NSF Project

New Spectrometers Boost Chemistry Lab Experience

Alex Jarnot ’17 and Angela Mansfield ’17 spent the summer working with professors Christopher Stromberg and Kevin Bennett on ways to incorporate new technology into Hood College’s chemistry curriculum.

“The goal of our summer research was to design labs around a new piece of equipment, the handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, so that students would be able to have hands-on experience with it,” said Jarnot, a chemistry major. “We also designed a user manual for easy setup and troubleshooting.”

During the project, Jarnot and Mansfield designed the labs that they will be doing the next few semesters, so they will already be familiar with the theory behind X-ray fluorescence when the time comes to learn it in class.

The research is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, and it includes professors and students from Frederick Community College and Mount St. Mary’s University. The research includes four different spectrometers. This summer, Hood researched the XRF spectrometer, which analyzes what elements are present in a sample.

“These instruments will allow our students to do work beyond the laboratory,” said Stromberg. “Because the instruments are portable, they can be used in field studies in disciplines as diverse as art, archaeology, geology and environmental science.”

The research has given Jarnot and Mansfield unique and valuable student experience with XRF research.

“I have a better understanding of how the technique of X-ray fluorescence works,” said Mansfield, a chemistry and mathematics major. “The project has given me a look into what it would be like to conduct research. And, by using the XRF, I have experience using different instrumentation that could be beneficial to my career.”

Jarnot added: “Not many people have in-depth and hands-on experience with X-ray fluorescence.”

Jarnot was grateful for the experience he gained, noting the theory and the science behind the equipment, and the experience of working with other institutions and doing real research for the first time.

Mansfield appreciated that the experience taught her how to cope with adversity in the researching world.

“The most valuable aspects of the experience were learning that, while researching, sometimes things do not give the results you were hoping for and learning how to deal with things when they go wrong,” said Mansfield.

“Alex and Angela both took on a great deal of responsibility for the development and refining of the experiments that they developed,” said Stromberg. “We talked with them about possible ideas, but they were the ones who actually tested the ideas, improving them and transforming the raw ideas into full-fledged laboratory experiments. Along the way, they took initiative to suggest modifications and entirely new directions for the labs.”

The other three instruments being researched with this grant are a fourier transform infrared spectrometer, which uses molecular vibrations to identify the types of compounds in a sample; a Raman spectrometer, which gives additional insight into the types of compounds in a sample; and an ultraviolet and visible spectrometer, which looks at electronic transitions available in a molecule.

All four instruments will be swapped between the three institutions the next two summers, so each college will have the opportunity to develop experiments and activities for each instrument.

“The goal, of course, is to use these experiments in our courses over many years,” said Stromberg. “We will also be disseminating the experiments in journal articles, talks at conferences, and a project website.”

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