This is an archived article.

October 29, 2009

What’s happening at Fern Lake? Help identify this week’s Lost and Found Film

Editor’s Note: The UW Audio Visual Services Materials Library has more than 1,200 reels of film from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, documenting life at the University through telecourses, commercial films and original productions. Some of the short films are easily identifiable, but many more remain mysteries. Who shot these films and why? Can you help answer those questions? Faculty and staff can use the comments field at the end of the story to send ideas. Those outside the University can e-mail filmarc@u.washington.edu.

This week’s film, which is nearly three minutes long and was made in 1967, is called Fern Lake after the location where it takes place. As the film opens we see a sign that says, “U of W research area/ caution/ radioacative materials in use/Phone 543-4267.” We then see the view from a boat motoring down a waterway.

In the next scene, two men walk down a trail carrying large sacks of Epsom salts and calcium chloride on their shoulders. They mix white powder in large buckets sitting on a pallet immersed in water between two small motor boats. The two boats pull away from shore, with a large bucket on a pallet between the boats spilling liquid into the lake. A man in the boat pulls a box from the water, puts it in a bucket and checks the water.

Next we’re in a laboratory, where beakers are filled with clear liquid. We see a view through a microscope of organisms moving. Back in the field, a man is sitting at a small table by the water. He takes a crayfish from a bucket, inspects it and marks it. Finally, we see nets being pulled from the water.

Here’s what UW Film Archives Specialist Hannah Palin already knows about this film:

In 1958, the Fern Lake studies, funded by Atomic Energy Commission, began as part of the Applied Fisheries Laboratory program. These investigations were designed to study mineral cycling throughout an entire watershed. The research at Fern Lake involved foresters, limnologists, fishery scientists, and others. The laboratory was renamed the Laboratory of Radiation Ecology (LRE) in 1966, and was directed by Allyn Henry Seymour from 1968 until his retirement in 1978. By the 1970s, the range of studies by the LRE had expanded to include the effects of heavy metals in Puget Sound and the effects of nuclear power plants on the aquatic environment. The laboratory became more involved in water chemistry, and the Water Quality Laboratory was developed to provide chemical analyses to researchers in the College.

What she’d like to know:


  • What is the exact research being conducted in the film?
  • What is the purpose of Epsom salt and calcium chloride?
  • Who are the researchers in the film?
  • Any idea of the results of this work?
  • Why was this film taken and how was it used?


Palin learned that last week’s film, about a reclining wheelchair, came from the Mechanical Engineering Department, and she has a few clues about its origin. Now she’s looking to hear from people who can tell her more about Fern Lake.