28 September 2011

DGC ex machina

The ivory tower is being corroded away by contaminated mine water! I already spoke of one of the newest acquisition of our school: Hugh the Australian postdoc. One may guess he’s here not only for ogling cricket. And indeed: his core activity concerns studying pollution due to mining activities in the Tamar Valley. And an observant reader might have noticed I greatly enjoy wallowing in exactly these pollutants. So I might have a thing or two to show him!

I like immersing myself in corrosive gloop, but I acknowledge that the monarch of ochre is not me but Rick, so when Rick would give a talk about something having to do with mining I dragged Hugh along. If he could plug into the knowledge of not only Rick, but also the other very knowledgeable members of the audience such as Dave, he would gain massively from that.

Listening to a talk is one thing, but getting deep down & dirty and close to science is better, so he’d decided to wander around on the surface on Devon Great Consols on the Sunday. And on that very surface I had imbibed Rick’s limitless knowledge in May, so I volunteered to come along and find out how much I would be able to remember of that walk, perhaps festooning my elaborations with anecdotes of underground DGC exploits. So on a reasonably beautiful morning we turned onto the old dressing floor, nowadays mostly in use as parking lot. There were some cars there already; my eye was caught by one which looked quite like Rick’s. And then my eye was caught by what could be no other than Rick himself. Who would have thought!

Rick seemed to be waiting for something. I jumped out of the car and soon found out we had, entirely accidentally, come just in time for Rick doing just that guided tour again, yet to a different audience. Fate gave us a huge bonus! We rejoiced in such an unbelievable chance.

One may assume that such a tour done twice is boring, but that assumption does not take into consideration the undeniable eloquence of our host, and the ever-increasing amount of knowledge he possesses. There were features along the way he hadn’t discovered yet the previous time, there were those he didn’t understand the previous time while now he did, there were features he had described as unique but now found more of, and features he now understood better. So we quaffed the information-by-the-bucket and had a good time. Hugh especially drooled and swooned at evident accumulations of pollutants and streams probably taking these to the Tamar. Where his sampling stations were gobbling it all up!

Rick looking erudite next to a pristine "DGC" inscription

Two of the other participants: Ian, one of the technicians in chemistry, and his very charming dog

One of the buildings on site had been restored in a somewhat questionable way, but I was taken by the charming detail of the rusty kettle

I also took the opportunity to dive into two small tunnels in an enormous pile of arsenic-laden mine waste. Perhaps not the wisest places to reside but I really couldn’t resist. They are pretty on the inside! And after the ball mill and the arsenic works the fun came to an end. Hugh wanted to check one of his stations, and I wanted to show him a conveniently nearby and easily accessible mine from the inside, so we moved on. Watch this space for reports on these exploits!

The entrance to one of the tunnels in the waste heap

The view from the waste heap

On the inside, looking out. Notice this tunnel isn't supported at all!

Maybe this is what keeps the sediment together: crystallisation! Would it be arsenic?

Hugh in the second tunnel, which was wet but supported

The arsenic works in the afternoon sun

If the whole of Hugh’s project is as blessed as this day was his career is now on a one way track to Nature publications and professorships. We’ll see!

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