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Why Are Barns Red?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Image of the Week #92, May 21th, 2013:


From: Why Barns Are Red, and More – The Countdown, Episode 22 by Eric R. Olson, Sophie Bushwick and Oliver S. Wharton at The Countdown.

Source: Rob Shenk/Flickr

Why are barns red? If you’re looking for a quick, earthly explanation, the low cost of red paint certainly fits the bill. But Eric Olson at The Countdown has a surprisingly different and much deeper explanation, one that connects us to the furthest reaches of the cosmos and the death of a star. It’s a reminder that even the most pedestrian of human activities can be linked to larger processes in the universe; uncovering these deep connections is just a matter of asking the right questions.



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  1. 1. Dave X 11:07 am 05/23/2013

    For a quicker explanation: Red paint is cheap because it uses a ochre, a cheap iron oxide based pigment, and iron is so plentiful because it is the end-state of nuclear fusion and fission in the ancient stars we’re made out of.

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  2. 2. jcvillar 1:15 pm 05/24/2013

    In the 18th century it was common for New England farmers to leave broken tools outside to rust. The rust was scraped off and mixed with spoilt milk to make a red paint. The nice thing about this is that the fungus that causes dry rot just hates iron ions (not too fond of copper either) so the paint goes a long way toward helping preserve the structure.

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