Friday, September 28, 2012

Howard Carter, Egyptologist,...a painter too

"Howard Carter: Famous Archaeologist, Not-So-Famous Painter"

Didn’t know he was an artist too? "Tut tut!"


K. Annabelle Smith

May 9th, 2012

It isn’t often that we hear anything about English archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter other than this groundbreaking discovery of King Tut's chamber on November 4, 1922. But as we celebrate Carter’s 138th birthday, we also look to his lesser-known talent as an artist.

Barn Owl

To document his exploration and for his personal records, Howard Carter copied the hieroglyphics he discovered at the sites he worked on. A collection of these works can be found via the Griffith Institute at the University of Oxford, who have Carter’s personal album in their collections.

“These watercolors were made before photography was available to most people,” says Griffith Institute Archive Coordinator, Elizabeth Fleming, who has been working with the Carter material for about 28 years. “The only way you could record your journey was to make copies of them. Carter was a talented artist so he was able to do this for himself.”

It was his skill as an artist that took him to Egypt as a 17-year-old working for the London-based Egypt Exploration Fund. He would make copies of hieroglyphics standing in front of the original in the tomb and often pair them with a version of the animal as it would appear in nature.

“Carter had a very good eye. Certainly his copies of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are very faithful based on that,” says Fleming.

Horus Falcon

This falcon is an example of one of the lifelike sketches Carter would create to compare to the hieroglyphics.

“We know that Howard actually visited the zoo in Cairo to make these copies—he mentions it in letters to people things like ‘I went to the zoo today to sketch a vulture or to sketch an eagle.’ This is why he made such good copies,” says Fleming.

The “Horus falcon,” associated with power and connected with several gods is one of the most frequently depicted birds in ancient Egypt.

African Sacred Ibis

In between excavation seasons, Carter had to find creative ways to earn a living. Museums would commission him to find and acquire objects for their collections and he would also produce romantic images of Egypt that he would sell to tourists visiting the ruins.

“We’re talking about a time before photography—Carter would create something that people could take back with them,” she says.

Watercolors like this one of an African Sacred Ibis, however, would not have been sold commercially. Depictions of this bird frequently occur both as hieroglyphs and in Egyptian art.

Illustrations...Griffith Insititute, University of Oxford

February 16th, 1923--Howard Carter/KV62/King Tutankhamun

Howard Carter's voice--Valley of the Kings

Bucks behind Tut's dig...George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pyroceram...Corning Glass Works serendipitous discovery


"Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future"


Bryan Gardiner

September 24th, 2012

Wired Science

Don Stookey knew he had botched the experiment. One day in 1952, the Corning Glass Works chemist placed a sample of photosensitive glass inside a furnace and set the temperature to 600 degrees Celsius. At some point during the run, a faulty controller let the temperature climb to 900 degrees C. Expecting a melted blob of glass and a ruined furnace, Stookey opened the door to discover that, weirdly, his lithium silicate had transformed into a milky white plate. When he tried to remove it, the sample slipped from the tongs and crashed to the floor. Instead of shattering, it bounced.

The future National Inventors Hall of Fame inductee didn’t know it, but he had just invented the first synthetic glass-ceramic, a material Corning would later dub Pyroceram. Lighter than aluminum, harder than high-carbon steel, and many times stronger than regular soda-lime glass, Pyroceram eventually found its way into everything from missile nose cones to chemistry labs. It could also be used in microwave ovens, and in 1959 Pyroceram debuted as a line of space-age serving dishes: Corningware.

The material was a boon to Corning’s fortunes, and soon the company launched Project Muscle, a massive R&D effort to explore other ways of strengthening glass. A breakthrough came when company scientists tweaked a recently developed method of reinforcing glass that involved dousing it in a bath of hot potassium salt. They discovered that adding aluminum oxide to a given glass composition before the dip would result in remarkable strength and durability. Scientists were soon hurling fortified tumblers off their nine-story facility and bombarding the glass, known internally as 0317, with frozen chickens. It could be bent and twisted to an extraordinary degree before fracturing, and it could withstand 100,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. (Normal glass can weather about 7,000.) In 1962 Corning began marketing the glass as Chemcor and thought it could work for products like phone booths, prison windows, and eyeglasses.

Yet while there was plenty of initial interest, sales were slow. Some companies did place small orders for products like safety eyeglasses. But these were recalled for fear of the potentially explosive way the glass could break. Chemcor seemed like it would make a good car windshield too, and while it did show up in a handful of Javelins, made by American Motors, most manufacturers weren’t convinced that paying more for the new muscle glass was worth it—especially when the laminated stuff they’d been using since the ’30s seemed to work fine.

Corning had invented an expensive upgrade nobody wanted. It didn’t help that crash tests found that “head deceleration was significantly higher” on the windshields—the Chemcor might remain intact, but human skulls would not.

After pitches to Ford Motors and other automakers failed, Project Muscle was shut down and Chemcor was shelved in 1971. It was a solution that would have to wait for the right problem to arise.

Corning’s headquarters in upstate New York looks like a Space Invaders alien: Designed by architect Kevin Roche in the early ’90s, the structure fans out in staggered blocks. From the ground, though, the tinted windows and extended eaves make the building look more like a glossy, futuristic Japanese palace.

The office of Wendell Weeks, Corning’s CEO, is on the second floor, looking out onto the Chemung River. It was here that Steve Jobs gave the 53-year-old Weeks a seemingly impossible task: Make millions of square feet of ultrathin, ultrastrong glass that didn’t yet exist. Oh, and do it in six months. The story of their collaboration—including Jobs’ attempt to lecture Weeks on the principles of glass and his insistence that such a feat could be accomplished—is well known. How Corning actually pulled it off is not.

Weeks joined Corning in 1983; before assuming the top post in 2005, he oversaw both the company’s television and specialty glass businesses. Talk to him about glass and he describes it as something exotic and beautiful—a material whose potential is just starting to be unlocked by scientists. He’ll gush about its inherent touchability and authenticity, only to segue into a lecture about radio-frequency transparency. “There’s a sort of fundamental truth in the design value of glass,” Weeks says, holding up a clear pebble of the stuff. “It’s like a found object; it’s cool to the touch; it’s smooth but has surface to it. What you’d really want is for this to come alive. That’d be a perfect product.”

Weeks and Jobs shared an appreciation for design. Both men obsessed over details. And both gravitated toward big challenges and ideas. But while Jobs was dictatorial in his management style, Weeks (like many of his predecessors at Corning) tends to encourage a degree of insubordination. “The separation between myself and any of the bench scientists is nonexistent,” he says. “We can work in these small teams in a very relaxed way that’s still hyperintense.”

Indeed, even though it’s a big company—29,000 employees and revenue of $7.9 billion in 2011—Corning still thinks and acts like a small one, something made easier by its relatively remote location, an annual attrition rate that hovers around 1 percent, and a vast institutional memory. (Stookey, now 97, and other legends still roam the halls and labs of Sullivan Park, Corning’s R&D facility.) “We’re all lifers here,” Weeks says, smiling. “We’ve known each other for a long time and succeeded and failed together a number of times.”

One of the first conversations between Weeks and Jobs actually had nothing to do with glass. Corning scientists were toying around with microprojection technologies—specifically, better ways of using synthetic green lasers. The thought was that people wouldn’t want to stare at tiny cell phone screens to watch movies and TV shows, and projection seemed like a natural solution. But when Weeks spoke to Jobs about it, Apple’s chief called the idea dumb. He did mention he was working on something better, though—a device whose entire surface was a display. It was called the iPhone.

Jobs may have dismissed green lasers, but they represented the kind of innovation for innovation’s sake that defines Corning. So strong is this reverence for experimentation that the company regularly invests a healthy 10 percent of its revenue in R&D. And that’s in good times and in bad. When the telecom bubble burst in 2000 and cratering fiber-optic prices sent Corning’s stock from $100 to $1.50 per share by 2002, its CEO at the time reassured scientists that not only was Corning still about research but that R&D would be the path back to prosperity.

“They’re one of the very few technology-based firms that have been able to reinvent themselves on a regular basis,” says Rebecca Henderson, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied Corning’s history of innovation. “That’s so easy to say, and it is so hard to do.” Part of that success lies in the company’s ability not only to develop new technologies but to figure out how to make them on a massive scale. Still, even when Corning succeeds at both, it can often take the manufacturer decades to find a suitable—and profitable enough—market for its innovations. As Henderson notes, innovation at Corning is largely about being willing and able to take failed ideas and apply them elsewhere.

The idea to dust off the Chemcor samples actually cropped up in 2005, before Apple had even entered the picture. Motorola had recently released the Razr V3, a flip phone that featured a glass screen in lieu of the typical high-impact plastic. Corning formed a small group to examine whether an 0317-like glass could be revived and applied to devices like cell phones and watches. The old Chemcor samples were as thick as 4 millimeters. But maybe they could be made thinner. After some market research, executives believed the company could even earn a little money off this specialty product. The project was codenamed Gorilla Glass.

By the time the call from Jobs came in February 2007, these initial forays hadn’t gotten very far. Apple was suddenly demanding massive amounts of a 1.3-mm, chemically strengthened glass—something that had never been created, much less manufactured, before. Could Chemcor, which had never been mass-produced, be married to a process that would yield such scale? Could a glass tailored for applications like car windshields be made ultrathin and still retain its strength? Would the chemical strengthening process even work effectively on such a glass? No one knew. So Weeks did what any CEO with a penchant for risk-taking would do. He said yes.

For a material that’s so familiar as to be practically invisible, modern industrial glass is formidably complex. Standard soda-lime glass works fine for bottles and lightbulbs but is terrible for other applications, because it can shatter into sharp pieces. Borosilicate glass like Pyrex may be great at resisting thermal shock, but it takes a lot of energy to melt it. At the same time, there are really only two ways to produce flat glass on a large scale, something called fusion draw and the float glass process, in which molten glass is poured onto a bed of molten tin. One challenge a glass company faces is matching a composition, with all its desired traits, to the manufacturing process. It’s one thing to devise a formula. It’s another to manufacture a product out of it.

Regardless of composition, the main ingredient in almost all glass is silicon dioxide (aka sand). Because it has such a high melting point (1,720 degrees C), other chemicals, like sodium oxide, are used to lower the melting temperature of the mixture, making it easier to work with and cheaper to produce. Many of these chemicals also happen to imbue glass with specific properties, such as resistance to x-rays, tolerance for high temperatures, or the ability to refract light and disperse colors. Problems arise, though, when the composition is changed; the slightest tweak can result in a drastically different material. Throwing in a dense element like barium or lanthanum, for example, will decrease the melting temperature, but you risk not getting a homogeneous mixture. And maxing out the overall strength of a glass means you’re also making that glass more likely to fracture violently when it does fail. Glass is a material ruled by trade-offs. This is why compositions, particularly those that are fine-tuned for a specific manufacturing process, are fiercely guarded secrets.

One of the pivotal steps in glassmaking is the cooling. In large-scale manufacturing of standard glass, it’s essential for the material to cool gradually and uniformly in order to minimize the internal stresses that would otherwise make it easier to break. This is called annealing. The goal with tempered glass, however, is to add stress between the inner and outer layer of the material. This, paradoxically, can make the glass stronger: Heat a sheet of glass until it softens, then rapidly cool, or quench, its outer surfaces. This outside shell quickly contracts while the inside remains molten. As the center of the glass cools, it tries to contract, pulling on the outer shell. A zone of tension forms in the center, while the outer surfaces are even more tightly compressed. Tempered glass will eventually break if you chip through this toughened outer compressive layer into the zone of tension. But even thermal tempering has its limits. The amount of strengthening you can achieve is dependent on how much the glass contracts upon cooling, and most compositions will shrink only modestly.

The interplay between compression and tension is best demonstrated by something called a Prince Rupert’s drop. Formed by dripping globs of molten glass into ice water, the quickly cooled and compressed heads of these tadpole-shaped droplets can withstand massive amounts of punishment, including repeated hammer blows. The thin glass at the end of the tail is more vulnerable, however, and if you break it the fracture will propagate through the drop at 2,000 miles per hour, releasing the inner tension. Violently. In some cases, a Prince Rupert’s drop can explode with such force that it will actually emit a flash of light.

Chemical strengthening, the method of fortifying glass developed in the ’60s, creates a compressive layer too, through something called ion exchange. Aluminosilicate compositions like Gorilla Glass contain silicon dioxide, aluminum, magnesium, and sodium. When the glass is dipped in a hot bath of molten potassium salt, it heats up and expands. Both sodium and potassium are in the same column on the periodic table of elements, which means they behave similarly. The heat from the bath increases the migration of the sodium ions out of the glass, and the similar potassium ions easily float in and take their place. But because potassium ions are larger than sodium, they get packed into the space more tightly. (Imagine taking a garage full of Fiat 500s and replacing most of them with Chevy Suburbans.) As the glass cools, they get squeezed together in this now-cramped space, and a layer of compressive stress on the surface of the glass is formed. (Corning ensures an even ion exchange by regulating factors like heat and time.)Compared with thermally strengthened glass, the “stuffing” or “crowding” effect in chemically strengthened glass results in higher surface compression (making it up to four times as strong), and it can be done to glass of any thickness or shape.

By the end of March, Corning was closing in on its formula. But the company also needed to manufacture it. Inventing a new manufacturing process was out of the question, as that could take years. To meet Apple’s deadline, two of Corning’s compositional scientists, Adam Ellison and Matt Dejneka, were tasked with figuring out how to adapt and troubleshoot a process the company was already using. They needed something capable of spitting out massive quantities of thin, pristine glass in a matter of weeks.

There was really only one choice: fusion draw. In this technique, molten glass is poured from a tank into a trough called an isopipe. The glass overflows on each side, then the two streams rejoin under the isopipe. It’s drawn down at a prescribed rate by rollers to form a continuous sheet. The faster it’s drawn, the thinner the glass.

Corning’s one fusion-capable factory in the US is in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. In early 2007, that plant’s seven 15-foot-tall tanks were going full blast, each churning out more than 1,000 pounds per hour of sold-out LCD glass for TV panels. One tank could meet Apple’s initial request. But first the old Chemcor compositions had to be reformulated. The glass not only needed to be 1.3 mm now, it also had to have better visual characteristics than, say, a pane in a telephone booth. Ellison and his team had six weeks to nail it. To be compatible with the fusion process, the glass also needed to be extra stretchy, like chewing gum, at a fairly low temperature. The problem was, anything you do to increase a glass’s gooeyness also tends to make it substantially more difficult to melt. By simultaneously altering seven individual parts of the composition—including changing the levels of several oxides and adding one new secret ingredient—the compositional scientists found they were able to ramp up the viscosity while also producing a finely tuned glass capable of higher compressive stress and faster ion exchange. The tank started in May 2007. By June, it had produced enough Gorilla Glass to cover seven football fields.

In just five years, Gorilla Glass has gone from a material to an aesthetic—a seamless partition that separates our physical selves from the digital incarnations we carry in our pockets. We touch the outer layer and our body closes the circuit between an electrode beneath the screen and its neighbor, transforming motion into data. It’s now featured on more than 750 products and 33 brands worldwide, including notebooks, tablets, smartphones, and TVs. If you regularly touch, swipe, or caress a gadget, chances are you’ve interacted with Gorilla.

Corning’s revenue from the glass has skyrocketed, from $20 million in 2007 to $700 million in 2011. And there are other uses beyond touchscreens. At this year’s London Design Festival, Eckersley O’Callaghan—the design firm responsible for some of Apple’s most iconic stores—unveiled a serpentine-like glass sculpture made entirely from Gorilla Glass. It may even end up on windshields again: The company is in talks to install it in future sports car models.

Today, two yellow robotic arms grab 5-foot-square panels of Gorilla Glass with special residue-limiting suction cups and place them in wooden crates. From Harrodsburg, these crates are trucked to Louisville and loaded on a westbound train. Once they hit the coast, the sheets get loaded onto freight ships for their eventual date at one of Corning’s “finisher” facilities in China, where they get their molten potassium baths and are cut into touchable rectangles.

Of course, for all its magical properties, a quick scan of the Internet will reveal that Gorilla Glass does fail, sometimes spectacularly so. It breaks when phones are dropped, it spiders if they bend, it cracks when they’re sat on. Gorilla Glass is, after all, glass. Which is why a small team at Corning spends a good portion of the day smashing the hell out of the stuff.

“We call this a Norwegian hammer,”
says Jaymin Amin, pulling a metal cylinder out of a wooden box. The tool is usually wielded by aircraft engineers to test the sturdiness of a plane’s aluminum fuselage. But Amin, who oversees all new glass development in the Gorilla family, pulls back the spring-loaded impact hammer and releases 2 joules of impact energy onto a 1-mm-thick piece of glass, enough to put a big dent in a block of wood. Nothing happens.

The success of Gorilla Glass presents some unique challenges for Corning. This is the first time the company has faced the demands of such rapid iteration: Each time a new version of the glass is released, the way it performs in the field has to be monitored for reliability and robustness. To that end, Amin’s team collects hundreds of shattered Gorilla Glass phones. “Almost all breakage, whether it’s big or small, begins at one spot,” says senior research scientist Kevin Reiman, pointing to a nearly invisible chip on an HTC Wildfire, one of a handful of crunched phones on the table in front of him. Once you actually locate that spot, you can start to measure the crack to get an idea of how the tension was applied to the glass; if you can reproduce a break, you can study how it propagated and attempt to prevent it, either compositionally or through chemical strengthening.

Armed with this information, the rest of the group jumps in to re-create that precise kind of failure over and over. They use lever presses; drop testers with granite, concrete, and asphalt surfaces; free gravity ball drops; and various industrial-looking torture devices armed with an arsenal of diamond tips. There’s even a high-speed camera capable of filming at 1 million frames per second to study flexure and flaw propagation.

All this destruction and controlled mayhem has paid off. Compared with the first version of the glass, Gorilla Glass 2 is 20 percent stronger (a third version is due out early next year). The Corning composition scientists have accomplished this by pushing the compressive stress to its limit—they were being conservative with the first version of Gorilla—while managing to avoid the explosive breakage that can come with that increase. Still, glass is a brittle material. And while brittle materials tend to be extremely strong under compression, they’re also extremely weak under tension: If you bend them, they can break. The key to Gorilla Glass is that the compression layer keeps cracks from propagating through the material and catastrophically letting tension take over. Drop a phone once and the screen may not fracture, but you may cause enough damage (even a microscopic nick) to critically sap its subsequent strength. The next drop, even if it isn’t as severe, may be fatal. It’s one of the inevitable consequences of working with a material that is all about trade-offs, all about trying to create a perfectly imperceptible material.

Back at the Harrodsburg plant, a man wearing a black Gorilla Glass T-shirt is guiding a 100-micron-thick sheet of glass (about the thickness of aluminum foil) through a series of rollers. The machine looks like a printing press, and appropriately, the glass that comes off it bends and flexes like a giant glimmering sheet of transparent paper. This remarkably thin, rollable material is called Willow. Unlike Gorilla Glass, which is meant to be used as armor, Willow is more like a raincoat. It’s durable and light, and it has a lot of potential. Corning imagines it will facilitate flexible smartphone designs and uber-thin, roll-up OLED displays. An energy company could also use Willow for flexible solar cells. Corning even envisions ebooks with glass pages.

Eventually, Willow will ship out on huge spools, like movie reels, each holding up to 500 feet of glass. That is, once someone places an order. For now, rolls of glass sit on the Harrodsburg factory floor, a solution waiting for the right problem to arise.

“The Giant Eye”...Corning Glass Works participation

Albert Einstein's methodology


This paper discusses Einstein's methodology. The first topic is: Einstein characterized his work as a theory of principle and reasoned that beyond kinematics, the 1905 heuristic relativity principle could offer new connections between non-kinematical concepts. The second topic is: Einstein's creativity and inventiveness and process of thinking; invention or discovery. The third topic is: Einstein considered his best friend Michele Besso as a sounding board and his class-mate from the Polytechnic Marcel Grossman – as his active partner. Yet, Einstein wrote to Arnold Sommerfeld that Grossman will never claim to be considered a co-discoverer of the Einstein-Grossmann theory. He only helped in guiding Einstein through the mathematical literature, but contributed nothing of substance to the results of the theory. Hence, Einstein neither considered Besso or Grossmann as co-discoverers of the relativity theory which he himself invented.

"Albert Einstein's Methodology" by Galina Weinstein

Bacteria art

"Einstein, Radiation and E. coli: Photos Printed in Bacteria Meld Art and Science"


Jakob Schiller

September 26th 2012


Photographer and microbiologist Zachary Copfer takes issue with people who say the sciences deflate artistic imagination. As someone who works in both fields, the conflict just never made sense to him.

“As I studied science all I could think about was how mysterious and poetic it was,” he says.

With all its variables, abstract thinking and unknowns, says Copfer, science is about as artistic as it gets. To prove it, he recently designed what he calls bacteriogoraphy: growing photographs on bacteria.

Copfer starts by covering a petri dish with different species of bacteria, including Serratia marcescens and E. coli. Then he holds a custom-made negative — he won’t say exactly what it is — over the dish and exposes them to ultraviolet light. The bacteria exposed to the light die; those in the shadow continue growing.

The bacterial images take about two days to grow, or develop. Then, as with a normal photograph, Copfer “fixes” the image, in this case by zapping the remaining bacteria with radiation. To prevent the dead bacteria from drying up and flaking away he covers the final print with a layer of resin and acrylic.

He came up with the process while working on his masters of fine arts at the University of Cincinnati. For his photographs he chose to create, or grow, portraits of scientists and artists he respects. There’s Einstein, Picasso, da Vinci and Darwin. Instead of labeling Einstein a scientist, however, his captions refer to Einstein as an artist. Picasso is referred to as a scientist.

“For me, the theories Einstein came up with are artistic,” he says. “Just like the best art he found abstract ways to think about concrete things.”

Copfer is particularly interested in how Einstein’s theory of relativity disrupted our understanding of time and space. It’s the same kind of exploration and disruptive thinking he sees in Picasso’s cubist work.

“Both were thinking about different ways to theorize three-dimensional space,”
he says.

Following this mash-up, Copfer created a series of bacteria photos based on images from the Hubble telescope. They’re grown using a genetically modified strain of E.coli that glow under a black light.

The bacteriogoraphy project is partly a response to the poem “Sonnet — to Science” by Edgar Allan Poe, who Copfer says lamented the way science took the mysticism out of the stars and the rest of the natural world by trying to explain everything in absolute terms:

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

For Copfer, our scientific understanding of the starts only serves to enhance the poetry of the galaxies. Especially, he says, if you think about them through the lens of the Big Bang theory, which argues that everything we know actually came from the molecules of a star.

“When you think about the fact that we’re all created by the stars they sort of become like gods that created us,” he says. “And that certainly doesn’t take the poetry away for me.”
Copfer is already working on a new form of bacteriogoraphy he calls bacteria transfers. Just like the clay molds used to create actor’s masks, he’s made a mold that creates an imprint of your face by capturing all the bacteria on your skin. He then transfers that bacteria to a petri dish and lets the bacteria grow your portrait.

“This whole thing is just in its infancy,”
Copfer says. “There is still a lot of potential and bacteria is a uniquely powerful medium to keep experimenting with it.”

Superheavy element 113?

"Japanese Physicists Claim Clinching Observation of New Superheavy Element" 


Daniel Clery

September 26th, 2012


The claim sounds simple enough: Physicists in Japan say they have made a new superheavy atom, element 113, which lies at the border of the periodic table. However, the backstory is far more complicated. And it illustrates just how arcane the business of spotting new superheavy elements can be.

It's not the first time physicists have claimed the discovery of element 113. A collaboration of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, reported production of the element in 2003. The Japanese team, which is based at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Wako, made a similar claim in 2004. But neither of those results was conclusive, researchers say. The RIKEN team now makes a "very strong case," says Christoph Düllmann, a nuclear chemist at the GSI nuclear research lab in Darmstadt, Germany. "We clearly have to congratulate them. This has taken years and years of work." Others say they are reserving judgment on who should get the credit for the discovery.

An element's chemical identity is set by the number of protons in its nucleus—its atomic number. All elements with an atomic number greater than uranium's 92 don't exist naturally on Earth and must be produced in nuclear reactors, nuclear explosions, or by using particle accelerators. The tradition is that whichever lab makes a new element gets to suggest its name and hence we already have dubnium (element 105), darmstadtium (element 110), and berkelium (element 97) after the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the third lab that has dominated the field of superheavy elements. RIKEN researchers are the new guys on the block and element 113, if confirmed, would be their first official discovery.

 Physicists make superheavy elements by taking a target film of a heavy metal and bombarding it with a beam of lighter nuclei. Very rarely, one of the projectiles hits a nucleus head-on and forms a compound nucleus which flies out of the foil from the force of the collision. The nucleus will spit out a few neutrons to shed excess energy before arriving at the detector, a heavily instrumented block of silicon. Once it is there, researchers can detect the timing of any decays and the energy of the decay products.

If the nucleus just splits apart, or "fissions," it tells researchers little. They learn more if instead it emits an alpha particle (two protons and two neutrons) to produce a "daughter nucleus" and then that emits another alpha and so on. The timing and energies of the alpha decays reveals the identities of all the members of the chain back to the original nucleus. And if one member of the chain is a nucleus that has been previously studied, then its decay properties anchor the whole sequence in reality.

That anchor decay has been missing in the search for element 113. In 2003, the Dubna team claimed to have made one atom of it by bombarding americium with calcium to produce an atom of element 115, which then quickly decayed to 113 and then lighter elements. The team later found three more similar chains. RIKEN researchers use a slightly different technique in which they slam zinc into bismuth, detecting one atom of element 113 in 2004 and another in 2005. But none of the decay chains detected included an anchor decay. So last year, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), the keepers of the periodic table, decided that neither team could claim discovery.

Kosuke Morita, leader of the RIKEN team, says that his team's new result—a single decay—overcomes these shortcomings. The team's first two decays emitted alphas four times to produce a nucleus of dubnium with an atomic weight of 262 which then split apart by fission. But dubnium-262 is known to have an alternative decay path involving more alpha decays. And Morita's team's third atom took that path, decaying to previously-studied lawrencium-258 followed by mendelevium-254 and then fissioning, as the researchers report this week in the Journal of the Physical Society of Japan. "Morita and team have a very good claim. It's a very good landing point in known isotopes," says Heino Nitsche of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Game, set, and match? Not quite. The Dubna researchers have also accumulated additional evidence to support their claim, which they submitted to IUPAC and IUPAP earlier this year. Dubna researchers have now made a total of 56 atoms of element 113 with five different masses, says team leader Yuri Oganessian. Because the Dubna team used a different target and projectile than the Japanese, all of their decay chains end in the fission of dubnium. However, the chemistry of dubnium had been studied previously, so the team was able to identify that final single atom in the decay chain by chemical means before it fell apart. "You have to commend them," Nitsche says. "But the results are not unambiguous. There are a few experts who are not completely convinced."

Oganessian declines to say who he thinks IUPAC and IUPAP should credit with the discovery. "It would be unethical and incorrect to discuss the issues that are directly connected with the work of experts before they make their decision," he says. He does note, however, that elements 114 and 116 have been credited without the demonstration of an anchor decay. Ultimately, the decision may be a matter of scientific taste, says GSI's Düllmann: "In the end it boils down to which [type of evidence] does IUPAC like best?" 


Synthesis of element #117 achieved

Element #112=Copernicium [Cp]--maybe

It's official...element #112 is Copernicium

Element 112..."copernicium"?

Proposed names for the two new elements

New elements for the Periodic Table

Lord Martin Rees had some words about astronomers and UFOs

"Astronomers and UFOs: A Response to the Lord Martin Rees"

September 26th, 2012

Huff Post Weird News

Lord Martin Rees recently offered The Huffington Post his opinion about UFOs:

    "No serious astronomer gives any credence to any of these stories ... I think most astronomers would dismiss these. I dismiss them because if aliens had made the great effort to traverse interstellar distances to come here, they wouldn't just meet a few well-known cranks, make a few circles in corn fields and go away again."
Such sweeping statements from well regarded scientists are endlessly frustrating to the UFO researcher. Particularly given that interest in UFOs actually drives some people to study astronomy! Unfortunately the idea that only kooks see UFOs is prevalent.

But because Lord Rees is a scientist, the correct answer is to provide him with scientific data that is directly relevant to his claim. I am aware of only three attempts to scientifically gauge what percentage of astronomers see UFOs. Two show that not only do astronomers see UFOs in America, but many are afraid to report their sightings because they fear professional and public ridicule. The final source indicates that astronomers see UFOs at a dramatically greater rate than the general population.

On August 6, 1952, Astronomer J. Allen Hynek offered the USAF's Project Blue Book a "Special Report on Conferences with Astronomers on Unidentified Aerial Objects."

Hynek interviewed some 45 astronomers on their experiences and opinions about UFOs during and following the meeting of the American Astronomical Society that June. Hynek provides some notes on each individual astronomer and their opinions. Here's what some astronomers thought in 1952:

Astronomer Y (no sightings) said, "If I saw one, I wouldn't say anything about it."

Astronomer II (two sightings) "is willing to cooperate but does not wish to have notoriety," Hynek reports.

Astronomer OO: (one sighting) was a new observer at the Harvard Meteor Station in New Mexico. He saw two lights moving in parallel that were too fast for a plane and too slow for a meteor. He had not reported his observation.

Hynek concluded: "Over 40 astronomers were interviewed of which five had made sightings of one sort or another. This is a higher percentage than among the populace at large. Perhaps this is to be expected, since astronomers do, after all, watch the skies."


The next data point comes from 1977. Dr. Peter Sturrock made a questionnaire about UFO attitudes and experiences. Again the target was the members of the American Astronomical Society. The paper was eventually printed in 1994 in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, a peer-reviewed but decidedly non-mainstream publication.

Sturrock received 1,356 responses from 2,611 questionnaires. Sixty-two astronomers responded that they had observed something they could not explain which could be relevant to the UFO phenomenon. Eighteen of those witnesses said they had previously reported their sightings, and Sturrock notes that a 30% reporting rate is greater than what is assumed for the average population. Section 3.2 of the paper titled "Comparison of Witnesses and Non-Witnesses" contains a table showing that UFO witnessees were actually more likely to be night sky observers (professional or amateur) while non-witnesses are more likely to not even be observing the skies at all!

Sturrock also includes commentary from the astronomers, and again a sample is illuminating:

C1. "I object to being quizzed about this obvious nonsense. Unidentified = unobserved or factually unrecorded: modern mythology. Too much respectability given to it."

C1O. "l find it tough to make a living as an astronomer these days. It would be professionally suicidal to devote significant time to UFOs. However, I am quite interested in your survey."

C16. "Menzel and Condon have made further investigation unnecessary unless some really new phenomena are reported ... There is no pattern to UFO reports except that they predominantly come from unreliable observers."

At the 1969 AAAS UFO debate organized by Carl Sagan, Dr. Franklin Roach delivered a paper on "Astronomers' Views on UFOs." He focuses on the lack of publicized UFO reports from major astronomical research programs that constantly monitor vast swaths of the sky. He offered a quote from the famous astronomer Gerard Kuiper:

    "I should correct a statement that has been made that scientists have shied away from UFO reports for fear of ridicule ... A scientist chooses his field of inquiry because he believes it holds real promise. If later his choice proves wrong, he will feel very badly and try to sharpen his criteria before he sets out again. Thus, if society finds that most scientists have not been attracted to the UFO problem, the explanation must be that they have not been impressed with the UFO reports."

As the comments from the above surveys show, Kuiper was idealizing the behavior of younger scientists. Lacking his prestige and tenure, they were less willing to suffer mockery from their peers.

The final data point comes from the Soviet Union. "Observations of Anomalous Atmospheric Phenomena in the USSR: Statistical Analysis" is a report by L.M. Gindilis, D.A. Men'Kov, and I.G. Petrovkaya. It was published by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1979 and translated into English by NASA as Technical Memorandum no. 75665 in 1980 and later distributed by CUFOS. It is a statistical analysis of over 200 raw UFO reports in the Soviet Union. Three quarters of the reports come from their massive wave of UFO reports in 1967.

Section 3, "Observers and Witnesses of Observations," contains some very interesting data. They note that "contrary to the widespread fallacy, there is a highly significant percentage of astronomers among the observers." By comparing the number of UFO observers from a given occupation with census data, the authors arrive at a "Activity Coefficient." A higher coefficient indicates a group is reporting more UFOs than expected by population.

At the time, approximately .002% of Soviets over the age of nine were astronomers. Yet they accounted for 10 reports in the Soviet dataset. This yields an activity coefficient of 7500 [Note: NASA's translation reads 7000]. Undergraduates had a coefficient of 3, maintenance workers .9 and Students .02. The Soviet numbers are clear: astronomers report UFOs at astronomical rates.

Astronomers see UFOs. Unless we think they are kooks simply because they saw a UFO, the data shows that Lord Rees is incorrect. In the United States, astronomers who observe UFOs on their instruments fear ridicule from other scientists and the press. Despite the aura of illegitimacy around UFOs, the data indicates that astronomers even report UFOs at noticeably greater rates than laypeople.

Better and more recently survey data is clearly desirable. Hynek's survey was informal, Sturrock's is 35 years old, and the Soviet analysis is done on unvetted reports. Only Sturrock's paper was subject to peer-review. But as we have seen, it takes considerable courage for a scientist to brave "career suicide" and study UFOs despite proclamations that the subject is off-limits.

There is a lot of hard work that needs to be done if science hopes to understand the UFO phenomenon. It would be particularly useful to adopt the Soviet activity coefficient and apply it to other databases. Hopefully Lord Rees hasn't scared too many people away from applying the scientific method to UFO reports.


Martin Rees and the Templeton prize

Professor Rees' perspective

Ancient Buddhist statue, Nazis, meteorite, Indiana Jones? Jones

"Ancient Buddhist statue, filched by Nazis, was carved from meteorite"


Will Parker

Septrember 27th, 2012

Science a Go Go

 A 1,000 year-old Buddhist statue discovered by a Nazi expedition to Tibet in 1938 has been analyzed by scientists and found to be carved from a rare ataxite meteorite. Details of how the provenance of the relic was established have been published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 10kg (21lb) and is believed to portray the god Vaisravana (known as Jambhala in Tibet). According to anthropologists, the relic displays stylistic elements associated with both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon cultures.

It was discovered in 1938 by an expedition led by German zoologist Ernst Schäfer (pictured). Interestingly, the expedition was sponsored by Nazi SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and the entire expeditionary team were believed to have been SS members.

Schäfer would later claim that he accepted SS support to advance his scientific research into the wildlife and anthropology of Tibet. However, many historians believe Himmler's support may have been based on his belief that the origins of the Aryan race could be found in Tibet.

The statue was taken back to Germany and became part of a private collection in Munich. It only became available for study following its sale at auction in 2007.

The first team to study the origins of the statue was led by Dr Elmar Buchner from Stuttgart University. Buchner's team was able to classify it as an ataxite, a rare class of iron meteorite with high contents of nickel.

"The statue was chiseled from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago," explained Buchner. "While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before." Buchner adds that it is possible the statue originated from the Bon culture of the 11th Century.

Buchner is reluctant to put a value on the piece but he notes that it is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved from a meteorite. "We have nothing to compare it to when assessing value," he said. "If our estimation of its age is correct and it is nearly a thousand years old it could be invaluable."

Physicist...artist...France Tremblay

"Physicist turned artist enjoys science of painting"


Blair Edwards

September 27th, 2012


When the high-tech bubble burst in 2001, it came as a natural career crossroads for France Tremblay.

For nearly a decade, the Kanata Lakes woman had worked as a scientist, first studying quantum mechanics at the prestigious Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in England, then later developing radar systems for the Department of Defence.

From 1996 to 2001, Tremblay managed teams of scientists developing the next generation of telecommunication technology at Nortel Networks.

But always in the back of her mind, she carried with her the dream of becoming a full-time artist, a seismic career switch for a woman who had spent the past 20 years developing impressive academic and professional credentials in the fields of physics and telecommunications.

The change in careers came a little earlier than originally planned with the fall of Nortel.

"I'm now a full-time artist with science as a hobby," said Tremblay.


Science was Tremblay's first passion in life.

"I loved it since I was a kid,"
she said.

Tremblay, who grew up in Quebec City, was interested in studying the physical world, with math simply providing the paintbrush to bring her observations to life.

"The maths are an essential tool to describe the world we live in," she said.

Tremblay earned a bachelor's degree in physics at Lavalle University, in Quebec City, a master's degree in physics at the University of Toronto and finally a PhD degree in physics at Cambridge.

"Physics is the best way to do a lot of maths while linking it to the physical world, so I found that exciting," said Tremblay. "Physics means you study something that's real."

During her off time while studying in England, Tremblay toured art museums throughout Europe, and developed a second passion in life.

"I was having a natural interest in art,"
Tremblay said.

The fledgling artist visited many of the great museums in France, such as the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, as well as some of the smaller venues devoted to only one artist, such as Picasso and Rodin.

"They're still jewels," she said.

Those tours allowed Tremblay to begin learning the tools she would need to prepare for a career in art.

"A seed was planted in my heart in Europe,"
she said. "I had a decade to prepare."

When she started working as a scientist, Tremblay used her off hours to learn the fundamentals of painting, such as drawing techniques and the proper way to mix paint.

"This is a life-long learning curve,"
Tremblay said. "You need to have a lot of tools in your toolbox."

Since 2002, Tremblay has become a full-time artist and part-time scientist - she works as a professor in the electrical engineering department at the University of Ottawa.

She has entered high-profile exhibitions in the United States, including the Paint the Parks Top 11 in 2007, 2011 and 2012 as well as The Art of Conservation, an international annual event presented at various prestigious museums and the Society of Animal Artists exhibition from 2010-12.

She won the grand prize in the Paint the Park Top 100 in 2008 and was selected a finalist in the landscapes category and wildlife art category of the Artist's Magazine Annual Art Competition, which draws entries from nearly 15,000 artists every year.

Every year, Tremblay opens her home to the public, participating in the annual Kanata Artists Studio Tour.

Tremblay paints landscapes, still life and wildlife pieces using acrylic paint as well as drawing using coloured pencils, graphite and carbon.

She lists some of her influences as Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, as well as painters Patricia Pepin and John Banovich.

In 2002, Tremblay founded an art school that she runs out of her home in Kanata Lakes.


Tremblay's eye for precision influenced her taste in art.

She said she approaches her paintings from the perspective of a scientist and that her work is the result of careful planning and analysis.

"A lot of my work is so realistic to the extreme," she said. "That means I have to do a lot of research on the subject."

Every year, Tremblay plans one to two trips to remote areas to "research" her paintings.

"Every painting you see (on my wall) is the result of my research in the field," she said. "I'm climbing mountains, I'm walking in the deserts - for me that's the exciting part of the process."

Her research trips have included visits to Death Valley in eastern California, the Rocky Mountains in Alberta as well as the Florida Keys.

Her research provides an intense study of her paintings' subjects.

For instance, Tremblay spent countless hours in Andrew Haydon Park in Nepean, observing, sketching and studying a specific great blue heron, the subject of her acrylic painting, The Sovereign.

"I can tell you that specific bird has lived in Andrew Haydon Park for two years," she said. "I'm not looking at the bird species. I'm looking at the bird - this isn't a bird, it's a specific blue heron."

From start to finish, a painting can take between 80 to 200 hours for Tremblay to produce.

Tremblay said her future goal remains the same every year - improve as an artist, learn better technique and design.

"I just want to do the best painting I can."

1,141 inmates could benefit from Annie Dookhan's mistakes

"Chemist in lab scandal told investigators: ‘I messed up bad’"


Brian Ballou and Andrea Estes

September 26th, 2012

The former state chemist at the heart of the state drug lab scandal admitted to investigators that she improperly removed evidence from storage, forged colleagues’ signatures, and didn’t perform proper tests on drugs for “two or three years,” according to a copy of a State Police report obtained by the Globe.

Annie Dookhan, whose misconduct may have jeopardized evidence in about 34,000 drug cases, also admitted that she recorded drug tests as positive when they were negative “a few times” and sometimes tested only a small sample of the drug batch that she was supposed to analyze.

“I messed up. I messed up bad. It’s my fault,” she told the state troopers who visited her Franklin home on Aug. 28, insisting that she acted alone. “I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.”

However, the troopers’ interviews with other chemists in the lab make clear that Dookhan’s colleagues had concerns about her unusually large caseload and lab habits and raised them with supervisors. But the supervisors took little action even when they learned that she had forged other chemists’ initials on some drug samples.

The police report marks the first time that the public has heard from Dookhan in her own words. What emerges is a picture of a woman who may have suffered an emotional breakdown and who had been under suspicion for cutting corners in the lab for at least two years. When the troopers confronted her with the evidence of wrongdoing, Dookhan confessed again and again.

At one point, when troopers suggested Dookhan should speak to her husband about getting a lawyer, Dookhan said that she was going through serious marital problems and had no money to hire one.

After the interview, State Police were so concerned about Dookhan’s state of mind that they called to make sure she was not suicidal, according to the report.

Detective Lieutenant Robert Irwin, a trooper assigned to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, asked Dookhan if she ever thought “bad thoughts.”

“She said that the harm she was causing people would go through her mind every now and then,” Irwin wrote in his report. “I then asked her if she had thought of harming herself. She said no.”

The state lab in Jamaica Plain was closed in August after State Police discovered the potential magnitude of Dookhan’s actions. As a state chemist for nine years, Dookhan handled 60,000 drug samples and sometimes provided expert testimony in court.

So far, Dookhan has not been charged with any crime. Coakley’s office is trying to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing by Dookhan or others.

Already, at least 20 drug defendants have been freed, had their bail reduced, or had their sentences suspended because the evidence in their cases was analyzed by Dookhan. And many more are likely to be freed: Governor Deval Patrick’s investigators have identified 1,141 inmates in state prisons or county jails in cases based on evidence handled by Dookhan.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey has called the Dookhan case “one of the largest criminal snafus in the history of the Commonwealth.”

But until now, Dookhan, the 34-year-old-mother at the heart of the debacle, has not been heard from, declining comment and remaining largely out of public view. In fact, she made it clear to Irwin that she didn’t understand why the media was interested in her.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Space shuttles...decades later

One wonders about the shuttles in decades to come. In times past we were enamored by steam locomotion and many engines were placed in parks and rail museums for our awe and entertainment. Most of them are gone now. Could a similar fate happen to the shuttles?

Vanadium...from $4,000 to $1.80/pound...thanks to mining at Minas Ragra, Peru


Workers near Minas Ragra. Ore mined in Peru was sent 3,800 miles to a U.S. smelting plant via llama, train, and ship.

"The Rocks at the Top of the World"


Atsushi Gomi and Robert D. Whetham

Chemical Heritage Foundation

For almost 100 years after its first discovery in 1801 the element vanadium languished in obscurity. It was rare and lacked any apparent use. All that changed at the turn of the century when John Oliver Arnold discovered that adding a tiny amount of the element to steel made the steel alloy stronger. Soon after, Henry Ford picked up a fragment of a wrecked French race car. Surprised by its light weight, he sent the piece off for analysis only to be further surprised to learn the steel contained vanadium. Vanadium steel, Ford learned, also turned out to be rustproof and shock and vibration resistant—the perfect material for a new industry in search of new materials. The first Model-T car built by Ford contained vanadium steel in its crankshafts, axles, gears, and springs. Initially, vanadium’s life in industry appeared likely to be cut short: there was no single significant source of the element, little mining of it, and no other options for those looking to make stronger steel on a large scale. But one day in 1905, in one of the world’s most remote and harshest regions, two men discovered the vanadium equivalent of a gold mine.

That day, Antenor Rizo Patrón Lequérica and Eulogio E. Fernandini de la Quintana rode their horses to Minas Ragra, a windswept, barren area on the edge of the Andes about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of the capital, Lima, and more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the nearest railway. The high altitude, 3 miles (5 kilometers) above sea level, turned even a short amble into an exhausting proposition. But the two had made the grueling journey for a reason. Fernandini owned a nearby lead, silver, and copper mine, as well as a smelter to refine the ores. Rizo Patrón managed the smelter laboratory. In search of fuel to power the smelter, they collected samples of any rock that looked burnable. After filling their packs they got on their horses for the return journey.

As night approached and temperatures dropped below freezing, the two men lodged at Hacienda Hayarragra, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Minas Ragra. To warm their icy room they burned one of the samples—a shiny lump of what looked like coal. Though the samples did not appear to contain pyrite or any other familiar sulfide minerals, the burning lump produced a surprisingly large amount of poisonous sulfurous gas. Rizo Patrón analyzed the sample on his return to the lab and discovered a new mineral, one that contained vanadium. While Rizo Patrón got naming rights—he called it patronite (VS4), after himself—Fernandini applied for mining property rights.

Meanwhile, in the United States a man named Joseph M. Flannery had a problem. Flannery managed the Flannery Bolt Company at Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, which produced flexible stay bolts used primarily for steam-locomotive boilers. Flannery wanted high-strength steel alloys for his bolts. He had heard about vanadium findings in Peru and in 1906 dispatched two American geologists, Donnel F. Hewett and Alfred Thompson, to search for a supply. The two men first visited the Llacsacocha mine, where vanadium had also been discovered, but found nothing worth mining. Disappointed, they returned to Lima, where they planned to board a ship for home. Before departing they met with José Julián Bravo, who managed the laboratory for the Corps of Mining Engineers of Peru and who had written a report on patronite. Bravo showed a sample from Minas Ragra to the two Americans, who promptly turned around and headed inland again. Their subsequent report to Flannery convinced him to buy Minas Ragra.

Fernandini had no objection to selling: he knew he lacked the resources to develop the mine. He sold it to Flannery for 2,000 Peruvian pounds (approximately U.S. $10,000) and 10% of the stock in the new company, the American Sales Company. Flannery then established the American Vanadium Company, and the mine opened for business the very next year.

Equipment had to be lugged to the remote site, local miners hired, and lodging built for them. Only 201 metric tons of vanadium ore were mined in 1907, for a total of 28.2 metric tons of vanadium pentoxide (V2O5). Between the mining in Peru and the smelting in Pennsylvania, the ore traveled almost 3,800 miles (6,120 kilometers), first on the backs of llamas and then via rail and ship. Production quickly ramped up; by 1910 output had increased to 3,130 metric tons containing 702.4 metric tons of V2O5. The extremely high-grade ore contained up to 40% V2O5, consisting of patronite and its various oxide minerals.

The vanadium from Minas Ragra changed the world’s steel industry. Before Flannery’s purchase of the mine vanadium steel-alloy production in the United States was less than 1,000 tons per year; after the Minas Ragra mine and the Bridgeville smelter began operating, production increased to 800,000 metric tons in 1916, reaching an annual rate of 1,100,000 metric tons in 1919. Vanadium steel became a player in some of the major advances of the era: it appeared in parts of the Panama Canal lock gates and in the first plane-mounted cannon in World War I, as well as in Ford’s Model T.

The approximately 36,000 metric tons of V2O5 the Minas Ragra mine produced between 1907 and 1955 came from only a small area 360 feet (110 meters) in length, 32 feet (10 meters) wide, and 200 feet (60 meters) deep, inside of an open pit measuring only 850 feet (260 meters) by 400 feet (120 meters). This one small body of ore in Peru allowed its American owners to satisfy more than half the entire world’s demand for vanadium and to control the world vanadium market for over 50 years. For much of that time the ore was dug by hand, dumped into ore carts, and then pushed out of the mine by workers. Only in 1943 did a diesel locomotive replace hard labor in moving ore carts.

In 1909 Flannery learned that his sister had cancer. He withdrew from his vanadium interests and in 1911 established the Standard Chemical Company in Pittsburgh to concentrate on producing radium for cancer treatment. His former company carried on without him, though the mine twice became a victim of its own success. The rapid increase in vanadium production caused the price to collapse to the point where mine operations were shut down between 1912 and 1913 and again in 1922. Before ore was first dug out of Minas Ragra, vanadium had sold for $4,000 per pound. Soon after the mine closed for the first time, vanadium was selling for only $1.80 per pound.

In 1919 the mine was sold again, to Jacob L. Replogle and Charles M. Schwab, who had established the Vanadium Corporation of America. The two wanted to secure sources of specialty steel and went on to buy other vanadium, molybdenum, and tungsten mines and smelters in Colorado, where vanadium was produced as a by-product of uranium mining. A year later the new owners decided to install rail at Minas Ragra. A 4-mile- long (6 kilometer) railway was built between the mine and the Jumasha beneficiation plant (where the ore underwent initial separation) located on the west shore of Lake Punrún. An additional 16 miles (26 kilometers) of rail were laid from the east side of the lake to Ricrán railway station. In 1924 the railway opened, and the llamas were retired from their ore-carrying duties.

But by 1929 the high-grade vanadium ore was nearly exhausted, and attempts to treat low-grade ore proved unsuccessful. The mine closed in 1930, only to reopen in 1934 when a new process to treat low-grade ore was introduced. The ore was calcined with salt and the vanadium leached out with sulfuric acid. Production of V2O5 reached 2,073 metric tons in 1940 and continued until 1955, by which time the mine’s mineral reserves were almost exhausted. The mine closed, its workings were dismantled, and in 1959 the mineral claims were abandoned.

Today, the main sources of vanadium come from deposits of titaniferous magnetite in South Africa, China, and Russia, and uranium-bearing sandstone and phosphate rock in the United States. Most of these contain less than 2% V2O5, only a twentieth of the amount contained in Minas Ragra ore at its peak. Other vanadium sources include heavy petroleum, oil sand, and coal. The total world production is approximately 100,000 metric tons of V2O5 per year.

The open-pit mine at Minas Ragra is now filled with water, but the railway grades and the foundations of the beneficiation plant at Jumasha still remain visible. High in the Andes, they serve as monuments to the first commercial vanadium production in the world.

Atsushi Gomi is the chief representative of the Peruvian branch of Mitsui Mining & Smelting Company, Ltd., and the president of its subsidiary company, Compañia Minera Santa Luisa S.A.

[Robert Whetham is a retired land-use planner and author of several books on railway subjects, including two recent publications on the history of railway development in Peru.]

Visit the Chemical Heritage Foundation for a lot of cool stuff.

 Vanadium [Wikipedia]

D o n n e l f o s t e r H e w e t t 1881—1971 A Biographical Memoir by James Gilluly