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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Spring 2006
Feature Articles President's View At Rensselaer Class Notes Features Making a Difference Rensselaer Milestones Staying Connected In Memoriam
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Reader Mail

Of Earthquakes and Explosions

Winter 2005-06 Cover
In your article “What Lies Beneath” [Winter 2005-06], the author said that New York state rarely experiences seismic activity. I am from Massena, N.Y., and I remember half the plaster falling down in the house and a chimney of a two-story house falling down.

On Sept. 4, 1944, an earthquake centered about midway between Massena, N.Y., and Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, caused an estimated $2 million damage in the two cities. The shock destroyed or damaged about 90 percent of the chimneys at Massena (intensity VIII), with similar effects at Cornwall. There was little damage due to the location of the center between Massena and Cornwall. Now the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, locks, and miles of dikes holding back Lake Saint Lawrence are located between Massena and Cornwall. An earthquake there may cause flooding of Massena and especially Cornwall if there is a break in the dams or dikes.

A little sidelight: When they blew a cofferdam with 30 tons of explosives to open the Seaway and make Lake Saint Lawrence on July 1, 1958, the shock wave was felt on the RPI campus. My roommate, Laurie Freedman, a graduate student in chemistry at the summer school, told me that the Geology Department predicted that the shock wave would follow a fault from the Saint Lawrence River Valley south through the campus.

If you didn’t know it was coming, you’d think a large truck was going by the chemistry building.

Lawrence Nichols ’58
Greenville, N.C.

Seismic Activity at Troy

As I read the interesting article “What Lies Beneath,” it brought back memories of the “Logan Line.” In 1970 I was closely involved with the design and construction of the foundations for the Modern Classroom Facility Building [Darrin Communications Center], located a short distance east of ’86 Field. During our subsurface investigation I learned about the Logan Line, a gigantic overthrust fault extending from the Albany area into Massachusetts. A geologic reference indicated that the fault occurred about 40 million years ago, when older beds of Shodack limestone shoved over younger beds of Snake Hill shale for thousands of feet.

Not a tectonic plate disruption but large enough to get my attention — especially since the fault line near the ground surface passed through the RPI campus and the northeast corner of the proposed building. The geologic reference stated that the fault had stopped moving 40 million years ago and it would not move again. I wondered how the geologist could be so sure.

I recommended to the architect/engineer that the building location be moved a short distance to put the entire building beyond the fault line. The A/E agreed and moved the building. Some time later, a Rensselaer administrator told the A/E to return the building to its original locations. The A/E agreed and moved the building back. Sometimes the practice of geotechnical engineering is similar to playing Russian roulette.

As everyone knows, seismic activity at Troy is now very small. However, 40 million years isn’t so long in geologic time. If the cause of the Logan Line is still cooking somewhere down there, perhaps the fault isn’t extinct. Just taking a nap.

Tom Bellatty ’51
West Caldwell, N.J.

Quiet Crisis: Wrong Solution?

With all due respect to Dr. Jackson and her drawing attention to the “Quiet Crisis,” I believe that she is attacking the problem from the wrong end. Although a shrinking supply of technical people (scientists, engineers, programmers) is a problem, a far bigger one is the failure to retain these people once they enter the workforce. When a technical person joins almost any American company, what do they constantly hear from Day One? “We don’t value you for your technical skills. You’re just another Dilbert to us. When your salary gets too high, we’ll dump you and send your job to India or China. If you want to amount to anything and get anywhere, leave the technical track, get your MBA, and join us Art History majors in management.” Is it any wonder that technical people leave their fields in droves?

It will not help to throw money at a perceived shortage of students. The sad fact is that there is not some great pool of untapped talent out there. Very few people can think logically and rationally enough to be a success in the technical world. Does anyone remember the swarms of students in computer science programs in the late ’90s? They’re gone now. Most should never have been let near a computer.

We may be losing some students in grades K-12 by not having enough good math and science teachers, but no one should fool themselves into thinking that a huge increase in qualified math and science teachers will act as some sort of magic catalyst to produce huge numbers of qualified engineering and science students! Another concern is that pushing a huge supply of technical people onto the market will merely give management an excuse to slash salaries (supply and demand). We would do far better to concentrate on nurturing technical careers and retaining good people in their fields, rather than embarking on some crash program to spike up the supply for a short time.

Phil Perry ’80
Woodstock, N.Y.

We’d love to hear from you! To provide space for as many letters as possible, we often must edit them for length. Please address correspondence to: Rensselaer Magazine, Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, e-mail to, or call (518) 276-6531.

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