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Block of halite in the Kansas Salt Mine

Block of halite in the Kansas Salt Mine

    This post describes the sixth day of my journey between Philadelphia and my home in Orem, Utah. I had been in Philadalphia for three months conducting a research fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) under a generous grant from the American Section of the Société de Chimie Industrielle, and my project was to research and collect media for The Elements Unearthed project, which I’ll be turning into a series of video podcasts and other educational materials. So on my way home, I’ve been visiting and videotaping as many related sites as possible. If you’ve been following along, I’ve been to the Drake Oil Well in Titusville, PA; interviewed Theo Gray in Champaign, IL on the periodic table; toured lead mines in Missouri; and visited the Kansas State Oil Museum in El Dorado, KS. Now I’m in Hutchinson, KS and the journey continues . . . .

Salt layers in the Kansas Salt Mine

Salt layers in the Kansas Salt Mine

    On Saturday, September 5 I drove out of Hutchinson to visit the Kansas Underground Salt Mine. Just as there is a large body of oil and natural gas under Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas there is also a huge layer of salt that covers these same states. At Hutchinson, the layer is 650 feet down and extends hundreds of feet further, with some layers more pure than others. The layer the salt miners were after is over 96% pure and shown here as the whiter area at the bottom of the wall, starting under the distinctive dark stripe about 1/3 of the way down. They continue to mine salt here, spreading out in all directions. The old area of the mine is now used for a tour (they even have a gift shop down here) and as a storage facility for documents. Many movie and TV production companies send their original footage here, as well as props and costumes, to be archived. Although Kansas is fairly humid, any humidity that gets into the mine is absorbed by the salt, so that the temperature and humidity are constantly cool and dry: ideal conditions to archive celluloid footage and other types of documents. Some of the props and costumes are on display in a small museum off the gift shop.

Undercutter machine in the Kansas Salt Mine

Undercutter machine in the Kansas Salt Mine

    Although most salt mines today (such as the one near Moab, Utah) use a hot brine extraction method (pumping hot water into the salt deposit to dissolve the salt, then evaporating the brine in ponds on the surface), this mine still uses more traditional methods because of the purity and accessibility of the salt here. First, they use a machine like a large chainsaw to undercut the face, then drill holes using a hydraulic machine that can drill 4-8 holes at once, then they set charges and blow the face, then muck up the halite and transport it to the surface. The salt here isn’t used for human consumption; most of it goes for rock salt to de-ice the roads in Chicago. Some finds its way to livestock (similar to the halite mined near Salina and Redmond, Utah) and some becomes packaged as rock salt for making ice cream.

Wind turbines under construction near Dodge City, Kansas

Wind turbines under construction near Dodge City, Kansas

    After finishing at the Salt Mine, I drove west on US-50 toward Dodge City. About 18 miles east of Dodge City I came across a large wind turbine farm, many already in operation and a large number getting ready for assembly. In the end, perhaps Kansas will create more energy out of its winds than out of its oil. After eating lunch, I got the heck out of Dodge and hit the trail toward Cimarron (yes, the puns are intentional), then crossed into Colorado. I was trying to beat the sun and make it to Cripple Creek before dark to take a few pictures. But since Colorado is on the eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone, the sun set earlier than I am used to in western Utah and I made it to Mueller State Park west of Colorado Springs well after dark.

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   As mentioned in my last post, I am leaving Mountainland Applied Technology College and will be taking up a Fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. I have been selected to be the Societe de Chimie Industrielle (American Section) Fellow for 2008-09 at CHF, where I will be studying the history of atomic theory, chemistry’s development as a science out of alchemy, and the types of labware and equipment used during the Middle Ages and later. I’ll discuss more about how this fellowship fits into the larger project in future posts, but in this one I’d like to give a final report on Phase I of the Elements Unearthed project as well as describe my four-day drive across the country from Orem, Utah to Philadelphia, PA.

   My students at MATC have completed as much of their projects as was possible before the end of the school year. They are all in a rough cut format, with only the audio tracks laid in in some spots (narration only or audio from our wireless microphone system). In other places, we have video as well but it needs to be color balanced. Other spots have some images but so far the cuts are rough and the story is also. We showed these rough edits in an Alpha test before other students at MATC and had them fill out evaluation forms. Most of the comments were that they liked the information and presentation so far, but that they were too long, a bit dry, and needed more images and animations. This is to be expected when the rough cut for the blown glass project, for example, is 43 mintues long not counting credits. It is my goal to cut it down to two podcast episodes under 15 minutes each, so roughtly 1/3 of the material must go while keeping the storyline intact and improving the video, audio, and imagery. That will be part of my work this summer, to prepare these segments for Beta testing and final deployment on this blog and to iTunes, YouTube, etc.

   Overall the students did very well, learning not only how to plan and execute a video shoot, but also how to research and structure a documentary-style video, how to capture and transcribe the footage, and how to edit the footage using Final Cut Pro. If we had more time, they would have continued the process through beta test, whereupon I would have taken over for final editing. But the year is done, the Media Design Technology program at MATC is now cancelled, and I am in Philadelphia.

Sunset on Lake Erie

Sunset on Lake Erie

   It has  been quite a trip. I had four days to make it to Philly, leaving at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 28 and averaging about 550 miles per day. That’s about nine hours of driving each day, and I am certainly feeling the effects of it now. I took I-80 most of the way, only moving over to I-76 at Youngstown, Ohio. Fortunately the trip went by without major incident. The only bad thing was that one of my contact lenses decided to pop out at about mile marker 80 in Illinois. I pulled over onto the next exit and searched around for 20 mintues before finally finding it. I stayed the first night at Little Thunder Campground on Lake McConaughy, NE; the second night in a motel in northern Davenport, Iowa; and the third night at East Harbor State Park at the tip of Sandusky Pennisula on Lake Erie in Ohio. I had planned out these stops carefully in advance (Google is wonderful!) and everthing worked out – I arrived at the Drexelbrook Apartments in Drexel Hill, PA at 4:30 eastern time on Sunday, May 31, just in time to sign the rental contract.  My wife and children will be flying in today.

Marblehead Lighthouse, Sandusky Penninsula

Marblehead Lighthouse, Sandusky Penninsula

   Even though I was driving, I wasn’t taking a vacation from this project. I took a few detours and took a lot of photos both of scenery and of things related to the Elements Unearthed. One thing I noticed was how energy production technology is such a large part of our landscape. Near Rawlins, Wyoming, for example, is the large Sinclair oil refinery shown here. Lake McConaughy in Nebraska is not only an irrigation lake but generates hydroelectric power. It is becoming all too apparent that neither of these technologies can sustain our energy needs – the sites for hydroelectric power have pretty much been maximized already and crude oil has already passed the point of peak production in the last several years. We are running out of crude oil, and the prices will only escalate until we are well past the high price point of last summer. The average price I found crossing the country was about $2.50 per gallon, and it won’t get better.

 

 

 

Sinclair oil refinery near Rawlins, Wyoming

Sinclair oil refinery near Rawlins, Wyoming

   On an encouraging note, I noticed a huge increase in wind powered generators. New wind turbines are sprouting up all along I-80 and more are being constructed; I saw new turbine blades on the backs of several 18-wheelers as I traveled. There was a new wind farm just west of Evanston, Wyoming and groups of turbines here and there across Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Certainly wind is a largely untapped resource, and with new composite materials the turbines can last much longer and generate more power than the first generation of turbines that were installed in the late 1970s.

Wind turbines near Evanston, Wyoming

Wind turbines near Evanston, Wyoming

    Another stop I made was at Elmore, Ohio where Brush Wellman’s Engineered Materials Division operates a plant that refines beryllium hydroxide pellets into final beryllium metal and alloys. The pellets themselves come from the concentration plant near Delta, Utah which my students have already documented (you’ll see the final result by the end of August). Coincidentally, U. S. Highway 6 runs through both towns, and coincides with I-80 for some of its length. It was good to finally get some decent photos of the Elmore plant to add to the beryllium project.

   Now that I am at CHF, I will begin pulling together all the images and other media that I can to tell the background history of the elements – something that my students couldn’t do very easily because there aren’t comtemporary sources or sites that we could go to and film. So this part of the project has to be done by me. Questions I hope to answer are how the Greeks first proposed the ideas of elements and atoms and how these ideas developed through history. I also hope to digitize illustrations and portraits of laboratories and equipment, with the goal of re-creating this equipment in 3D, perhaps even re-building historical laboratories such as those of Lavoisier or Priestley. I hade my orientation yesterday (June 1) and today I will start my researches in earnest.

Brush Wellman beryllium refinery, Elmore, Ohio

Brush Wellman beryllium refinery, Elmore, Ohio

   In my next entry, I wll describe CHF and its parts and functions and the resources that are available here. I am already finding it to be an incredible place for anyone that has a passion about the history of science.

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