Guest Video: “I Made Iron From A Rock”

This is one of those videos that makes the Internet so worthwhile.

Hope Mom wasn’t planning on using her flour sifter, though.

According to the USGS, most US iron ore comes from Michigan and Minnesota, but a quick look online shows that Utah has enough of it to make it impossible to say just what formation that light-colored sandstone he used came from.

Featured image: Iron furnace, Jeremy Farley, Wythe County, Virginia.

Guest Video: Forms in Nature

We spend a lot of our time putting names on things, personalizing them, and figuring out how we can best use them to move ahead in life.

But our first perception of anything is just its form. All the thinking and imagining and exploitation come later.

This video is an excellent animation, but it also cuts through the whole “naming” part of perception to show that first moment of contact.

It’s a refreshing look at the wide variety of wonders in this world, natural and human.

Guest Video: Critical/Strategic Minerals

Gold, silver, and gems aren’t the only treasures out there. The materials that make our modern life possible aren’t always pretty, but they are very important. The rare ones, like the platinum group elements, are also expensive.

Recently, the US government put together a list of the minerals that it considers to be most important to the security and economic welfare of the country. While insiders recognize a difference between “critical” and “strategic,” in practice the two are pretty much the same minerals.

This list has a link for each of the 35 minerals, showing how they are used and lots of other information.

In addition, here is a webinar on critical minerals from 2016.

Featured image: Clint Budd, CC BY 2.0.

Guest Video: How To Grow A Bone

Would you believe 2020?

Calcium isn’t the only bone mineral, but it is the most common one. Besides making bones strong, calcium regulates some tissue function, too.

Perhaps this mineral is so versatile because it’s actually a metal!

PS: Don’t vandalaize these beautiful works of Nature!

Featured image: The Long Man of Wilmington, by LoggaWiggler at Pixabay. Public domain.

Why We Need Iron

It’s quite an ego boost to recognize that we’re breathing with the help of star material1 that survived a planetary catastrophe2, spent at least 800 million years in the Precambrian seas3, and then was buried for another 500 million years or so until you picked it up or somebody dug it out of the ground and put it in your vitamin supplements.

That’s much more glorious than just rusting away – almost – but as this Australian Broadcasting Company presenter describes it, the process of rusting is a very, very delicate balance that we, and other iron-based life, do all the time.

Featured image: Hemoglobin F by David Iberri. Public domain.



Guest Video: Borosilicate Glass

For the first time ever, I recently tried a French press for making coffee and like it a lot, but the glass is SO thin.

Since I’m old enough to remember when you had to put a metal contraption underneath Pyrex so it wouldn’t break when you used it, I was really careful about pouring hot water into this at first.

French press

Of course, it’s fine. According to Dr. Wikipedia, this borosilicate glass has an extremely high resistance to thermal shock.

I wanted to do a post about this but soon learned that things get very chemical very quickly. Those two links up above will get you started, if you want to look more deeply into this modern wonder.

Or you can simply sit back and enjoy a short silent movie of someone at Tuffnell Glass fashioning borosilicate glass into something not at all utilitarian – a dragonfly!

Guest videos: “Roman Concrete” Good for Volcanoes and Buildings!

Every volcano has its own chemistry. The chemistry of the “pozzolana” ash produced by Italy’s Campi Flegri is especially useful when the pressure builds up.

Not mentioned in that video is the third key ingredient: sea water, which can strengthen the concrete over time.

Featured image: Skeeze, at Pixabay. Public domain.

The Wonder of a Cloudy Oregon Sunrise

The sun rose like this today here in Oregon, a little ways inland from the Pacific Ocean – just peeping out under an overlying wall of clouds. But at dawn, the sky was almost crystal clear.

I’m not sure about this, but we may be one of the few places in the continental US where you could witness such a change in cloud cover today.

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Why Clay Makes Good Ceramics


These two things have ceramics in common, even though they are separated in time by 5,500 years.  Valdivia figurine and Space Shuttle

These two things have ceramics in common, even though they are separated in time by 5,500 years. Valdivia figurine and Space Shuttle

People have been using clay since the Stone Age, but what exactly is it? Why does clay make such good ceramics?

What is clay?

Clay forms wherever rocks that contain aluminum and silica are exposed to air, water, or steam. It’s all over the place, in other words – from mountains through volcanoes and geothermal fields to the ocean floor – and usually mixed in with a lot of other organic and inorganic stuff.

Not surprisingly, clay doesn’t have a single chemical formula. It is defined by its physical properties, and you can easily guess what these are. Clay absorbs or loses water easily, for instance, and it swells when wet.

Here are the two key properties of the clay group of minerals when it comes to ceramics:

  • They’re soft and made of tiny crystals (less than 0.004 mm in size) that are arranged in sheets
  • Some are plastic when mixed with a little water – you can deform them and they will hold the new shape

That plasticity, of course, is why we started using clay in the first place. No one is sure why it happens. Small grain size, chemical bonding, and water’s lubricating effect on the stacked crystal sheets all certainly have something to do with it.

There are three basic types of clay minerals, but we’re just going to look at the type of clay that’s usually used in ceramics.
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