Fact-Finders Are At Home Where The Buffalo Roamed

Countless times, I’ve driven right past this street sign, never thinking twice about why the secondary roadway is called Buffalo Parkway and where it leads. This week, it became an object most worthy of attention. The parkway’s final destination, a local well-kept secret, now rivals OCLC as one of my favorite Third Places.

Let’s begin with the name of the street. In October 1969 — in fact, one week after I was born — a herd of about 160 buffalo took up residence in a 24-acre area north and east of the new Anheuser-Busch brewery on Schrock Road in north Columbus. The bison were to be part of a proposed American Plains animal reserve and theme park to be established there. Five years later, the plans were scrapped and the herd moved to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Since May 2016, the land where the buffalo roamed has been home to the headquarters of S-E-A. Founded in Columbus in 1970 to provide fire investigations, S-E-A (short for Scientific Expert Analysis) offers mechanical, electrical, civil industrial, biomechanic and biomedical forensic engineering services in 11 locations around the country. Lawyers, insurance companies and others rely on S-E-A’s engineers, chemists and investigators to test, research and analyze product safety and evaluate product failures for everything from golf carts to roller coasters.

S-E-A was the second stop on this summer’s roundup of special library tours organized by the Central Ohio Chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology (CO-ASIS&T).  I met about 20 other librarians there and we discovered all sorts of fun facts about the business and its home.

First fascinating fact about S-E-A, uncovered by turning over one of its business cards: Its logo represents an ideogram used in geology to represent twisted rock formations. The Nsibidi people in Ghana use the same curving-line symbol to represent when two witnesses contradict each other; the straight line represents when one is telling the truth. Animators in the company’s imaging sciences group have even recreated the logo in 3,500 LEGOs.

Another fascinating fact came in the form of “Fido.” Pat Connor and Lisa Elliott, S-E-A’s research librarian and library electronic resources coordinator, described how they manage a user-centric knowledge repository, promote colleague collaboration through resource-sharing, and provide professional research consulting services to S-E-A associates. Laws, regulations, industry standards, news, professional literature, Consumer Product Safety Commission files and building codes are some of their most-used information resources.

To help their colleagues identify, locate and request information, Pat and Lisa developed Fido, an integrated library system that now contains more than 20,000 catalog records, upwards of 7,000 uploaded documents, and about 350 pieces of forensic engineering equipment. The name “Fido” was the result of a company-wide naming contest. Lisa and Pat designed a scavenger hunt to celebrate Fido’s first birthday, challenging engineers to use Fido to answer questions like “In which S-E-A office is located the 2000 International Plumbing Code?” and “In which American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) Volume is ASTM E811?”

For National Library Week (April 9-15, 2017), Lisa and Pat offered their colleagues a bookmark printed with Groucho Marx’s saying, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

We all took some sympathetic deep, calming breaths when we heard how this dynamic duo moved the entire library collection from S-E-A’s old home across I-270 to this sleek, new, natural-light-filled building. Then, our hostesses led us on a tour of the building.

We stopped by an analysis lab where Sue Hetzel, an analytical chemist, described how she tests fire debris in such a fine way that I wanted to return to CSG’s chemistry lab and try Dr. Hall’s dreaded lab tests again.  We learned how failure of metal, plastic, glass and other materials are carefully studied in a materials lab. We saw S-E-A’s vehicle inertia measurement facility, where the rollover resistance of all new vehicles is tested for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Walking past S-E-A’s trio of visualization animation experts, we learned how a medical illustrator and a biomedical engineer can help people visualize failure of medical devices and other equipment. And we met Al Dunn and Dennis Guenther, a pair of mechanical engineers experienced in accident reconstruction, vehicle dynamics, brake systems, stability evaluations, occupant kinematics and biomechanics. Like their S-E-A colleagues, these personable, obviously smart men work in offices identified by name plates reminiscent of the periodic table of the chemical elements (Ad and Dg were theirs; mine would be Bb). Clever!

But we found our Third Place in Pat and Lisa’s pride and joy. A cozy little nook known as the vehicle and biomechanics library in the building’s west wing houses Society of Automotive Engineers reports and technical papers, product literature, vehicle manuals and serials like NSC Accident Facts and Traffic Injury Prevention. Another neat nest was filled with more printed material, mostly cataloged using the Library of Congress’s classification schedule T, for Technology.

Have you ever given thought to how a candle burns? I certainly hadn’t, until I arrived at S-E-A’s candle lab. Here, we took a whiff of a curious combination of fruity, flowery and foody fragrances, surveying a scene of rows and rows of shelving topped by glass-jarred candles, in various burn stages, sitting on wooden squares. Brent Curkendall, the lab’s supervisor, told us how he and his colleagues use Creme brûlée torches and custom-designed software to test up to 3,600 candles a day, 21 hours per day, seven days per week. They monitor samples of candle batches as they burn, noting flame height, the “mushroom cap” of wicks, burn time, wax residue, potential shattering hazard and other characteristics that might impact product safety. Scorch potential is assessed by the wooden squares, which emulate kitchen countertops or table surfaces upon which the candle might be placed in a home setting. Decisions about raw materials and recipes used in the production of candles, together with production demand tied to retail seasons, can also depend on the candle lab’s findings. Think about that whenever you fire up a candle to create hygge, that trendy Scandinavian concept of coziness, in your home.

“Seekers of Truth, Finders of Facts,” proclaimed a sign in the S-E-A headquarters. What a fitting description for the librarians and engineers who roam Buffalo Parkway on their way to and from work.

To uncover more fascinating facts about S-E-A, click here.  Don’t miss the 200+ videos on S-E-A’s Vimeo channel – including a neat one on the candle lab.

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