Quick Lab Update

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Last week, dry ice cleaning was performed on the port gun carriage’s wrought iron frame. This is the second time that this object has been cleaned with this technique. The first time was last spring and the carriage has been under electrolytic reduction since April. Speaking of electrolytic reduction (AKA “ER”), we often mention it but rarely explain the method. This is a stabilization technique that is used every day in this lab (and broadly in the field of conservation) and we can forget that it is not a simple matter… Our website has a great animation to illustrate the process, check it out here!

Last Wednesday was quite an exciting day for the team as we had fellow East Coast archaeological conservators visiting for the entire day! Nichole Doub from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Johanna Rivera from the Clemson University Restoration Institute (working on  the H.L. Hunley in Charleston, SC) as well as Emily Williams from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation were introduced to the joy that is dry ice blasting. Our project manager, Will, worked to establish the ideal parameters to clean wrought iron artifacts from the USS Monitor collection with dry ice over the last few years. During our colleagues’ visit, he shared the process that has been developed here and advised them on the procedure to follow, should they decide to invest in such a cleaning tool in the future. The day resulted in many nerdy conservation discussions regarding the original surface of artifacts, active corrosion processes and other pH related questions. Thrilling!!

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3-D mapping of shipwreck sites

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Hello USS Monitor Fans!

We have another fantastic lecture coming up in our Civil War Lecture Series! If you are able, please join us at The Mariners’ Museum and Park on Saturday Nov 12 from 2:30-3:30 for “3-D Mapping of Shipwreck Sites” presented by William Sassorossi, a NOAA Maritime Archaeologist.

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Some special events from last week

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Well, we may be done in the tank farm but that doesn’t mean that life around the lab has slowed at all. We are now back to working on individual projects. There were, however a couple of special events last week.

Rich Carlstedt came to visit and brought along his model of the Monitor’s main steam engine. This incredible model was built to a 1/16th scale and we believe it to be the most accurate model of the engine in existence. Rich probably knows more about the engine than any man alive and was happy to share this knowledge with us during a special guest lecture. He also ran the model for us, a fascinating thing to see. If you would like to see what the Monitor’s main engine would have looked like while in action, you should go and check out this YouTube video.

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What else?!

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Laurie and I cleaning the starboard gun carriage tank
Laurie and I cleaning the starboard gun carriage tank

In addition to the “tank-farm-team-effort” that has been going on here for almost three months, a lot of work has been done around the lab. On Mondays and Fridays, tanks are either draining or filling which gives us all the opportunity to carry on other treatments.
For instance, a few weeks ago Laurie and I cleaned the starboard carriage tank. Microorganism growth had been developing over the summer due to the increased heat and light and it was time to give it a little TLC.

Lesley and I later cleaned another large tank in the wet lab containing a ventilation engine. Maintenance requires not only scrubbing the tanks, but also changing reference electrodes, making sure the multimeters and pH probes are working properly and preparing new solutions. This involves lifting 50lbs sodium hydroxide bags. Yes we can!
Recently we were also all very pleased with the treatment outcome of an air flask from the starboard Worthington pump. Images speak for themselves:

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To touch or not to touch: interacting with artifacts

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The Monitor’s propeller lost much of its strength while on the sea floor. The large platform and signs encourage people to examine it from a safe distance.

Every museum goer has encountered warnings about touching artifacts, but have you ever wondered just how damaging that contact can be? I think we would all agree that leaping a barrier and picking up a vase is a definite bad idea, but what about resting your hand on a chair or poking a polar bear specimen? The truth is even the lightest touch can cause harm.

Last week I took a break from dry ice cleaning to work on the “Virginia Gun,” an IX-inch Dahlgren shell gun which sits at the entrance to the Ironclad Revolution exhibit. It was recovered along with the USS Merrimack by the Confederates and was used aboard the renamed CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862). It is a fascinating object that draws a crowd. Unfortunately, it also tends to draw wandering hands.  My job was to remove greasy fingerprints from the side of the barrel. This got me thinking about how we protect objects and how although we have “do not touch” signs around the museum, visitors might not understand why this is such an important rule.

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