Research on Hunley spurs new discoveries

By Tony Bartelme - The Post and Courier

Water is just water, right ?

Not at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, where researchers with Clemson University and conservators working on the H.L. Hunley use super-pressurized water in ways that could transform the preservation of metal artifacts, increase the durability of offshore windmills and even make paint cling better to ship hulls.

The secret of the water's transformation is tucked in a corner of the Lasch lab, in a room next to the Hunley and a pair of cannons from the Confederate raider Alabama.

"This is the big one," said Michael Drews, director of the Clemson Conservation Center at the Lasch lab, pointing to a panel of levers and pumps next to a waist-high metal cylinder.

Called a "subcritical reactor," the contraption is a sophisticated cousin of the pressure cooker and has nothing to do with radioactivity.

Instead, it creates pressures 50 times higher than what might be found in the open air, and this intense pressure causes materials to react differently. The boiling point for water, for instance, shoots from 212 degrees Fahrenheit to 392 degrees.


Hunley submarine Cussler Edward Lee Spence Warren Lasch Conservation Center North Charleston Clemson University