Image: Loralee Bandy

What happens when you leave four Reed College science majors unattended over winter break? No big explosions, nothing catching on fire, but you might get the largest piece of chalk ever.

Inspired after creating an abnormally large piece of chalk as a parting gift for a professor in their freshman year, students Patrick Bedard and Trevor Schlack set this wild undertaking in motion early last year.

“Patrick found an article on some college students who had made chalk in a small trash can,” says Lorenzo Barrar, a fellow conspirator roped into the duo's project. “It was listed on a suspicious world records website as the largest piece of chalk. We all looked at it and thought, 'We can make a piece of chalk bigger than this.’”

Image: Alex King

So, in 2018 during Paideia—an annual academic free-for-all where Reed students can pursue their own passions—the team created a large piece of chalk. That prototype wasn't up to Guinness's standards.

“[The Guinness people] wanted something that was a to-scale replica, so they handed us the specifications: it has to be 1.8 meters tall and 0.6 meters in diameter... minimum."

One year later, in January 2019, after careful calculations and testing recipes for density, volume, and setting time, the chalk team gathered 1,000 pounds of plaster and a gaggle of eager student volunteers to a basement room on campus and began mixing. Using gallon paint buckets to mix the chalk in smaller quantities and then pouring them into a cement-mold tube, the team had to work quickly before it set. “We didn’t account for residual chalk,” says Alex King, master of logistics. “We had to send a couple of people to the closest hardware store as the chalk was setting. It was a little nerve-racking because the chalk needs to be one piece.”

Despite the scramble, within 45 minutes of starting, the colossal chalk was completed. The chalk mold set in two hours and weighed in at an estimated 1,700 pounds.

Future presentation plans for the goliath chalk piece are limited due to its lack of mobility. “We’d like to keep it on display in one of the art department buildings ... or gift it to [Reed president] Hugh Porter," says Barrar.

Until then, the six-foot beast will be housed where it was created as the team awaits official measurement by the Guinness World Records on March 1.

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