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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cleaning museum 'asbestos' they can

From the heavens to wooden crates, the meteorites in UNM’s Meteorite Museum are in storage during an asbestos abatement.

Carl Agee, director of the Institute of Meteoritics, said the present Meteorite Museum is a “barren shell,” while nearly every room in Northrop Hall deals with asbestos removal. The specimens have been placed into storage while those efforts take place, he said.

“If you have glued a carpet down onto that asbestos substrate and you try to rip it off it releases asbestos into the air,” Agee said. “In order to pull the old carpet up you have to have a crew come in and do that with proper ventilation. It’s just one of those things that happen in every single renovation of old buildings.”

Officials at the museum, which has not been renovated since 1974, hope to finish the asbestos abatement and begin restoration soon, he said.

Agee said he has been trying to get the museum renovation funded for several years, and he would like to see it reopen in time for the fall semester.

“The displays were outdated and needed an upgrade” Agee said. “You wouldn’t believe how display lighting has improved in 40 years. We can take advantage of LED lighting that is low wattage; very intense, beautiful and pure light. It’s really great for display.”

Lee Savary, who worked at the UNM Art Museum for 18 years before his retirement, is the exhibition designer for the restoration. Savary currently serves as a freelance consultant for Agee, and said he is looking to redesign and improve the meteorite specimens’ exhibition.

“I’ve worked on creating conceptual plans and development of exhibition storyline or themes, advising on label and signage design, color, lighting and object display,” Savary said.

The new layout will have a dynamic design organized by meteorite categories: Chondrite, Achondrites, Carbonaceous Chondrites, Martian, Lunar, Irons and Pallasites, according to Savary. In his original job with the museum, Savary designed the displays for the Martian and Lunar specimens.

Pallasites, rare stony-iron meteorites known for their translucent crystals, are among the most dramatic meteorites, Savary said.

“Many of the Pallasites will be backlit to show the beautiful patterns in these translucent specimens,” he said.

Students can look forward to a cleaner, improved layout with outstanding specimens of meteorites,

Savary said.

Stephen Elardo, a recent graduate student of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said his love of science led him to complete his doctorate degree last week, and his passion for outer space has him personally invested in the Meteorite Museum.

“The museum has been in desperate need of an overhaul,” he said. “Everything needed a facelift, from the display cases to the information describing samples to the terrible carpeted walls”.

Elardo has worked mainly as an impromptu tour guide at the museum. He has given tours to elementary school classes that have come through on field trips and to groups of teachers looking for more outside the classroom, he said

“The Institute of Meteoritics’ collection is outstanding, a real world-class meteorite collection, so having an up-to-date museum where people can come in and learn more about meteorites and planetary science benefits everyone, and will be a real showpiece for UNM,” Elardo said.

Moriah Carty is a freelance writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @MoriahCarty.