The Method: Science Above And Below Ground

Oct 28, 2015

A solar panel-festooned picnic table at Maryville College.
Credit Matt Shafer Powell, WUOT News

At Maryville College, two of the picnic tables outside the student dining hall might look a little odd to you. It's because they've been outfitted with umbrella-like shades that contain solar panels.

The energy the panels produce goes into charging stations built into the picnic shelters, so students have the opportunity to soak up the sun while their devices charge. But students have been getting way more out of the picnic tables than a fully-charged smartphone.

Professor Adrienne Schwarte told WUOT's Matt Shafer Powell, "One of the things we found anecdotally already is that a lot of students from different student populations are starting to come together at the solar picnic tables, which didn’t happen before."

Fine crystals of aragonite grow out of a dolostone exposure inside Cherokee Caverns. Researchers at Pellissippi State Community College hope to understand more about these crystals, and how they formed.
Credit Kathleen Affholter

 Reportedly, Tennessee has more caves than any other state in the union. The count stands around 10,000, and those are just the ones that have been discovered. But there’s one cave in northwestern Knox County that stands out from the crowd. Cherokee Caverns contains some remarkable crystals of aragonite, a mineral not often found in cave environments.

"[The crystals] are called anthodites," Geologist Kathleen Affholter said. "And anthodites are rare, not only in Tennessee, but around the world. To find anthodites in caves in quite unique."

Affholter and chemist Garry Pennycuff of Pellissippi State Community College just got a grant to study the crystals of Cherokee Caverns. The tools of their trade will include a scanning electron microscope, photographs and a deep curiosity about the aragonite crystals and what they can tell us about the history of Cherokee Caverns.