describing my lesson plan for the What If Prize competition

The second success I had was the What If Prize competition. It involved writing and submitting a lesson plan related to astronomy that also involved engineering, math, and technology. I figured my chances were small, given it was an international competition, but it gave me an excuse to update my lesson plan on using trigonometric parallax to measure the distance to nearby stars. I was very busy all last fall editing a video for the Utah School Boards Association and finally got the video done and sent to the DVD duplicators three days before the What If deadline. I had two days to re-write the lesson plan, create new graphics, etc. and submit the whole thing right at the deadline (Dec. 31 at 12:00 midnight). I heard people shouting “Happy New Year!” as I hit the submit button. Then four months passed with no word and I had almost forgotten about the whole thing. I had finished the new version of the lesson plan, which was my real goal. But then, in April, I received an e-mail that I won first place! Here’s the website:  What if Prize announcement.

The award includes a $2000 stipend toward professional development costs. They gave a list of possibilities to apply to, and one certainly caught my eye: a week-long workshop on astrobiology in Hawaii.! But the deadline for that had already passed (Drats). I decided to create my own professional development opportunity and do something to advance the Elements Unearthed project and this blog. I have been neglecting it lately as my teaching career has moved more towards astronomy and astrobiology, but now I have the funds to come back to the story of the elements.

This is what I have decided to do: take about $1750 of the award and use it to travel through Colorado, visiting mining towns and taking as many mine tours and visiting as many museums as possible over a two-week period, documenting the whole thing on video. I have wanted to do this for several years, and did accomplish part of it two years ago when we visited Cripple Creek Mining District in 2010. The remaining $250 will be used to learn how to program apps for the iPad and how to write iTexts.

One of the sponsors of the What If competition is MIT BLOSSOMS, a program to create a series of STEM lesson plans on video that can be distributed freely online and in physical form to worldwide audiences, especially to schools in other countries that may not have Internet connections. I’ve spoken with Dr. Dick Larson at MIT about my parallax lesson plan, have written up an outline and complete script, and began filming it in June (the outside shots). I’ll continue to film it this August and September as my astronomy class begins. It was interesting figuring out how to use Walden School’s building as part the setting for the video, but the final results should be fun.

ACS Hach website

Website for the ACS Hach grant award. This year’s winners have not yet been posted.

My third success I found out in late June. I had applied to the American Chemical Society for the ACS Hach grant for $1500. We have been selected! (The website URL is ridiculously long. You can Google “ACS Hach grant.”  They should announce this year’s winners soon). It will allow me to move forward finally on the project to document the Tintic Mining District and to test the effectiveness of the EPA Superfund clean-up there. We will collaborate with Greg Thornock of Tintic High School, and our students will work together to do two things: to collect and analyze soil samples inside and outside the remediated zone to see if contamination still remains; and to interview local residents, collect photos and stories, and use it all to complete the video my students at MATC began in 2009. My ultimate goal is to edit and produce an hour video in three segments, on the early years (1869 to 1893), the middle years (to 1955), and the later years. Hopefully it will be good enough to air on KUED, Salt Lake City’s PBS station.

These last two successes will provide a great deal of material for this blog and for my chemistry class. Over the next several months, I should be adding at least three posts per week, as well as guest posts from my students. This has already been an incredible year, but my astronomy and chemistry students will have a rich selection of projects to work on and a chance to do some real science. I’ll report our efforts here.

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Soda springs palms

Palms planted at Soda Springs on Zzyzx Road

In this blog, I have been reporting on activities we did during the Mojave field study that have to do with chemistry and the elements, but since the purpose of the field study was to look at Earth analogs for possible Martian organisms, much of what we did is and will be recorded on my other blog site (www.spacedoutclass.wordpress.com). I will do much more with that site in late July as I prepare to teach astronomy this fall. At that point, the “wordpress” portion of the URL will be eliminated and the site will go “live” so to speak. I have many topics that need to be written about, including more on the Mojave experience.

Preparing the weather balloon

Chris McKay (in denim jacket) and CSU students preparing the weather balloon for launch.

But meanwhile, our last day in the Mojave was Friday, March 23. We prepared and launched a weather balloon, then each group presented their interim reports on the results of the study. I helped Mary Beth talk about the geology and soil chemistry analyses, and I also presented the 3D model of the test soil sample I worked on with Geoff Chu and his group (more on this in the other blog). I plan on having students at Walden School take the grayscale images and the actual altitude data and create 3D models and textures for each crust site which can be manipulated online.

I also took the opportunity to interview Dr. Rakesh Mogul, who was with CSU and is the organizer of this event, but is now moving to the NASA Office of Planetary Protection. He talked about the protocols that NASA uses to determine now clean a space probe needs to be so as not to contaminate a planet with our microorganisms and so as not to mess up our science results when looking for life.

Weather balloon

Weather balloon after launch.

Once I had packed up my video equipment and other gear, I drove back to Utah, stopping in Las Vegas to drive through on the Strip. It has been about 15 years since I’ve actually done this, and it’s changed quite a bit – gotten larger, more crowded, and not very enticing for me, since I don’t gamble (I’ve taken too many operant conditioning classes in college to ever do that). It was a long drive back, but the trip was very much worth it. All told, I took about 15 hours of video, which will now take some time to capture and edit. I hope to do at least some of it (the interviews) this summer.

I wasn’t home for long (about four days) before I flew out to Indianapolis for the annual National Science Teachers Association conference. Much of what I did there was related to space science and astronomy (including attending a luncheon where an astronaut spoke; the awards ceremony for this year’s Mars Education Challenge, where I was asked to be the official photographer while Bill Nye introduced the winners and handed out the awards; and my own presentation on the SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program). However, I did attend a number of excellent sessions that were related to chemistry and the elements.

Above the clouds

Above the clouds on the way to Indianapolis

On Thursday, March 29 I had to take the local buses from my motel out by the airport to downtown, and I was slightly late for the bus and had to wait 30 minutes for the next one, so I was a bit late getting into the conference. I went to the first session I could find in the booklet that was near where I was standing in the convention center and that sounded interested. It was a presentation on an activity that introduces the periodic table to students. The room was packed and I had to sit on the floor while the presenter talked. Something about him looked familiar, and suddenly I realized that the presenter was John Clark, a fellow SOFIA AAA. I had seen his photo on the discussion board.

John Clark and the SOFIA team

John Clark and the SOFIA team from NASA Ames and the SETI Institute

His activity is done early on in a chemistry class, and involves handing 3 x 5 index cards to each student. They decorate their card, choose a name for their personal element and a symbol, then decide on properties of their element that describe their own personalities from a list, such as “science nerd” or “techy” or “drama king.” Other properties could be chosen from a list, such as number of electrons, etc. The students group themselves into “element” families according to the properties they selected, such as the colors they choose. From this they create a type of periodic table of their class, which the class as a whole has to discuss and justify. Not only does this get the students thinking about elements, properties, symbols, and other aspects of the periodic table, but it helps the teacher get to know the students better.

cloud chamber

Cloud Chamber

I also attended a session by April Lanotte on how to build your own cloud chamber, which worked quite well. I’d tried to do this with a kit in the past, but could never get it to work. The secret is to not allow any air in or out as the internal air must be saturated with alcohol fumes and cooled with dry ice before stray cosmic rays can be seen or radiation from an alpha or beta source as vapor trails in the alcohol gas. She had built hers out of an aquarium that was carefully sealed. She also showed us amore sophisticated digital cosmic ray counter. She is an Einstein Fellow this year, and I also attended a number of sessions on that program and on the Presidential Award program.

Another session I attended was by L. Diener (I didn’t catch her first name) on the science of chocolate. Since my students and I just finished videotaping a tour of Amano Artisan Chocolates in our town (more on this later), I was interested in attending and she presented a simple activity about solubility and chocolate. Take a piece of chewing gum, such as candy coated Chiclets, and chew it for a few minutes until the flavor begins to decrease. At this point your saliva has dissolved all the sugars and flavors that are water soluble. Then take a Hersey’s kiss and chew it with the gum. Suddenly the remainder of the gum dissolves in your mouth, because the chocolate’s cocoa butter will dissolve the remaining fat soluble portions of the gum. But as soon as the chocolate has melted and dissolved in your mouth, the gum will start to re-solidify, although there will be less of it. It can be a big gross to feel this happening in your mouth, but it is a great way to talk about food science and how various substances do or don’t dissolve in each other.

David Black by the NSTA sign

David Black by the NSTA sign, Indianapolis Convention Center.

It was a busy conference. I walked through the dealers’ room and priced sensors and probeware for both the Vernier and Pasco systems, hoping that I’ll get some grant money to be able to use sensors with an iPad. I ran into old friends, such as Martin Horejsi (we were on the same flight going to Indianapolis, as he has to fly to Salt Lake from Missoula to pick up most connections) and Eric Brunsell. They were the only people from the Solar System Educators Program that I saw. But I did get to know some of my new associates, the SOFIA AAAs.

Downtown Indianapolis

Downtown Indianapolis


I did get a chance to do something quite unusual. I was selected (how I don’t know) to sit in on a panel discussion on NSTA’s The Science Teacher journal and on the NSTA website. We were given a nice luncheon, then were asked a series of questions by Tyson Brown, whom I had known before back when I was doing the NASA Explorer Schools program. It was a fascinating discussion, and I put in a plug or two for Martin and Eric’s column (Science 2.0). There were several people in the back of the room writing notes, and one looked familiar. Once we opened up the journal and started going through it, I realized who he was – Steve Metz, the editor. I have decided that I really must submit an article as soon as possible. But my schedule has become so crazy that I’m not sure when that will be or which of several possible topics to write on. For our participation in the panel, we also received a $50 certificate to use in the NSTA bookstore.

Dealer room at NSTA conference

Dealer room at the NSTA conference. Eric Brunsell is in the black shirt at the left of the photo.

Much of what I did and learned will be written (eventually) on the other blog site, as it is more related to astronomy than chemistry. There is, however, one other presentation I went to that I want to discuss here, and that was a lecture on ingenuity and creativity given by author David Macaulay. He is writing a book on how ingenuity has brought about marvelous ideas and inventions through the ages, and he basically walked us through his own creative process in developing the book. When I first started teaching in California, I taught world history for several years and used films based on his books Cathedral and Pyramid in my classes. They were very well done, and he has since created such books as The Way Things Work.

Between this lecture and the panel discussion luncheon, I did a lot of thinking while waiting for the bus on Sunday morning (only to find it doesn’t run on Sundays, so the motel’s shuttle van driver took me downtown instead). But while waiting, I thought of several ideas for books and series of books I could write for NSTA Press, such as how to use authentic science data in the classroom. I’m doing more of this all the time, and many of the sessions I chose to attend were based on real data analysis. I realize that in some ways what I am doing is unique, since I blend science and computer graphics/3D animation technologies. Yet the one session I attended Sunday morning was all about this – the art of science, and Randy Landsberg of the U. of Chicago showed examples of collaborations between artists, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, and the Adler Planeterium, including an incredible animation taking the viewer to the edge of the universe and another showing cosmic ray showers from the Pierre Auger data. I scribbled notes as fast as I could, and I still need to check up on all the possibilities. It was invigorating to see that others are pushing the edge and blurring distinctions between art and science, which is one of my goals as well.

It was an incredible conference. I was very involved, learned much, brought back many ideas, and made good connections.

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