Aluminum Production: from bauxite mining to chemical processing

I have always been interested in metalworking and crafting, and one of the more prominent experiences I have had with this line of work was when I created an aluminum ingot in high school. The process in which this ingot was made involved the use of a homemade, charcoal-powered furnace. The process of constructing the furnace consisted of filling a bucket with a mixture of plaster, sand, and silica powder; these are all highly heat resistant materials and can withstand high temperatures. An indentation was made with a smaller vessel and left until the filling hardened somewhat. Afterward, a hole was drilled in the side, and once it was fully hardened, a metal tube with an air outtake was placed through the hole. Our crucible was essentially just a fire extinguisher cut in half; just a sturdy steel cup to hold the metal. We put charcoal at the bottom and used the air outtake to heat up the hot coals and bring the crucible to temperature and we put cans in until they melted. Once the metal was all liquid, we poured it into an ingot mold to cool. This was a simple process that some Highschool kids were able to complete, and It made me think of the larger process that goes into creating aluminum ingots on an industrial scale, and all of the uses it has.

My ingot was made of aluminum beer and soda cans that I found in the forest behind my home. When people think of aluminum, this is probably one of the first things that come to mind, and they are probably seen as nothing more than a commonplace object. Soda cans, “tin” foil, kitchen utensils, smartphone bodies, laptop frames, are all common uses for aluminum. 

The next question we can ask is, why aluminum? It really comes down to a matter of both chemistry and economics. Aluminum is famous for being extraordinarily lightweight, while also possessing a high tensile strength; “Aluminum has a tensile strength of 276 MPa and a density of 2.81g cm3.” while “Stainless steel has a tensile strength of 505 MPa and a density of 8 g cm-3” (Aluminum vs Stainless Steel). Going back to the example of a simple soda can, we can see that the structural ingenuity of these cans is quite a marvel. A room temperature soda can typically hold a pressure of around 50-60 psi and is rated for pressures of up to 90 psi, a pressure that is almost 6 times that of standard conditions. This is all possible despite the fact that an aluminum can is usually only a millimeter in thickness. A scuba tank shows us a similar example, these tanks are usually only around 15 millimeters in thickness but hold almost 3,000 psi of pressure. 

Aluminum’s lightweight nature has led it to be the favored material in airplanes, trains, and even space crafts for many decades. 

“Aluminum is also known as the ‘winged metal’ because it is ideal for aircraft; again, due to being light, strong and flexible. In fact, aluminum was used in the frames of Zeppelin airships before airplanes had even been invented. Today, modern aircraft use aluminum alloys throughout, from the fuselage to the cockpit instruments. Even spacecraft, such as space shuttles, contain 50% to 90% of aluminum alloys in their parts.” (Metal supermarkets)

This being said, there is one large exception to this trend, automobiles. Automobiles have traditionally used steel in their construction, and still do to this day. However, “experts predict that the average aluminum content in a car will increase by 60% by 2025” (Metal supermarkets), due to its cheapness and structural benefits. 

All of the previously mentioned examples show the physical and tensile properties of aluminum on a large scale. However, if we look at some of aluminum’s lesser-known uses, we can see that the chemical properties of this metal play a big role in its widespread use. Many metals are known to be “ductile”, that is to say, that they have the ability to be molded and shaped without being subject to brittle deformation. This is typically important when concerning the production of cables and wires. Most metals are highly conductive, and aluminum is no exception. While the ideal conductors used in electronics typically tend to be copper, silver, and gold, aluminum holds its own with its specific niche, cheapness. At the time of writing, the market price of gold is 1,791 dollars per ounce, silver is 23.27 dollars per ounce, copper is 27 cents per ounce, while aluminum is only 8 cents per ounce (Daily Metal Spot Prices). Silver is technically the best conductor of electricity, however, it is extremely prone to oxidation and tarnishes, making it unsuitable for typical electronics. Gold is highly resilient but is very expensive to use in large quantities. Copper is the prime choice for most electronics, but it too is susceptible to oxidation. Aluminum, while a worse conductor than copper, outshines it in the context of the conductivity to weight ratio. It is also very resistant to typical means of corrosion, this is due to the fact that aluminum forms a thin layer of oxide on its surface that keeps the corrosion from penetrating any deeper than the skin. Most electrical transmission cables are aluminum, as they are typically situated outside, and need to be able to deal with changing weather conditions (Why Are Power Lines so Dangerous?). Given all of this, it is easy to see why aluminum has become the dominant choice of material for many purposes, both industrial, and commonplace. 

Mining and Manufacture

The presence of aluminum is something that most people likely take for granted, after all, it is a clean metal that poses no health issues like lead or zinc. Most people likely have some idea as to the production process of aluminum, let alone any metal. A simplified explanation for the processing of most metals involves a few steps: location sampling, raw ore mining, and finally purification and smelting. However, like most things, the process is a little more complicated than it first seems.

Starting with the process of mining, we need to look at the locations from which aluminum ore is primarily sourced as well as the nature of the ore itself. The primary ore of aluminum is a rock called Bauxite.

Bauxite is a sedimentary rock, rather unremarkable in appearance, with a rusty red to brown color; this red hue comes from iron ores mixed in with the aluminum. The most prominent feature of it is the “nodules” of aluminum minerals found inside. Bauxite as a whole is composed of many minerals, the main constituents are Iron and Aluminum Oxides, but there are a few notable trace elements like lead, titanium, mercury, etc.

 The 5 largest producers of Bauxite in the world are, Australia, China, Guinea, Brazil, and India; of these countries, Guinea has the largest reserves at almost seven million, thousand tonnes (Bauxite and Alumina). That being said, the prime minister of Vietnam claims that they have nearly 11,000 megatons of bauxite ore, making it, possibly, the largest untapped reserve of bauxite in the world.

Fig 1b. Bauxite ore and Bauxite compositions (Review of Bauxite Residue)

Bauxite is mined through fairly conventional means, primarily strip mining. Strip mining is a blanket term for any mining that involves a “full” excavation of the soil and whatever lies underneath. Most ore is found near the surface, so it is simply removed from the ground through diggers and trucked off to a processing facility.

Fig. 2: Bauxite mine in Guinea (Alufer Mining, Bel Air mine)

It is at this stage where we start to see the beginnings of controversy. Bauxite mining is done primarily in underdeveloped countries, and as such are highly subject to corporate exploitation and exploitation, and endangerment of the community as a whole. 

We can take a look at one particular instance of mining to get a good picture of some of the negative effects that come from bauxite mining. A study done in 2016 by doctor Noor Hisham Abdullah looks at the “Potential Health Impacts of Bauxite Mining in Kuantan”. This study was conducted in Malaysia, a country not typically known for high bauxite production, but still a third-world country in many regards. Bauxite mining, like many other forms of resource acquisition, is a highly profitable business, so it is easy to see why companies would flock to pursue such an endeavor. 

“Bauxite mining in Kuantan offers some exciting economic opportunities for various parties including individual landowners. Nevertheless, the “bauxite boom”; the extensive and uncontrolled mining activities have great potential to cause adverse impacts on the environment, health and quality of life of the people living in the affected areas.” (Abdullah)

This study observed a few key points, but the ones of interest are its impact as a pollutant, and subsequently its impact on health.

Pollution is something that must always be considered when undertaking any sort of mining project. In the United States, most mines are far from the public eye, and they would face harsh legal and social repercussions if they were not. However, this is not the case in these third-world countries.

Fig. 3 “Mining activities occurring close to school area” (Abdullah)

Fig. 4 “Dust deposited on floor of the school” (Abdullah)

In these two photos, the direct impact of Bauxite mining pollution is undeniably clear. The local school is right next to some of the mining operations, and it is clear that large amounts of dust, and silt are accumulating within the building itself. This brings up the question of toxicity and potential harm. Abdullah states:

“The processes of excavating, removal of topsoil and vegetation, transportation of bauxite and unwanted elements and stockpiling of bauxite cause degradation of air quality mainly related to dust pollution. Dust is a solid particulate matter, in the size range of 1 to 75 microns in diameter. Dust smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, known as particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 are of great health concern because it can be inhaled deep into the respiratory system” (Abdullah)

These small particles are often unseen by the human eye; the visible particles are seen mostly as a nuisance as they coat nearly everything in an orange-brown skin. This is far more prominent when looking at the water supply:

Fig. 5: “Bauxite washing pond showing red water” (Abdullah)

The health impact of heavy metals in water is extremely well documented and this case is no exception, 

“Because of its composition, aluminum and iron are the main contaminants that pollute the water resources but depending on the geological characteristics of the land and surrounding land use activities, other toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, nickel, and manganese may also contaminate drinking water resources when the natural ecosystem is aggressively removed and excavated. Chronic exposure to toxic metals may cause multiple organ toxicity and increase cancer risk. Whereas, high-level exposure to aluminum in the stomach prevents the absorption of phosphate, a chemical compound required for healthy bones and may cause bone diseases in children.” (Abdullah) 

This is but one documented case of Bauxite mining and its potentially life-threatening consequences. The study looked mainly at society as a whole, but it is clear that individuals directly involved in these processes, such as miners and workers, suffer far more from these negative effects. It is true that many of these workers make their living from their work in the mines, but the potential health risks may quickly overturn any “profit” there is to be made. Governments in these countries are often more concerned with their own revenue and production than the safety of their workers and people. In the country of Guinea, it is clear that “the government’s focus on growing the bauxite sector has at times appeared to take priority over social and environmental protections” (What Do We Get out of It). 

The unfortunate reality is that these mining operations are likely to continue into the far future. Aluminum is too precious of a commodity for it to ever go out of demand, and even if we are able to stop, or regulate mining in countries like Australia, countries like Guinea and China will have no qualms about continuing their mining spree. In a way, our demand for almost any inorganic product fuels this process: cars, phones, planes, trains, computers, electrical wires, construction materials, these are all arguably essential in our modern lives, and there will never cease to be a demand for these products.

One thing to consider with the production of aluminum is the economic viability of these mining operations. Bauxite ore falls in the price range of about 50$ per metric ton, and Guinnea exported around 88 million tons of ore last year bringing the total price to more than four billion dollars (Bauxite prices). When looking at the processing end of things, most figures show that it takes “approximately 4 to 5 tonnes of bauxite ore to produce 2 tonnes of alumina. In turn, it takes approximately 2 tonnes of alumina to produce 1 tonne of aluminum” (Aluminum facts). The highest demand for aluminum actually comes from Asia, mainly China. China alone makes up more than 56% of the world’s aluminum demand. This is reasonable given the large amount of industrial activity that China promotes. We have seen the exploitative measures that are taken in the mining industry, and it is clear that a similar process is occurring in the manufacturing side of things as well.

Even if we can reduce our consumption of these goods, the very structure of our society depends on aluminum and bauxite resources. That being said, there it is important to recognize all aspects of production and consumption, mining is simply one step of the process. Processing and manufacturing is an entirely different sequence that must be considered, and perhaps through this, we can evaluate the process as a whole.

Processing and Production:

We have seen the process of mining up to this point, but that is but one part of the sequence. Next, we can look at the actual process of the production of aluminum. At this point, we have a large amount of raw Bauxite, and there are a few steps that must be taken to reach the purified metal. First, the bauxite must be crushed and washed, then any excess silica is removed. At this point, the ore is mixed with a soda solution and heated in a pressure tank. The following processes are quite complex and an explanation of the entire chemical process is unnecessary in this context. A short description of the chemical processes involved is shown here:

Al2O3 + 2 NaOH > 2 NaAlO2 + H2O (This is the process of dissolution with the soda)

Once this reaction has occurred, bauxite residue can be separated from the solution through a sedimentation process.

The alumina can then be crystallized from the solution via a precipitation process which carries out the following reaction:

Al(OH)4– + Na+ → Al(OH)3 + Na+ + OH–

Coarse crystals are then removed through classification, and processed in a calciner or rotary kiln to remove bound moisture and yield alumina in the following reaction:

2Al(OH)3 → Al2O3 + 3H2O (Feeco)

The resulting aluminum is pure enough to be melted and cast into whatever shape is required. This process is the standard procedure for aluminum production and it is known as the Bayer Process, but it too has its downsides, “For every ton of metallic aluminum produced, around two tons of red mud are also produced, with annual production at around 30 million tons per year” (Feeco). This so-called “red mud” is a highly alkaline slurry of various oxides and is quite toxic to most organic life. This red mud can be dealt with in a couple different ways but the most traditional method is simply to keep it in a large vat or holding area. These areas were often the remnants of other mines, or ponds and lakes. Before 2016, large quantities of red mud were simply discharged into estuaries or directly, but this was put to a stop due to the environmental repercussions. 

Fig 6. Red Mud Pit in Germany 

At the current moment, there is not much use for this red mud, and it has become a major environmental problem. There is a great deal of ongoing research to try to find a use for red mud, such as element recovery, or use in cement, and ceramics, but for the most part, red mud remains a massive environmental concern. 

Production and Manufacturing

Aluminum manufacturing is fairly simple, it is a metal with a low melting point and can be molded and cast into whatever shape is necessary. That being said, many aluminum products are actually made of alloys, mixtures of metals. Various alloys are used for different needs; alloys are classified with a 4 digit number, the first digit indicates their general use cases. For example alloys with the numbering of 2, 3, 4, or 7 are suitable for general purpose castings: “Aluminium ingots are produced in various shapes and sizes depending on their end-use. They may be rolled into plates, sheets, foil, bars, or rods. They may be drawn into the wire which is stranded into the cable for electrical transmission lines. Presses extrude the ingots into hundreds of different useful and decorative forms or fabricating plants may convert them into large structural shapes.” (Aluminum Association). These ingots are shipped to factories around the world and molded into the many products that are sold to both industry and consumers. 

Overall, the importance of aluminum as a resource is something that may be apparent at first glance. There are many debates in our current day over switching to “green” alternatives when considering things like energy. In the case of clean energy, one can argue that there are acceptable, theoretically practical, alternatives. Solar and wind power may not be the best choice at the current moment, that being said, further development of these technologies may produce a viable alternative. But with the case of mining products, such as aluminum, there is no alternative. These resources will always be in demand, and while we may find ways to make the process more “eco-friendly”, it is unlikely to counteract the exponential increase in demand for these resources. Aluminum is one of the backbones of our society, and it likely isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. 

The History and Significance of Slave Ownership within The Dubois Estate and its relevance to the Dubois family

In 2019, the SUNY New Paltz campus had just changed the names of many of the buildings on campus, I remember that my student advisor and many of the upperclassmen made comments on the shift. However, I only heard bits and pieces about the reasoning behind the renaming; I had a vague concept that the renaming was done due to the halls being named after historical figures in the community, figures who in recent times were “discovered” to have been slave owners. I as a student, and as an individual, have almost no knowledge of the identity of the namesakes of these buildings, and as such did not even associate them with the deeper history of the town of New Paltz, let alone slavery. As such, when I learned a little more about the history of the town I was very interested in its key founders and their connection to slavery. 

When I began my transcription of the Estate inventory of Cornelius Debois, I was not surprised that he owned slaves, given the context and time period. It was listed almost casually on a list of his belongings, simply sandwiched between “19 Moldbreakers” and “2 Milk cows”.

This, perhaps was the most unsettling part of the document; the use of slaves was so commonplace they elicited no special treatment, even when compared to mundane objects and farm animals. The slaves listed in the ledger are as follows: “1 young negro man slave named catoe”, “1 young negro woman slave named Susan”, “1 old wench Jine”, and “1 Black Girl about 4 years old named (Nan)”. There is no indicator of age given to the man, woman, or “wench”, however the child, “Nan” was an interesting case. This document was written in April of 1816, given the fact that Nan is around 4 years old, we can assume that she must have been born around 1814. In my research I came across a very interesting document, the “New Paltz Register of Slaves” dated from 1799 to 1825. This 45-page document 

“was kept by the Town Clerk of New Paltz as a requirement of the New York State Manumission Act of 1799. In keeping the slave register, the town clerk recorded the births of children born to slaves owned by the town’s inhabitants. Each entry includes the owner’s name, the slave’s name, sex, and date of birth” (New Paltz Register of Slaves)

This document seems to record the births and release of many slaves within the township of New Paltz, as such I started my search for this “Nan” by looking at all of the records from 1805 onwards. 

After a while of combing through the document I found a potential match, on page 28 of the register: 

1812 March 24 Cornelius Dubois did deliver a Note in Writing the purport of it was that he had a Negro Female Child born of his Wench on the twelfth [sic] of January Last and Called her Name [Nam].

The date seemed to match up, and the document clearly states that the owner was Cornelius Dubois. Despite having found my target of interest, I continued onward with the document, hoping to find any additional information. What I found quite intriguing was that on the next page, the names “J(onathan) Dubois” and “Elish Lister” are listed as the “Overseers of the Poor of the Town of New Paltz”. This is listed again on the next page under a legal statement that is documenting the freeing of a slave named “Ceser”. 

The final section of the document deals with the “abandonment” or freeing of slave children in accordance with an act passed in 1799. Within this section we can see that Cornelius Dubois released a slave by the name of “Betty” on October 19th, 1802, as well as one named “Peg” on July 14th, 1804; Betty’s birth is cataloged on page 6, and Peg’s on page 16.

In hoping to find the origin of 1 slave girl, I was able to trace at least seven births within the slaves that Cornelius Debois owned, of these seven only the two above are listed as “abandoned”. 

Looking closer at this, “New Paltz association of the poor”, I was suggested to take a look at a document titled: “White welfare and Black Strategies: The Dynamics of Race and Poor Relief in Early New York, 1700-1825”; this document discusses some of the charity and relief organizations that existed in the 1700s. The piece documents some of the welfare records from New York, and an interesting part of this involves the “treatment” of beggar slaves. It seems that it was the full responsibility of the owner to prevent any such actions of their slaves and that they would be fined if slaves were found begging. Moving into the 1800s, a more relevant time period, it can be seen that the ratio of black paupers to white paupers decreased significantly, which is “all the more remarkable given the poverty of most blacks” (Cray, 281). The poorhouses and the almshouses were seemingly avoided by many blacks at this time. They instead chose to receive aid from more “black benevolent societies, organizations such as the Wilberforce Philanthropic Society and the New York African society” (Cray, 281). The overall trend seems to show that as blacks were being released from slavery, they had to turn to organizations such as these for help; “free blacks, therefore, rarely became middle-class property holders” (Cray, 283). The document makes mention of the “Overseers of the Poor”, and also of the ledgers that they held, The previously mentioned documents may very well be one of these ledgers. What is interesting to see is the treatment of the impoverished, both black and white:

“While the poor seldom speak in these documents except to petition for charity, the records indicate that blacks and whites were treated similarly, perhaps almost identically, with no evidence to reveal a separate welfare mechanism for blacks… age, injury, or illness rather than race, was the prime concern of potential keepers.” (Cray, 284)

The text also makes mention of a freed man by the name of “Nero” who is actually mentioned in the ledger, giving some credence to this evidence. 

Overall I was intrigued by this deep history of slavery within the context of the Dubois family. It seems that Cornelius Dubois was an active slave owner, but freed the slaves he had held in accordance with the established law. Jonathan Dubois on the other hand seemed to be a member of the New Paltz association of the poor. While it is easy to simply assign a single role to the family as a whole, this history seems to reveal that there is a much more intricate history of the Dubois family and their relation to slavery.

References:

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “New Paltz Register of Slaves”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/393/rec/3

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “The New Paltz Register of Slaves (1799-1825) Explanation”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. 

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/718/rec/2

Historic Huguenot street Collection, Historic Huguenot Street. “Will of Cornelius DuBois, 1803”.New York Heritage Digital Collections. 1779-1825. 

https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hhs/id/350/rec/6

Robert E. Cray Jr. “Slavery & abolition.: White welfare and black strategies: The dynamics of race and poor relief in early” New York, 1700–1825

 

My experience with an Medium-grand Acoustic piano

When considering this project, I thought about the form of the typewriter, a mechanical device that used the physical power of one’s hand to press down and activate a mechanism that causes a pin with an engraved letter to stamp down on a piece of paper. The mechanical action of a typewriter versus the light touch of a computer’s keyboard reminded me greatly of the mechanical action of the hammer of a piano. I am a piano player, but I have long since abandoned the frame of wood and wire, for one of plastic and metal. For me, it was a matter of convenience, it is difficult to lug around a 600 pound upright piano after all. When I was first taught piano, it was on an old, rickety upright that we basically got for free, it was later replaced by a much nicer upright “Kawai” brand piano. These uprights were quite tedious, and fairly difficult to maintain, and needed to be tuned every year (though we certainly went a few years without tuning them up). When I was preparing to move in for college, one of the things I decided I absolutely needed was a keyboard. We went to a lot of stores trying to find one that suited my tastes, and eventually, I decided on a Roland brand FP-30. I found this keyboard to be excellent in both feel and sound; the sign of a good keyboard is in the weight. A real piano has a lot of “heft” behind the keys, as your finger muscles need to do some strenuous work moving the complex components of the hammer mechanism or the “action”. A good keyboard should have weighted keys to replicate this effect, and I made sure to find one that met this requirement. 

https://kawaius.com/technology/piano-action/ (action for a grand piano)

It has been a long time since I actually sat down and played an analog or acoustic piano; I tried to use some of the ones in college hall, but they are all reserved for music students. It was then that I remembered that there was a medium grand in the Student Union Building. So I grabbed my things and I went over to try it out. The creak of the wooden stool is an unmistakable sound, and the weathered machine in front of me looked like it had been played thousands of times. When I placed my hand on top of a key and let the weight of my appendage simply push down on the key, I found that the key did not depress at all. When playing on my keyboard, there are sensitivity options, and I typically set it to the second-highest level of touch, this is due to a condition in my hands that causes weakness and pain, so the lighter touch is well appreciated, and is actually one of the main reasons I switched to a keyboard. On this grand piano, however, I felt no movement from my light touch. Curious about this, I pressed a little harder, and it was only then I felt the mechanism of the key budge. The sound of an acoustic piano comes from the physical strike of a soft felt hammer on a wound string, and as such, a light press of the key simply caused the hammer to touch the string with barely any sound. I then decided to up the strength of my presses, and I attacked the key with a far more powerful press. This is what finally gave me my first real sound. I quickly moved into playing a few short excerpts of pieces, both soft and strong, and what I found was incredible difficulty in depressing the keys consistently. It was clear that this piano was very, very, well-used, to put it nicely. The keys were very “sticky” and clunky, and the pedals of the piano were rickety and loose. Every key seemed to require a different level of pressure to produce a consistent volume, I could press down on middle C with the same force as the adjacent note and it would yield a sound of different volume. When playing some faster pieces, the keys often got caught and would either not press down, or press down for too long, and doing any runs proved very difficult. The physical keys themselves were very smooth and slippery, making my fingers slip off on occasion. I am unsure of the actual make of this piano, but I wonder if the keys are ivory. Ivory keys were discontinued around the 70s, with acrylics and polymers taking their place; I have never compared the two types directly so I am unsure of the actual feel of these different materials. The one thing I was surprised about was the tuning of the piano. I had expected for this machine to be completely out of tune, but surprisingly it seemed as though the tone was not off by much; I do wonder if the college tunes the instrument regularly. Tuning is a non-issue on a keyboard, in fact, you can manipulate it freely and even shift the “key” of the whole board on a whim, leading to some interesting effects. 

Overall the “feel” of the piano was quite strange, and something I had not felt in a long time. I have had few opportunities to play expensive, full grand pianos, and this experience makes me want to try one out freely, rather than being limited to something like a recital. This experience made me realize some of the finer aspects of convenience my digital keyboard gives me: it never goes out of tune, the touch can be adjusted to my liking, the sound is always crisp and clear, I can change the sound to my liking, and it is far more convenient and easy to transport. That being said I am sure the analog, acoustic piano is not going to go out of style any time soon. 

Significance of the Arctic and Arctic exploration in Frankenstein

The very start of the novel begins with a letter from Captain Robert Walton, remarking on his passage and expedition to the North Pole. The novel also ends with Walton confronting the creature and eventually turning back from his expedition. Initially, he describes it as a place of “beauty and delight”, even though he attempts to persuade himself of its dangers.  I took interest in Shelly’s use of the North pole as a framing device, and I find that the location fits well with the themes of the book. The mystery, the sense of the unknown, and the sense of danger that the North pole presents lends itself well to the narrative and there are clear connections that can be drawn between the setting, and the tone of the book.

In Shelly’s time, the nature of the poles was still largely unknown. Frankenstein is set in the late 1700s, a time when polar exploration was not widespread. Its writing and publication, however, was in the early 1800s, a time when exploration of the poles was really starting to take off; there was clear interest related to the discovery of its nature and of course, economic gain. Some of the very first expeditions were conducted with the hope of finding a “northern passage”, a theoretical trade route that would be able to act as a shortcut for merchant ships (Connors). However, the largest source of expeditions would actually be done in the post-Napoleonic age, through military expeditions (Beck, 1). 

There had been a few expeditions before the turn of the century, notably the voyage of Captain Cook, who in 1778 managed to “Penetrate the arctic circle” and sail through the Bering strait (Beck,2). Many of the following expeditions mainly charted islands that were found north of Siberia, as well as regions of Alaska. David Buchanan is a notable explorer, whose story seems to have some similarities with that of Walton. Buchanan was a Scottish naval officer who set off with fellow officer John Franklin in 1818 due to new reports of the Arctic ice having cleared up. Unfortunately, by the time they had reached the Arctic circle the ice had returned. They were trapped in the ice for a few weeks but eventually managed to escape. Buchanan wished to continue exploring, but Franklin overruled him, and they eventually returned home (Hayes). This story seems somewhat reminiscent of Walton’s journey, though it is likely unrelated as Shelly published Frankenstein in 1818.

The frigid setting of Walton’s journey, and Walton himself to an extent, seem to tie very clearly to Victor Frankenstein’s own characteristics and motives. Walton remarks at the emptiness of the land, a clear parallel to the isolation that Victor forces on himself. Walton desperately seeks friendship, yet he has willingly brought himself to one of the most isolated places on earth. Victor created the monster in a place of isolation, and the creature remarks that he “shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch, who would create such another as I have been” (Shelly,158), dying in a place of isolation.

The pursuit of forbidden knowledge is another theme that is mirrored in this setting. Victor hopes to unravel the secrets of life, something that is taboo in and of itself, and Milton seeks to reveal the secrets of the North pole and magnetism, another great mystery of the natural world; in the case of Walton, he sacrifices his well being and the safety of his crew for the sake of knowledge. 

Sources:

Connors, Tiffany. “How North Pole Expeditions Work.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 1 Apr. 2008, https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/snow-sports/north-pole-expedition.htm#pt3. 

Beck, Rudolf. “‘The Region of Beauty and Delight’: Walton’s Polar Fantasies in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 49, Keats-Shelley Association of America, Inc., 2000, pp. 24–29, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30213044.

Hayes, Isaac Israel. The Open Polar Sea: a Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery Towards the North Pole: In the Schooner” United States”. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1867.

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/buchan_david_7E.html

Cleaning Up My Bookshelf

For this assignment I decided to try Kondo’s “joy test” sorting system on some of the books, and papers that were on my shelf, among others small items.

I was fairly neutral about the state of this shelf, but I figured it would be a good place to start. When I took a step back and looked at the things that were on the shelf, I realized that I probably would be ok without a lot of it being out in the open.

The first thing that I immediately decided would have to stay was the rocks and minerals. I cleared out the middle section specifically for them, so I figured I could just arrange them in a neater way and be done with it. If there is anything in this assortment of stuff that really “sparks joy” its my collection. This is just a small portion that I acquired recently but they really hold a special meaning to me. I don’t really spend much on myself, but expanding my collection is one of the few exceptions, as such it is really important to me to keep these close to me and in a place where I can see them and appreciate them.

Next, I moved on to the pencils and pens and other supplies, these I simply moved into a box where I kept other things of that nature. This was the simplest move as I knew where they belonged and had simply neglected to place them in their proper location. The bag of and posters were easily dealt with as well.

The books and papers were the most difficult in my opinion, I usually tend to keep documents and papers for longer than most people as I have a sense they will come in handy down the line. That being said, I was sure that many of these documents were unnecessary, and some of the books I had were either never going to be read or had been read already.

Like the method suggests, I just put all the books and papers on the floor and sorted them vaguely into categories. I separated books from loose papers first, and then sorted the papers into a few sections: Reference material, old assignments, and exams, and miscellaneous. I quickly discarded the miscellaneous pile as It was mostly just junk. I looked through the remaining papers carefully; some of the old labs I have are from freshman year, but I use them as reference when I am doing my job as a teaching assistant. As such, these are important for me to keep on hand, so I put them in a folder for safekeeping. The old assignments and exams were tougher as I keep them to study from. That being said I decided I did not need them at the moments, and they didn’t have to be displayed so openly, so I put them in a separate folder in my closet.

After I had sorted through the papers, I was left with just the books. This proved to a more difficult task, so I started by sorting the books into categories as well. I arranged them based on their uses: books that I need for schoolwork, books that I don’t need for schoolwork at the moment, novels I have read already, and novels I have yet to read as well as miscellaneous. I took the one miscellaneous book and I put it on my piano stand, because I use that one quite frequently. As for the others: I realized that I haven’t referenced any of the older texts since my midterm and I likely won’t need them until my final exams. The notebooks and journals are mostly unused as well, so I relegated them to the bottom shelf, along with the novels I have read already. On my top shelf I basically only have the books that I will need actively continuing the semester.

Overall, this exercise was interesting as I was looking more objectively at these items. Right off the bat I removed the objects that sparked the “most joy”, being the rocks and minerals, I had. The bag of posters was also something I wanted to keep. The issue was mostly with the books and realizing that I probably wouldn’t reread any of the books I had. In this way I was able to separate out most of my materials and even dispose of a lot of stuff I didn’t realize I had. Spreading everything out made the process simpler mentally although more tedious physically, but I can understand where Kondo is coming from in this regard.

Cubic Galena Crystals

The object I have chosen, is a set of galena crystals. Galena is a sulfide mineral meaning it is a metal atom bonded to a sulfide atom, in this case Lead as lead sulfide PbS. It is safe to handle however, and as long it isn’t ingested it is harmless. The chemical structure of the mineral leads it to have a very cubic shape, and it even breaks off into cubic pieces and makes some step like features on the surface of the crystal. They have a very metallic appearance and a shiny luster; The crystals are silvery gray in color and are fairly soft, for a metal. The smaller cube is about half an inch on each side while the larger cube is about an inch on each side. The larger cube has some brown corrosion on the edge which could be oxidation. There are some spots that are not reflective which are likely spots of lead carbonate tarnish. The actual density of the galena crystals is quite high and feel quite heavy when held in the hand. They are cool and metallic to the touch, and if rubbed sometimes leave a black streak on the fingers, the actual container for the larger crystal is covered with silvery gray marks. They are several times heavier than a typical rock of the same size and weigh about as much as a heavy smartphone. The smaller cube was packaged in a small plastic bag with the name card displayed, the larger piece was simply put in a small carboard box. They were both wrapped in paper towels and bagged in brown paper bags to prevent scratches and damage. I kept the minerals with the others and just kept them in my bag.

The two samples are actually from two different places. The larger piece is from Peru, however there isn’t much more information on this one, however there are a few regions in Peru known for sulfide mines. The smaller piece is from the tristate district in Picher, Oklahoma. The Tri-state district is known for its sulfide deposits and are mined for many metals like Zinc and Lead. There are many mines in this area, so it is difficult to know from which this crystal was sourced. Galena of low quality is often just pulverized and used for ore use, while the nicer pieces are sometimes saved for mineral collectors. The crystal was purchased by the Yankee Mineral company which is regional collector of minerals and gemstones. I was able to buy this sample at the Poughkeepsie Mineral Show, the smaller cube was three dollars while I purchased the larger piece for eight dollars. I purchased many other samples of various minerals from various sellers including some large gypsum, garnets, some calcite rhombs, a hardness kit, silicon carbide and some glass crystals. As for the transport between the fair and my residence, the geology club offered a ride to the fair for students, and we took the department’s vans to the fair.

Smelted Aluminum Ingot

The object I have decided to select is an Aluminum ingot. The dimensions of the ingot measure about 2.3 inches at the top and 2.6 inches near the base. The object is small enough to be held comfortably within the palm of one’s hand. The shape is typical of a standard metal ingot. The ingot shows some bubbles and ripples, especially on the bottom and the sides. There exists a small amount of corrosion and black marks. One of the faces of the ingot is slightly extended, on this side there is a small brown-bronze mark. The ingot is mostly the trademark silvery color of aluminum, but shows black and yellow marks in certain areas dude to residue and oxidation. This ingot is composed primarily of aluminum, primarily sourced mainly from aluminum beer and soda cans; These cans were mostly found in the forest behind my home. The other sources include some junkyard scrap, and some broken computer heatsinks.

            The process in which this ingot was made involved the use of a homemade, charcoal powered furnace. The process of constructing the furnace consisted of filling a bucket with a mixture of plaster, sand, and silica powder; these are all highly heat resistant materials and can withstand the high temperatures. An indentation was made with a smaller vessel and left until the filling hardened somewhat. Afterwards a hole was drilled in the side, and once it was fully hardened, a metal tube with an air outtake was placed through the hole. Our crucible was essentially just a fire extinguisher cut in half; just a sturdy steel cup to hold metal. We put charcoal at the bottom and used the air outtake to heat up the hot coals and bring the crucible to temperature and we put cans in until they melted. Once the metal was all liquid, we poured it into an ingot mold to cool.

            This process was rather painstaking and time consuming, but it was a great experience working with my friends to create something like this. It took a lot of technical ability, and some dumb luck granted, to create this ingot. The ingot wasn’t our final objective, it was simply done so we could have some clean metal to make other objects later down the line. The difficulty involved in creating this ingot adds to the meaning of the object. We considered simply buying some source ingots to use for our crafts, but we figured making our own would be the right thing to do. Inadvertently we ended up cleaning a lot of the litter and refuse in the woods.

            We used the ingots for various things, and we fashioned all sorts of different items by casting the metal in foam cutouts buried in sand. The foam burns away leaving a hole for the metal to seep into and fill up. We each made our own trinkets: One of my friends made a set of knuckles, another a casting of a sculpture, and I made a model sword. All of these items didn’t really hold any significant value, and the thought behind them was nothing more than intrigue, but the process that shaped them added a sense of completion.