Moraine Valley Community College welding instructors Amanda Young and Dave Viar X-rayed elephants at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Two Moraine Valley Community College welding instructors helped give an elephant a facelift at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History last month. Through their work with a local nondestructive testing company, Dave Viar, instructor and program coordinator of welding, and Amanda Young, adjunct welding instructor, worked on this unique venture.

The animals centering the main floor of the museum are more than 100 years old and in need of restoration. They were a gift to the Field Museum by pioneering taxidermist Carl Akeley, a museum employee who wanted to preserve and display two male African elephants. He and his wife traveled to Kenya in 1905, where they shot two down, and returned to the States with the skin, tusks and hair. Akeley fashioned the base of the pachyderms using chicken wire, steel, wood, and mesh for the skin to cover. Over time, the elephants have been exposed to natural light as well as humidity and dry air, yielding cracks in the skin. Those minor fissures have been mended, but a major overhaul is being done this year.

Before the exterior can be repaired, the museum needed to know what was on the inside. That’s where Moraine Valley faculty came in.

Viar moonlights for McNDT Pipeline, Ltd. while Young works there full-time as director of operations. McNDT was asked to X-ray the larger of the two elephants. Because the elephant’s head was attached separately, the X-ray would additionally determine how it was mounted to the frame. Viar and another McNDT employee set up the X-ray and imaging plate they moved along the elephant’s body. The images then crawled onto a computer screen to show what laid inside.
“There is a science to what we did. Inside is mostly steel, mesh and plaster. There are no bones. In fact, we had a hard time even finding teeth, so they also might not be there as expected. The museum seemed extremely pleased with the results and images,” Viar explained.

Curators will use the information to help with repairs, and Viar and Young will use this experience to help them teach.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and great learning experience. The nice thing is we can bring this back to students. Each semester we tell students the importance of the quality of the weld. Sometimes we use X-ray or destructively test the weld. If Dave says students need to make a better weld, we’ll bring in small NDT equipment so they can see a better one. They see why it makes a difference,” Young said. “Every facet of nondestructive testing is a key component to manufacturing, research, development, and quality. We expose students to another side of welding that they don’t usually see.”