Austin Owens / Lantern photographer
Several rusty, metal steam vents sprout from the ground around campus, issuing potentially hazardous and slightly acidic steam.
A group of engineering students — Engineers for Community Service — has noticed the pipes. The students contend that the vents are dangerous but, moreover, that they’re unsightly.
“The purpose of this project isn’t due to safety concerns. The purpose is that these are an eyesore,” said Steve Ottobre, a fifth-year in chemical engineering. “They’re just ugly. They’re these rusty metal pieces of junk sticking out of the ground.”
Ottobre is working with Lisa Reisenauer, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, to lead a group of students who want to turn one of the vents into a work of art.
The project is in its beginning stages, but Roger Dzwonczyk, a clinical associate professor advising the group, said one idea is to build a statue of Woody Hayes with steam coming out of his ears.
“The object was to make something interesting to look at and make a sort of dynamic art piece,” Dzwonczyk said. “We’re trying to make this a sort of interdisciplinary project for Ohio State.”
The vents function as a release for steam from underground tunnels. McCracken Power Plant produces steam that is transported through underground pipes to buildings throughout campus. Rain and ground water penetrate the tunnels housing the pipes. When the water makes contact with the pipes, it vaporizes and is released through the vents.
“It’s like a cloud just lifting out of the ground,” Ottobre said. “Inhaling it is not a problem.”
The vent the group will focus on is located at the north end of Ohio Stadium off Woody Hayes Drive.
The student group leaders say that particular vent was capped with a yellow fixture concealing the dangerous part because the spewing steam burned several people leaving the stadium.
Police and other officials could not confirm that allegation. But water changes from liquid to gas at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and burns form on skin at temperatures higher than 140 degrees, according to Mayo Clinic’s website.
The steam is also slightly acidic. Dzwonczyk said the steam contains carbonic acid, which could potentially injure passersby.
Other steam vents are located by Morrill and Lincoln Tower on Cannon Drive, and in between the RPAC and stadium, among others. There is one steam vent in the middle of the road by the OSU medical center. The group’s leaders said they might tackle other vents in the future if their first project is successful.
Despite the hazards, the group is more concerned with the aesthetic of the vents. In its effort to transform an eyesore into art, the group has sought professors from the art department who specialize in art and technology.
“I’m excited about the idea of using the steam as art,” said Ken Rinaldo, associate professor of art.
Dzwonczyk contacted Rinaldo and his wife, Amy Youngs, who is also an associate professor of art, to collaborate with the engineers on the project.
“We obviously have to maintain the functionality of the vent, too,” Ottobre said.
The student group met for the second time Thursday. The students divided into groups that will study the steam.
Students will test the steam’s flow rate, pH levels and temperature. They hope to use thermal paint to determine temperature change — a more artistic way to perform a basic lab procedure. For example, a scarlet block “O” might emerge on a painted gray vent when its temperature increases.
The students will collect condensation, liquid formed when the steam cools, from the steam to test its acidity. They will water plants with that water, and if the plants survive, the steam might have potential for other uses.
Reisenauer said one of the main reasons the group chose to do this project was to use what students learn in the classroom and apply skills to real situations.
“After all, that’s why we’re learning it, so we can use it,” Reisenauer said.
Before tests begin, though, the group needs to raise enough money for the lab procedures. The group’s leaders are lobbying organizations such as the Undergraduate Student Government, Facilities Operations and Development, and the university itself, among others, for money.
Facilities Operations and Development actually brought the issue to the group’s attention two years ago, but the student group’s leaders said it’s unclear whether they will get money from that department.