|Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler examines the glass surface of the encasement containing pages from the Constitution, above. Below, a sheet is palced on specially made paper before being placed in an airtight container in order to test the moisture content.|
Finding freedom at their fingertips
|Sage professor involved
in efforts to protect nation's most important documents
By ALAN WECHSLER
It is one of the most important documents in the United States, and George Tucker never forgot that as he labored for days a few feet above pages of the U.S. Constitution.
That the 214-year-old document has survived at all is testament to the value that this country has placed on
|these pages of parchment.
They were continually rolled and unrolled during their
early years, to show their words to various founding
fathers. They were hidden in an unused gristmill during
the War of 1812, kept safe as the British burned
Washington, and brought to Fort Knox during World War II.
And still the words of our founding fathers are visible on its original parchment - a little fadded by light and time - but otherwise as bold as the men who thought them up.
The Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence have not been exposed to air since 1952, when they were enclosed in a total of nine large glass cases filled with helium and a small amount of humidity and sealed with lead.
Enter Tucker, professor of physics at The Sage Colleges. He is part of a team of scientists, backed by NASA, who have been using lasers to determine how well the seal around the document held up in the past 50 years. His work is part of a five-year, $4.8 million project aimed at keeping the nine pages of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independance and the Bill of Rights as safe and as age-free as possible.
For Tucker and other scientists, the work done thus far has meant spending hours standing only a few feet from three pages of the document this country is founded on.
"We never forget it for a minute," he said. "Can you imagine if you did anything to that document? It was like skating on thin ice."