MS. REBECCA SHEIR
All right. We'll turn now from a celestial kind of heat to a more terrestrial one as we move a few miles away from NASA Goddard and head over to the University of Maryland in College Park. Lauren Ober takes it from there.
MS. LAUREN OBER
Steven Jones' office is hot. I mean really hot. Like melt your face off hot. Like you need to drink a gallon of water every minute hot. Okay, you get the point.
MS. LAUREN OBER
Jones is a sculptor and adjunct professor at University of Maryland where he runs the metal casting program. The furnace Jones uses to heat up the metals burns at more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hotter than a burning candle, a smoldering cigarette, even molten lava. Needless to say Jones' job makes him a little bit sweaty.
MR. STEVEN JONES
So we always start with aluminum because it melts at a lower temperature. And then we'll put in the bronze crucible. We'll pull away the aluminum molds, bring out the bronze molds and pour the bronze. Bronze melts around 1,800. We probably pour it around 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Aluminum melts at around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. We pour at 1,500 or 1,600 degrees.
So it's a hot business?
It is hot business, yes.
Jones has been teaching metal casting at Maryland for more than a decade. The class takes students through the process of creating a variety of molds, pouring the metals and shining up the final pieces.
Today's the last of class, it's our last pour. We'll be pouring aluminum and bronze. The students have a series of molds for aluminum and for bronze.
And when you say pour, what do you mean? What is actually going to happen?
The pour means that we will be melting the metal in a furnace and then using a crane and some other tools to lift the molten metal out of the furnace and pour them into the molds. And inside each mold is a cavity that is created by the students by either making a pattern or carving into the sand to accept the metal.
The molds the students have come up with span the sculptural spectrum. There's a relief of a face, an antique gun, even baby flip-flops. They get one last inspection before the big pour. Until then the metal shop is buzzing with drills, wire brushes and the sound of the furnace rumbling awake in the next room. The furnace is a special part of the sculpture department, Jones says. Not many university art programs have them anymore.
So the furnace has been here at University of Maryland in excess of 20 years, probably longer. It melts 125 pounds of aluminum, 475 pounds of bronze, which is a lot of aluminum, a lot of bronze. At University of Maryland we have a fairly large and robust foundry and sculpture equipment area.
50 years ago kids in junior high school students would have been doing aluminum casting and they would've then gone into engineering and some other fields based on that hands-on experiences that they had. And now the art department is kind of the last venue of actually making in that way. So now we're getting the architects and the engineering students that come to us to actually learn how to weld and learn how to cast and learn some of the hands-on ways of making.
The process of heating up the metals begins with propane which creates a little tornado of fire around the crucible. The crucible is the vessel that holds the metal within the furnace. As the heat rises around the crucible the metal will start to melt. More metal is added until there is enough to fill all the molds.
At full blast the furnace spews a vibrant green flame from a hole in the top. It's so loud it sounds like you’re standing inside a jet engine. The heat is nearly unbearable. Imagine standing inches from a towering, white-hot bonfire. This is the type of heat the furnace throws off.
At one point I am pretty sure my glasses might melt down my face. While the metal melts the students put on protective leather jackets, aprons and safety glasses. Those who will be doing the pouring also wear helmets with face shields, thick leather gloves and heavy leather spats.
All right guys it's going to be a little warm.
When the aluminum is ready, Jones gives the students orders with military precision.
Good job, all right (unintelligible). So you're on in three, two, one.
The crucible with the molten aluminum glows bright red as the students tip it to pour the metal into the molds. When the molds are full the rest of the aluminum is poured into forms that look like bread loaf pans. Those will be reheated and used in a future pour.
Four, three, two, one, little slower, little slower. Guys, great pour, great class. You all did a wonderful job. You all have made some nice pieces, great pouring to the four teams. Now we're just going to let these cool then come back and bust them open. All right, so great job, congratulations.
Jones wipes the sweat from his brow as he says this. Then he encourages his students to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. As if they needed any more reminders of just how scorching this work can be. I'm Lauren Ober.
Want to see Steve Jones and his students pouring aluminum and bronze? Well you're in luck, we have a slide show on our website, metroconnection.org.
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