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Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Kathy Sykes' Diary: Shakers

Updated Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Kathy Sykes's diary about the challenge for the Shakers programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 3

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Kathy and Jonathan working on the seismograph Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team Day 10 - Auto Panning System
GLORIOUS day. Sun shining all day - and amazing progress by us all. Began in a frosty start - every surface, every leaf and blade of grass coated in a sparkly, rainbow of ice crystals. Insanely pretty. Challenges - Mike B has an old sheep to make lanolin out of. Ellen - has to use plants to tell us when the last big earthquake happened - to the YEAR. And Mike and Jonathan and I have to make a BETTER way of getting gold - more automated.


Brainstormed in sun. Mike L seems keen to quickly reach decisions. Jonathan and I are more keen to explore all possibilities then decide. But it worked. All agreed a sensible way forward. J to build a waterwheel. Mike and me to bash together a ‘box’ - a cradle. Mike is so fast at doing things. Desperately careful - but fast. I’m impressed. I spend more time thinking and planning - and sometimes it feels great just to get on and DO. But funny, at home, in my work, if anything I’m more inclined to get on and do it other than plan and think. I guess I’m not so used to building bits of mechanical stuff, so unfortunately makes a difference (and my projects at home are quite, quite different).

Anyway, we made great progress - Mike and I made a big, rocky cradle that we’re both quite proud of. Jonathan made a beautiful waterwheel, with adjustable height, so we can change it and accurately measure how deep the river is.

The sunset at the sawmill was amazing. The snow caps of the mountains goes an astonishing, shocking pink. It’s because of the sunset light being reflected in the sea, apparently. It’s just amazing. We’re so lucky to be here - surrounded by amazing mountains and mad cloud formations and able to breathe in the clear, crisp air. Every time you look up from sawing or hammering - the view shocks you again. And - sawing is a JOY this time. A power saw … very exciting - can hack wood up ridiculously quickly - and it’s such fun. Must get one!

Day 11- Earthquakes/Auto Panning System
Went with Ellen to a GORGEOUS forest … covered in moss … walking on moss, moss hanging from trees, moss growing on plants … like a padded cell … everywhere you look - soft, padded, green, fluffy stuff. It caught the shafts of sunlight in bundles and tangles of luminous brilliant green. Just fantastic!

We had to find the biggest tree … Ellen said this area had been trashed by an earthquake - and this strand of trees were first to grow on the devastated land. So if we find their age - we find when a big earthquake happened. I don’t know how she knows this was the last earthquake though. Must ask.

So - we found biggest tree - and ‘cored’ it … ie stuck hollow pipe in (well - pushed it in over 20 mins and lots of effort) and pulled out the beautiful innards. Right from the heart of the tree.

Then we had to pull out the ‘pippy’ (as Ellen calls the pipe thing). It’s so hard to do! Especially as the tree starts to swell around the pipe as soon as it gets in, almost like the tree is starting to fix itself (just like my body would after an infection or cut or something).

So pipe goes in … tree starts to swell … have to leave pipe in for much longer than usual/desirable … we have to struggle like mad to pull it out. Exhausting! And bizarre to watch - I’m sure! Two sweating, grunting women, stripping off in forest, yanking and turning a pipe in a tree. Surreal!

Back to Whateroa River in afternoon to get waterwheel, cradle and pump: River just not flowing very fast! - gold settles at places where river goes SLOWEST. The pump and waterwheel need place where river runs FASTEST. For the place we need the autometer - is just at the place the river is slow. We’re trying hard to find place that would be best. The bottom line - wheel not turning fast enough.

Put on some waders to carry around the wheel … waders are just the BEST thing. Get to stomp about in river - waist deep and stay dry. Very exciting! Call me a small child - but gadding about in deep river is such fun.

But we have a very short space of time to do LOADS. It’s such a tough challenge. We’ve worked so hard and done so much - and still seem so, so far off. All getting quite stressed and crabby - in spite of waders ‘fun’.

Bed early - need some sleep! Hard work by the river!

Day 12 - Auto Panning System
Another BEAUTIFUL sunny day. Crisp and cold at the river in the morning. Took a long time before the sun started to thaw us out. Began with some debates - do we move whole shebang to a place in a better flow or try direct more water into it?

We managed to find a spot that eventually worked really well (in fact - Kate suggested it!) We directed water into it too and it shooshed around delightfully. We connected it up to the cradle, and the whole thing worked delightfully too. What a joy! The sun came up and the waterwheel and cradle glowed golden, merrily shooshing around.

So, Mike L and Jonathan began shovelling rocks and sand into buckets, while I tipped rocks and sand onto the cradle, then ran water down it. Had to tip rocks: tip water, hand-shuffle the rocks in the top container without losing rocks; shuffle some more, cold water, etc, etc.
We were all shattered after a few hours. We weren’t sure how long it would take to wash everything all down and get down to the gold, so we left lots of time. In the end we only really did 2-3 hours before we were dismantling the whole cradle. Seems a shame! But we got what seemed like a lot of gold out of it! Amazing - in such a short time. By 1 pm we were all tired and ravenous. Venison burgers and pumpkin soup. Just fantastic. But kind of wished they’d kept on going a lot longer … If we got ‘quite a lot’ in 2 hours, what could we have got with in just a bit more time? Went back to sawmill, and once we’d dried out the gold we didn’t really have much to do. We got the balance prepared … and waited for the end of the day

Altogether, with the gold from Mike and Ellen’s punga, we got 1.2 g. So that makes 1.7 g total, after 2 challenges. (Value is £3 - £4 … cost of filming the 2 challenges … I dread to think!) But it is new, exciting and makes you realise how you might easily get addicted to the gold mining thing!





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