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Discovering Periodic Table Elements Throughout Penn Yan

Keuka College Associate Professor of Chemistry Andrew Robak has used fine art and photography to educate others about the intricacies of science, and his latest student collaboration showcases another new perspective.

In 2012, Robak collaborated with Kat Andonucci ’13 to produce “The Art of Chemistry,” a unique exhibit featuring chemical experiments often photographed by Andonucci at slow speeds or in low light to highlight the array of colors, shapes and textures within a variety of chemical solutions, reactions and even optical illusions. This time, Robak’s collaboration with biology major Phil Longyear ’14, a Rushville resident, explores the variety of natural elements from the Periodic Table found in and around the Penn Yan area.

Dr. Robak, left and Phil Longyear '14, right, on Main Street, Penn Yan.

Together, the duo visited manufacturing plants like Abtex and Ferro, artisan studios and even retail shops such as Pinckney’s Ace Hardware to document in photographs the elements in their natural or manufactured forms. The resulting images —with each name, two-letter scientific abbreviation, and a brief description of its characteristics and uses —are now on display in many storefront windows along Main Street, Penn Yan, effectively turning Main Street itself into an art gallery for “Elements of the Finger Lakes.”

Nearly 60 elements of the Periodic Table’s full 118 elements were found; the full collection of images can also be viewed at the Lightner Gallery at Lightner Library on the campus of Keuka College. An opening reception will be held from 4 – 5:30 p.m. at Milly’s Pantry, 19 Main Street on Wednesday, June 10. Milly’s is one of many local shops featuring works from the “Elements of the Finger Lakes.” The exhibit will continue through July on Main Street and through August on campus.

A welder at Coach and Equipment works with special tools, producing plasma from the reaction of (O) oxygen with the fuel in the tool (most likely acetylene gas).

“The project really helps people understand what chemical elements are, where they come from, how we use them and where they are [found],” Longyear said. “I like the fact that it will bring science to the masses in a way that they can understand.”

According to Longyear, the “field trips” he and Robak took last fall to companies like Ferro or Coach and Equipment proved how common many of the elements truly are. Ferro, the former Transition Element Company (TransElCo), manufactures an array of pigments, powders used to make computing materials, polishing applications for lenses, polymers, plastics and more. Coach and Equipment produces small to mid-size transit buses using elements including lead (Pb), Fluorine (F), lithium (Li) and argon (Ar) in its engineering process.

At Ferro, workers take basic elements like carbon (C), titanium, (Ti) and tungsten (W), and refine them for an industrial use. So the up-close-and-personal views offered at Ferro for the exhibit educate participants beyond just a logo or company tagline, Longyear said.

“This is more than the sign on the front and [the product] that comes out the door. This is what’s in-between and that was really interesting,” he described.

According to Robak, a project such as this serves to merge science with the community. Not only will participants learn a little more about chemistry, but they’ll learn more about the community where they live and work too.

“The Periodic Table can be hard to relate to … but in its simplest sense, it’s a list of the essence of every material that we can touch, see or interact with in our daily lives,” Robak said, adding that many people may not realize just how many elements could be in their own homes, too.

A classic Periodic Table wall chart, found at Ferro.

“This project would not have happened without those willing to let us ask questions, give tours or shoot photography inside their businesses,” Robak said, noting that many company staffers actively tried to find elements in use or suggest others for Robak and Longyear to document. Community participation for the exhibit has also been high, Robak added, thanking the numerous business owners along Main Street who agreed to display the poster-size images in storefront windows or indoor displays. A trifold brochure will also be available at many participating businesses so pedestrians can learn about the project as they stroll Main Street.

Dr. Robak examines a brick near the kiln at Peter Knickerbocker's Spider's Nest Pottery Studio.

Artisans such as Pete Knickerbocker of Spider’s Nest Pottery or Keuka College Professor Emeritus Dexter Benedict of Fireworks Foundry were also part of the exploration. Benedict sculpts works of bronze, using oxygen (O), aluminum (Al) and lots of copper (Cu) in the process. Meanwhile, Knickerbocker makes use of elements including cobalt (Co), iron (Fe), chromium (Cr), and also copper (Cu) in his pottery.

“I had no idea that a potter could tailor and design not only his or her own glazes, but the clay itself, and (Pete) was able to manipulate those elements in order to set himself apart in his field,” Longyear described.

While Longyear served as primary photographer, a few elements, such as hydrogen, posed a challenge to shoot because they can only be seen when reacting with another element, he said. In those cases, it was a challenge to “tell the story,” he said.

But Mother Nature also offered a few elements as well, which the duo incorporated into the project, including images of bones for calcium, the night sky (space) for hydrogen, and a sunset at Montezuma Wildlife Refuge to represent helium, Longyear explained.

“Every day we use elements from the earth. You can look at the Periodic Table and see a number and a name, but if you really dig into it, it’s really cool,” Longyear said.

Simmons Showcases Photography at Keuka

Abby Simmons loves the Finger Lakes. Perhaps that’s why its rolling hills, rural landscapes and colorful foliage feature prominently in her photography.

sunset, tractor, silhouette, abby simmons, finger lakes, landscape, rural, field, orange

Simmon's sunset shot of a tractor in a local field

One night, heading to her parents’ farm in Bellona, Simmons crested a hill near Tomion’s Farm Market (off Route 14A) and noticed a tractor in a nearby cornfield. She pulled over and was absorbed in taking dozens of photos of the tractor’s silhouette against the setting sun, when her parents drove by.  They stopped when they saw her wading through the field with her camera.

“They catch me doing that a lot,” Simmons said with a smile.

The tractor at sunset image and many others will be featured  in the Lightner Gallery at Lightner Library at Keuka College Sept. 2 – Oct. 31. An artist’s reception will be held 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, where light refreshments will be served.   Gallery hours may be found online at

This will be Simmons’ first solo show. Her work first caught the eye of Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art and curator of the gallery, during last winter’s staff and faculty art exhibit. Simmons has worked as a staff member for Keuka’s D.R.I.V.E program for the last year-and-a-half. (more…)

Seniors Showcase Art ‘EXPEERIENCE’

A trio of seniors are presenting their final art projects – a closer look at their personal journeys – in an exhibit on display April 29-May 24 at Keuka College’s Lightner Gallery.

The Senior Art Show showcases the talents of Erik Holmes of Penn Yan, Courtney French (Massena), and Erica Ruscio (Middlesex). An artists’ reception will be held from 4:30-6 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 at the gallery in Lightner Library. Light refreshments will be served and the event is free and open to the public. The exhibit runs through May 24.The gallery is open during Lightner Library hours, whichcan be found online at:

According to Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art and adviser to the student artists, each one had to prepare an artist’s statement, along with a “thesis” of sorts, representing the culmination of work produced over their time as a student. Throughout this semester, they met  weekly for senior art seminar, she said, and from those talks, a group consensus emerged: everybody’s grown.

This group has some of the strongest raw talent of students Newcomb has mentored during her four years at Keuka, she said.

According to Ruscio, the trio named the exhibit “EXPEERIENCE” because it’s “all about our experiences and we hope that people can see that by peering a little closer.”

“There are also a lot of eyes and faces, so we just thought it was a catchy title,” Ruscio added. (more…)

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ to Run Oct. 25-28

The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy by Oscar Wilde, will be the fall theatrical production at Keuka College.

The Cast of "Earnest" (Photo by Stephanie Lockhart '16)

The play will be staged Thursday- Saturday, Oct. 25-27, at 8 p.m. and Sunday Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Red Barn Theatre.

Directed by Professor of Theatre Mark Wenderlich, who also serves as lighting director, The Importance of Being Earnest offers a hilarious look at fun, games, and dubious ethics among the British upper crust.

Algernon Moncrieff is a slightly shady, but charming gentleman from a wealthy family who has a bad habit of throwing his money away. His close friend is Jack Worthing, a self-made man who acts as a ward to his cousin, Cecily.

Teatime with Cecily (Katy Standinger) Algernon (Logan Ackerley) and Merriman (Elijah Snipes II) (Photo by Stephanie Lockhart '16)

Algernon has created an alter ego to help him get out of tight spots brought on by his financial improprieties, and when he learns that Jack has created a false identity of his own—Earnest, a brother living in London whose exploits have earned him no small amount of notoriety— Algernon arrives for a weekend visit in the country posing as the mysterious Earnest. Having heard of Earnest’s misadventures many times over the years, Cecily had developed something of an infatuation with the lovable rogue, and Algernon’s impersonation of him works no small degree of magic on Cecily.

Rev. Chausable and Miss Prism (Matthew Snyder and Sierra Lynch). (Photo by Stephanie Lockhart '16)

Meanwhile, Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolyn arrives for the weekend, and is startled to discover Jack is also there—except that she knows him as bad-boy Earnest. So just who is in love with whom? How will Lady Bracknell handle the matter of daughter Gwendolyn’s suitors? And what’s the truth about Jack’s mysterious heritage?

Members of the cast include Jacob Banas (Jack Worthing); Logan Ackerley (Algernon Moncrieff); Caleigh Alterio (Gwendolen Fairfax); Katy Standinger  (Cecily Cardew); Jenny Tammera (Lady Bracknell) Matthew Snyder (Lane/Rev. Chasuble); Sierra Lynch  (Miss Prism); and Elijah Snipes II (Merriman).

Members of the crew include Danica Zielinski (stage manager, light board manager, and scenic designer); Damita Peace (costume designer); Dan Roach (sound designer); Stephen Funk  (sound board operator); and Jessamine Qualman, Robert Hernandez, Alicia Brown, and Cheryl Walsh (crew).

The Oct. 27 performance will benefit the cast members’ 2013 trip to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. All tickets are $7 and will be on sale at the door. Tickets for the other three performances are $4 for Keuka students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and $7 for the general public. Seating is limited.

How Did Walt Bates Die?

Jessamine Qualman (l) in a scene with Mackenzie Ellis.

Keuka College’s fall theater production will be Lanford Wilson’s mystery Book of Days.

The play will be staged Oct. 27-30 in the College’s Red Barn Theatre. The Oct. 27 performance will benefit the cast members’ trip to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in January.

“It’s a revisit of small-town mid-America with conservative ethics in a crucial life-threatening situation,” said Mark Wenderlich, professor of theatre and director of the production. “It deals with not only black and white, but a lot of shades of gray of truth and how people see things.”

The story revolves around Dublin, a quiet Missouri town with more churches than bars, and a cheese factory at the center of commerce.