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Weird Science

Weird Science
By France Griggs Sloat

What’s round and gray and weighs about two tons? An elephant, right? Well, yes, but so does a pig—a radioactive shielding pig, that is.

Sitting in a corner of a fourth-floor laboratory in Logan Hall is a hefty cylindrical container made of compressed steel, aluminum and copper that was once a testing device for radiation experiments by chemistry professor Ted Thepe, S.J. Except Thepe’s radioactivity classes and research retired right along with him in 1997, and the shield—or pig, as it’s affectionately known—has sat around hogging space ever since.

So what do you do with a two-ton porker? Well this little piggy is going to market. Dan McLoughlin, chair of the department of chemistry, is as sentimental as anyone, but even he has his limits. It’s time for it to go, he says. There’s only one problem: How do you move it? He doesn’t know either. Thepe says it took a tractor-trailer to deliver the tank and its twin to campus back in 1965.

He was given the shields by GE Aircraft Engines, which made them to test a nuclear-powered jet engine. The engine never got off the ground, but Thepe’s radioactivity classes did. He used to test the radioactivity levels on all sorts of things. One of the shields disappeared after it was moved to a maintenance building that was sold. But the remaining pig sits alone, unused and a little rusty.

“It may be valuable some day as a World War II remnant,” Thepe says. “But someone would have to get it out.”

Heave-ho.

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