Creating the Suspects

Hello guys! So let’s just jump right back in with a short post.

Part of the design of the exhibit is picking and choosing suspects. We originally chose 6 suspects but pushed that down to 5, erring on the side of caution. Setting up some time to get all the suspects photographed was probably the hardest part. They are all volunteers, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t take too much advantage of their time and generosity.

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My intrepid photographer.
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One of our “flavor” shots. Not hugely important to the story but adds background and flavor to the exhibit.
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We were supposed to be in Madagascar, but we settled for a rocky outcropping outside Freiberg.

A lot of these pictures were taken and turned into photos that we will then use in the exhibit. That involved a lot of Photoshop on my side of things before we gave them over to the architects to figure out the rest.

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My Intrepid Photographer taking a picture of a suspect.

Here is a “mockup” of a possible design idea we used for the flyer.

Print
You can see the suspects lined up in a “Usual Suspects” shot. This is what I did on my own – professionals obviously could clean it up a bit more!

Be kind to each other, friends, and until next time!

The Munich Mineral Show!

Warning!: This show was in Germany, which means that there are some pictures I took that are probably Not Safe For Work (NSFW). Those pictures are at the very end, though.

Hi guys! I had a crazy two weeks. I had my large presentation that I had to complete (more posts on that later) and then I went and spent 5 days in Munich at the Munich Gem and Mineral Show. It was a blast!

I went for a variety of reasons, including networking and helping out at the small gift shop stand we ran. Just for posterity, we broke the record for selling at the show!

The first thing we did was set up. It took about 9 hours with all 6 of us working. A lot of that was setting up our banner, covering our table, and jury-rigging thing when they went wrong. Putting up the banner took an hour!

mineral show, banner, gift shop
You can see the other three diligently working while I took pictures.
I had to raise the table to match another. Duct tape and wooden blocks!
I had to raise the table to match another. Duct tape and wooden blocks!
Backstage at the show! You can see all our stuff laid out and ready to go.
Backstage at the show! You can see all our stuff laid out and ready to go.

Here is our final set up. I am pretty happy the way it turned out. It took using a lot of skills I’d learned working for the Opera.

Ho the gift shop!
Our shop after we got it organized.

We also had a table set up next to us to do the GeoRalley, where kids (and adults!) could come and learn about quartz and all it’s cool properties.

You can see all the kids gathered around! It was a lot of fun to watch, and often time they had a dozen or more people trying to learn about quartz.
You can see all the kids gathered around! It was a lot of fun to watch, and often time they had a dozen or more people trying to learn about quartz.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to go around the show. I managed to stay under budget, but just barely. There were 4 huge halls, each filled with different stuff. We were naturally in the mineral section, but there was a fossil section, a jewelry and gem section, and an esoteric section.

Just one of the many loose stone displays. I resisted running my fingers through them more than once.
Just one of the many loose stone displays. I resisted running my fingers through them more than once.
A look at one of the halls filled with jewelry.
A look at one of the halls filled with jewelry.

There were some other displays outside which were pretty cool too.

I loved these outside. There were raptors and other dinosaurs too.
I loved these outside. There were raptors and other dinosaurs too.

A lot of what I do collect is fossils (which I then have to schlepp across the world). The fossil hall was pretty much my favorite place. I got to feel like Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park.

I managed to stay under my budget. Barely.
I managed to stay under my budget. Barely.

The best part of the decorations for me was this guy.

Think he would look cool on top of the house?
Think he would look cool on top of the house?
I forget what this was, some sort of diamond I believe.
I forget what this was, some sort of diamond I believe.

Remember that NSFW tag earlier? The Germans definitely have a more relaxed attitude to sex. We showed up in Munich and I saw that there was a box of erotic calendars there. I thought it was a joke, but no. We sold 50! All the pictures were of pretty young women in various sections of one of our local mines sitting on equipment in the buff.

An erotic calender of pretty young women sitting underground.
An erotic calender of pretty young women sitting underground.

There were also several quartz phalluses on display for sale. Many of them were used for spiritual healing ceremonies, but not all of them.

Healing stones or not, I found myself smiling when I saw tables of these.
Healing stones or not, I found myself smiling when I saw tables of these.

Each day was a lot of work, but I made some good connections. I hope I get to go next year!

Be kind to each other and until next time!

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The First Fellowship (of the Ring!) Meeting.

Unfortunately, I really didn’t go to a Fellowship of the Ring meeting. It would have been really cool too. But in middle May, I got to attend the first conference for my fellowship program here in Germany.

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This is the view of the interior of an old school in Halle.
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Martin Luther preached from this altar. Also in Halle.

As I have mentioned before, my job here in Germany is funded by the International Museum Fellowship Programme of the German Federal Cultural Foundation. I applied for the position in March of 2016 and within five weeks, I had moved across the world (that is a story for another blog post).

One of the requirements of the fellowship is that I get to travel all around Germany and visit with the other fellows (there are 16 other fellows besides me doing projects around the country). We spend between three and four days talking about the issues facing museums, like collections care, exhibition problems and cultural relevancy, and how museums work with visitors. They also feed us a lot of very good food and coffee, which means I probably eat more pastries than I should.

We spend a lot of time in workshops or hearing keynote speakers. It is a really fun perk of the program. I get to learn a lot and see parts of Germany that I wouldn’t necessarily get to see without the program.

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A cabinet of curiosities in Halle. The first one I had seen!

It’s also exhausting, but in a good way. We go for about 10 hours a day, and we get tours and talks and free admission into some really cool museums. Our first trip to Halle, and later Leipzig let me see one of my first “Cabinet of Curiosities”, something I read about a lot in my Master’s program. In Leipzig, we got to visit the German National Library and see the German Museum of Books and Writing, and at the end a visit to the Grassi Museum.

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We talked about the ethics of museum collections, spending workshops talking around whether or not museums should even be collecting items anymore, and whether or how we should be presenting items from the past.

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One of the workshops at the National Library had us all drawing each other in 20 seconds without looking at our papers. I would sit across from someone and have to draw them without looking at what I was doing. I do not claim to be the best artist in the world, and not many (okay, none) of my photos looked like my partner, but it made for a lot of fun and some great art!

 They also have a film crew wandering around taking film and pictures of the events. They made a 5-minute video about the conference. It sums it up and shows a lot of what we got to do! Check it out here. You have to navigate down a little bit to see the video.

Thanks for reading, be kind to each other, and see you next time!

All Expats get Patriotic, or Happy German Unity Day!

Today is October 3, which is the Day of German Unity, or the Tag der Deutschen Einheit. It was first celebrated in 1990 with the reunification of West and East Germany. It is celebrated a little bit like July 4th, with lots of cities holding festivals and other events. I don’t know yet if they have fire works, but they have fire works for other things, so I could imagine there are fireworks involved. There are definitely fireworks involved.

Fireworks seem pretty universal.
Fireworks seem pretty universal.
Photo by Anthony Cramp via Wikipedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

The Tag der Deutschen Einheit is celebrated by a main city in Germany every year, and in 2016 it is Dresden, near to me. I’ll admit to being incredibly lazy so I’ll probably stay at home and watch TV. Maybe rewatch Independence Day in solidarity!

This brings me to my feelings of patriotism. It is 2016, and that means an election year in the USA. This presidential race seems far more controversial than my last three.

Recently, I read a book about an Australian expat who moved away from Australia for good. It was during a time of political upheaval in her country, and she mentions that she became patriotic while abroad, having to defend her country even if she didn’t agree with things. (The book, The Thing About Prague by Rachael Weiss, is pretty good. I would recommend it if you like those fish out of water stories. I really love Prague, so it was fun to read about an expat there. I’m not getting any money for this.)

The election this year has definitely brought the eyes of everyone on the States, and as one of the few Americans here in Freiberg (that I know of; it’s a university town and there’s a few American students here, but I am the only non-student American I’ve met) I get asked a lot of questions of the USA political elections. The Germans seem to find it a lot easier to talk about politics with a foreign stranger, something I admit to having done with foreign strangers in the States, but usually try not to.

My interrogations are always polite, and there two questions when someone finds out I am an American. The first question is inevitably how I come to speak such good German (they are more impressed that I can speak it at all, though in reality my grammar is rarely perfect). The second question is ALWAYS about the presidential candidates. The asker is rarely seeking my actual opinion, but they are always curious. I usually steer the conversation back around to other, safer topics, pretty quickly.

I do have opinions, but I often feel that my personal opinions are not what the asker wants to hear. They want answers, and I do my best to represent the people of my country, not necessary the politicans, in my answers.

Thanks for reading! Next post: the Leipzig Fellowship Conference!

Be kind to each other, and until next time.

 

What’s in a name. (A lot, apparently).

(As always the tl;dr is at the bottom!)

There are many things about German museums that are different from USA museums. Most German museums are staffed with people who have a PhD, making it extremely hard to work in a museum without one. Another difference is that almost all the museums in Germany are public institutions; the reverse is true in the US, where most museums are owned by private foundations.

The German and American cultures are often very similar. The differences are subtle, and often catch me unaware. The culture clash that got me the worst was simple and appeared out of nowhere: the difference between addressing someone as a professor or as a doctor when talking.

In Germany, the title “professor” is a lot higher than the title of doctor, something I didn’t realize. Each faculty (math, inorganic chemistry, geology) will only have one professor; all the other teachers go by doctor (or another title commiserate with their diploma). It is an insult to call someone a doctor when they are the professor of the faculty.

This is the opposite in the USA, where giving someone the title “Doctor” is the best you can do. You can be a professor in the US without a PhD; many people are professors with a Master’s degree. I also feel that there isn’t as much problem switching between the two. I have had professors with PhDs who went by the title doctor and professors who had PhDs who were just fine with being called professor.

Martin Luther was a professor of theology, having his doctorate in theology. I have no idea what I would call him. This was painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Martin Luther was a professor of theology, and had his doctorate. But was he a professor in the American sense or the German sense? I have no idea what I would call him.
(Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder; PD-1923)

A third difference between Germany and the USA: Germany had a nobility, and we in America really didn’t. I mean, you could probably make an argument that there was some sort of nobility at the beginning, but I know of no dukes, duchesses, or earls in modern day America. This brings us to the history!

The reasons for these differences is historical (both of these were told to me second hand, so if you know something I don’t, please tell me!). In Germany, anyone with enough money could buy a “doctor” title. This made the title of doctor common and didn’t hold a lot of weight. Because Germany had a nobility, they decided to create the Professor title, which was a title of nobility and could only be bestowed by.. someone (I figure it was someone responsible for that type of thing, or it wouldn’t be a nobility thing).

In the US, we didn’t have a nobility, so maybe that’s why we can switch the two? A slightly unrelated story: both PhDs and MDs are called Doctors, but it used to be that PhDs were considered a higher form of doctor. MDs were considered butchers, and PhDs had had to do original research.

This is a terrifying picture of medieval dentistry. So I can understand the butchers thing...
This is a terrifying picture of medieval dentistry. So I can understand the butchers thing…
(PD-1923)

I find this type of history fascinating, especially when it brings to light a cultural difference I was not aware of.

tl;dr: The Germans consider the title of Professor higher than the title of Doctor. This has led to some interesting cultural issues that I was unaware of. It’s a historical thing having to do with nobility.

Thanks for reading, be kind to each other, and see you next time!

The rare earth elements are ugly.

If you missed my first post on what the rare earth elements are, go back and read it here! Don’t worry, I’ll wait! 🙂

Source: Peggy Greb, USDA Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.
Source: Peggy Greb, USDA
Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

So the above picture are six of the rare earth elements (REE). As you can see, none of the REE are particularly pretty. This makes a classic exhibit of text-item, text-item very hard to create. No one wants to look at these minerals for more than a few minutes:

xenotim_tm chevkinit_tm bastnaesit_tm

Or this one:

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Occassionally you get a pretty one with a brilliant green color, like fluocerite -ce:

© Michael Forsch, 2016. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
© Michael Forsch, 2016. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Unfortunately none of my minerals look like this. That’s why we’re going to be using a murder mystery to create a more enticing exhibit!

Thanks for reading, be kind to each other, and see you next time!

What are the rare earth elements?

The entire basis of my exhibit here in Germany is the rare earth elements. But there is always the question: what exactly are the rare earth elements? (This is a long post; you can scroll to the bottom for the tl;dr if you’d like).

The rare earth elements (REE) are 17 elements on the periodic table, usually shown at the bottom, the lanthanide series, plus scandium and yttrium from the main periodic table.

periodic-system-ree

These 17 elements can further be divided into two distinct categories: the light REE and the heavy REE. The light REE are the elements with numbers 21, 57 through 64; these are known as the cerium group. The heavy REE are elements 39, 65 through 70 and are known as the yttrium group.

There are some misleading terms out there. First, “rare earth metal” is used in place of the rare earth elements, but they are not the same things. When someone uses the term rare earth metal, they are usually including elements like gold, silver, or platinum, or minerals such as coltan. Though they are all considered rare earth resources, only the 17 elements listed above are considered the rare earth elements. (There is another argument: there are really only 15 rare earth elements, the 15 found in the lanthanide series. Scandium and yttrium do not belong to this group. For reference, from here on out I am going to refer to all 17 elements when I say “the rare earth elements.”)

Finally, the biggest misleading term: none of these elements are really rare except 61, promethium. Many of them are more common than gold or platinum. Cerium is about as common as copper in the world. Due to their geologic and chemical structures, getting enough of them in the same place to be economically viable is difficult.  Think about baking: if you add a teaspoon of cinnamon to a kilo of flour, you really can’t separate the two of them again. You know the cinnamon is there, but getting it out is extremely difficult.

Bear with me through the chemistry for a second: the lanthanide series on the bottom has what’s known as “lanthanide contraction,” and this affects why the REE are found where they are. Usually, an increase in the atomic number results in an increase in atomic radii; with the REE this is not the case. Each larger atom in the list has a smaller radius then the ones before it, which also helps increase the weight density of the atom. This is caused by problems with the outer electron shell, 4f. (This all gets very technical very quickly. I encourage you to look it up on Wikipedia for a better explanation). Scandium follows the same pattern, as does yttrium.

In a nutshell: The REE like to hang together and are often found either grouped by the light or heavy REE in the ground.

This brings us to the actual question: so what?

The REE are needed in EVERY form of modern day life. They act a lot like vitamins, helping other elements work more efficiently, faster, and stronger. Without them, your screens wouldn’t have beautiful reds (europium) or greens (terbium) when you binge-watch Netflix. Many light bulbs now contain a REE of some kind. Your cellphone has at least 7 of them (the violet ones):

Source: www.compoundchem.com
Source: http://www.compoundchem.com

You find the REE in every type of green energy too. The Prius has over 10 kilograms of lanthanum in it’s battery and a kilogram of neodymium in the motor. A large windmill has over 500 kilograms (so over 1000 pounds) of REE.

© Eli Patten 2016, all rights reserved. Used with permission. There are over 40 pounds of rare earth element in this picture in the Priuses alone!
© Eli Patten 2016, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
There are over 40 kilograms of rare earth element in this picture. And that’s just the Prius-es!

REE are also used a lot in medical purposes, like xray, PET scans, and mobile imaging. The four harddrives that I have backing up my copies of this blog all use REE in the magnets in the harddrive. Without the REE, your MP3 player would be more like a walkman, and there wouldn’t be anything like the iPod Nano. The REE currently power our daily lives.

tl;dr The REE are 17 elements on the periodic table that like to hang out together. They are what let us have small harddrives and show you greens and reds when you binge watch Netflix. They aren’t really rare, just hard to find in mineable quantities. Without them, we wouldn’t have electric cars or those huge windmills, not to mention any iProduct.

Next up: What do the REE look like?