April 19, 2007

Molding Minds

Molten metal among  SUNY Cortland scholars’ presentations

Scholars' Day

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Sculpture student Chris Gilligan pours molten metal into a mold while sculpture professor Vaughn Randall prepares a furnace for more metal Wednesday during SUNY Cortland’s Scholars’ Day.

Staff Reporter

Images of classrooms, detailed reports and projects all come to mind when the word “scholar” comes up, but on Wednesday, SUNY Cortland Scholars’ Day also included an outdoor lesson on molten iron.
Vaughn Randall, assistant professor of art and art history, and several of his students in sculpture classes were on hand demonstrating and speaking about the iron-working process in the closing session of the day devoted to scholarly activities. His talk and demonstration, which started at 4:30 p.m., was called, “Teaching Art, Chemistry and History with Molten Iron.” It was held in front of Moffett Center on the Cortland campus.
Scholar’s Day included 130 presentations in classrooms and hallways of Old Main. More than 80 faculty and staff members participated along with hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students. For every classroom session or hallway poster presentation at least two students were involved; sometimes five or more students participated.
In Randall’s presentation, he used the same processes to melt iron that were used in the earlier industrial age using coke — purified coal — as fuel. “You can melt more efficiently with electricity than coke,” he said, also noting that coke is not as environmentally friendly, but would not harm the environment with the amount he was using Wednesday.
The process involves knowing some chemistry and the properties of iron. Randall said iron melts between 2,700 and 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit, and the hottest part of the furnace can reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leonard “Beau” Scheiber, a chemistry major and one of Randall’s student volunteers, helped the crowd of around 100 lined up along walkways and the lawn understand the process. He explained that the iron Randall used came from scrap yards and that iron ore has many impurities in it that must be taken out.
Randall built the furnace himself using scrap metal, Scheiber said. Sandy soil covering the concrete was to absorb the water because the combination of molten iron hitting water would make the iron expand and explode, he said.
Randall also explained this precaution and said he might give a loud warning for the audience to back up. “Once in a while there will be a whole lot of fire.”
Scheiber said he wants to be a chemistry teacher, so volunteering to help present was a good experience for him. “I love working with metal. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Scheiber also said the process involves a lot of waiting. “Most of it is boring,” he said of the process.
Nevertheless, much of the crowd lingered well beyond the official end time of the session. Randall had brought some small, square sand molds for audience participants to make designs in with nails. He said any writing has to be written in its mirror image to come out properly in the cast.
He suggested writing the word on paper with a marker, flipping the paper over and then writing those mirror-image letters on the mold.
Matthew Vitale, a junior majoring in geographic information systems with a minor in geology, took on that challenge, writing the mirror image of ‘geology’ diagonally across his mold. He said he was also a presenter earlier in the day.
“One of my friends told me about it so I decided to come and see what it was all about,” he said of the molten iron session.
Two youngsters who attended the closing session were first to get molds. Jacob Vassalotti, a fifth-grader at Smith Elementary and his friend Kody Cranston, a sixth-grader at the same school attended the event with Jacob’s mother, Tammi Vassalotti. She said she works in the Dragon’s Den in Old Main where she sees Randall several times a day, and he invited her to watch.
Kody said he would draw a baseball and part of a bat on his mold. “My uncle has a tattoo like that and that’s what gave me the idea,” he said. He said he might put a Yankee sign in the middle of the picture.
Christie Youngs, a junior at the college, sat on the sidewalk drawing a lizard. “I have one. I like it,” the biology major said.
“I thought it would have an element of science and art – and it’s outside,” Youngs said. She said the outdoor element made her stay.
Tanya Abilock, co-coordinator of Multicultural Life, said she came out to support the academic achievements of some of the students she works with that were presenting. She etched out a lotus flower, a design she often uses when working with henna, which is often used as a stain for hair or in temporary body tattoos.
“I think the day went well,” said Mark Prus, after watching the closing program. “The keynote speaker (Thomas Buchanan, a Cortland graduate and president of the University of Wyoming) was superb.”
“This closing session is a great example of faculty-student collaboration,” he said. “Students are having a great time working with him (Randall),” Prus added, noting that Randall has only been at the college since the fall semester.


Residents look at River Trail —

Questions rise about security, maintenance

Staff Reporter

The approximately 25 county residents who showed up at an informational meeting Wednesday regarding the Tioughnioga River Trail project seemed most interested in who would be responsible for maintenance and security and accept liability once the trail was complete.
But most of those questions went unanswered, with engineers on hand solely to talk about the trail’s layout.
“Those are things that we need to sit down with all the municipalities and work them out,” County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said, noting that the county, the city and the towns of Cortlandville and Homer all have a stake in the project. “We’ll certainly make sure they’re ironed out by the time we’ve finished our final design and are ready to get started.”
The meeting was an opportunity for residents to look at and provide input on preliminary designs for the trail, which will run 2.7 miles, from Yaman Park in Cortland to Albany Street in Homer.
One of the more significant personal concerns regarding the layout of the trail came from Dan Weddle, who owns and farms the stretch along the river from the Interstate 81 on-ramp in Homer to the end of the trail at Albany Street.
Weddle was concerned because the preliminary plans called for a 10-space parking lot at Albany Street, which the design allowed for by moving the driveway entrance to Weddle’s property.
The trail also infringed more on his property than he’d originally envisioned, he said.
“When they first went out and flagged it, I thought they were looking at putting it in the brush area, which would have been fine, but now it looks like they’re planning on going right through our field,” Weddle said. “What’s tough is, that’s the one piece of property we have where we don’t have to clean up beer bottles and other trash because there was no reason for anyone to be back there … but now they want to put a trail there.”
Todd Humphrey of C&S Engineers, who was on hand to answer questions about the design, said the trail had to be moved farther east onto Weddle’s property because of the wetlands along the river.
“This is all still preliminary. We want to hear those sort of things and hopefully come up with something agreeable to them,” Chambers said of the concerns of Weddle and others.
Weddle also was angry that he had no contact from the county or anyone else involved in the project indicating that easements on his property would need to be obtained for the trail.
Chambers said the county was prohibited by law, based on the federal funding already earmarked for the project, to enter into any sort of negotiation with property owners until final designs for the project are approved.


Ski hills may get SBA loans for lack of snow

Staff Reporter

Coming on the heels of a mid-April snowstorm, Congress voted Wednesday to take a step toward allowing ski resorts and other winter businesses to seek disaster assistance when there is a significant lack of snow.
A provision in a House bill retooling the way the Small Business Administration administers loans will allow the SBA to look at how to make businesses that struggle when there is little snowfall eligible for low-interest disaster assistance loans.
The move was prompted by warm temperatures this winter that forced ski resorts and other businesses dependent on winter weather throughout the northeast to cut back on staffing and suffer significant financial losses.
From Dec. 1 through Jan. 15 in Cortland County, 11 such businesses documented $2.5 million in revenue losses and 398 displaced jobs.
The SBA will have six months to look at what would constitute “insufficient snow” and thus an economic disaster for small businesses, according to Rep. Mike Arcuri (D-Utica), who supported the bill and the provision.
“The original bill attempted to just include (eligibility for such businesses) in there, but there was some real opposition to putting it in without a real detailed look at what would constitute ‘not enough snow,’” Arcuri said. “In the long run I think this will make the bill better, a lot less vague, because ‘not enough’ may not be the same in New York, as it is in Vermont or Maine or Ohio.”
Once the SBA makes a recommendation regarding how eligibility would be determined, Congress could either attach an amendment to another SBA bill creating eligibility for lack of snow disaster assistance or offer a standalone bill, Arcuri said.
“I know it’s hard to think of lack of snow as a severe economic condition but, especially in the more rural districts, there’s a real dependence on winter sports for jobs and revenue,” Arcuri said. “This year has been a perfect example of just how fragile our weather can be — one part of the year we get almost no snow, then a couple weeks later we have more than we know what to do with.”
Locally, business leaders said that the measure in the house was a step in the right direction.
“I’m not sure I expected them to do much, so if they’re trying something, that’s very much appreciated,” said Al Kryger, who owns and operates Greek Peak.