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The idea of Quark Park is to create collaborations between artists and scientists, leading to an artistic work that reflects, or is inspired by, the scientist’s work. To represent George Scherer’s research on conservation of art and monuments made of stone, sculptor Kate Graves came up with a wonderful idea: she created a stone table incorporating a board for the African game, Mankala. This ancient game, played with pebbles, reminds us of our relationship to stone over the ages, and of our expectation that stone endures. Kate’s goal was to make a contemplative place with a timeless feeling, as embodied in the stone and wood elements.

Carved stone has a natural life cycle that includes maturity (development of a patina) and degradation, but the process can be accelerated by salts, acid rain, and other aggressive agents. The goal of our research is to minimize the damage from such agents by identifying the molecular basis of the mechanisms by which they act, and developing treatments that block them. In the design of Kate’s table, the texture of the stone ranges from a raw, fresh-cut surface on one end to a finished, polished surface on the other. This represents the transformation of the raw material into a mature work of art. To link this idea to our research, we have arranged to put the legs of the table into contact with a solution of a salt (sodium sulfate) that is a common cause of damage to buildings and monuments. The solution is drawn into the stone by capillary suction (as liquid is absorbed into a sponge), then the water evaporates and the salt is deposited inside the porous stone. One of the legs will deteriorate from the pressure exerted by the salt, but the other will be protected by a treatment (polyacrylic acid) that we have developed in our lab.

Kate and I are indebted to Ayami Aoyama for help with cutting and carving the table, to David Robinson of Natural Edge (Trenton, NJ) for providing stools and benches, to Joe Vocaturo for his help with the design and fabrication of the support structure, to John Valenza and Megan McNall for applying the polyacrylic acid treatment, and to my whole research group for helping with the installation.

Chris Balogh of Rutgers Landscape and Nursery designed the landscaping with an African savannah theme in mind. He chose grasses to soften the site and create some motion with the breezes, while incorporating some color to draw the eye into the area.

Learn more about the project and our research at our website: http://cee.princeton.edu/scherergroup/QuarkPark.html

-George Scherer

Mankala Rules

This game is at least 3000 years old. It is known by many names and there are many variations on the rules. In East Africa it is called Mankala, in South Africa it is called Ohoro and in the west, it is called Oware or Ayo.

The family of Mankala games are played on a board with fourteen pits. Each player has 6 “play pits” and, to the right, a large “home pit”.

The game begins by distributing 4 stones into each of the play pits.

Pick up all the stones in one of your six playing pits and sow one into each of the pits counter clockwise around the board. Sow stones into your own playing pits, your own home pit, and your opponent's playing pits, but not into your opponent's home pit.

If the last stone played lands in your own home pit, then you get another turn.

If the last stone played lands in one of your playing pits which happens to be empty, then it captures all the stones in your opponent's adjacent playing pit, and the captured stones are moved into the playing pit on your side of the board.

The game ends when one player has no more stones in his playing pits.

The object of the game is to have more stones in your pits when the game ends. You score all the stones in your playing pit and home pit.


Quark Park is being developed by Kevin Wilkes, AIA; Peter Soderman; and Alan Goodheart, ASLA. The World Hope Foundation has joined forces with this team to be the fiscal agent for the project. The World Hope Foundation mission supports self-determination in communities by bringing resources to community members and educational experts that are willing to step forward and enhance the lives of their children and elders. The Foundation is a qualified as a Federal 501 (c)(3) charitable organization and as such is eligible to solicit and support charitable causes.
World Hope Foundation
Web design and photos by Cie Stroud are © 2006

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