Sunday, December 6, 2015

NEACT Spectroscopy Day!

Spectroscopy Day at the NEACT Meeting at Pomfret School, December 5th 2015
Who doesn't love spectroscopy? Today I got to share one of my favorite lab projects with fellow chemistry teachers at the regional NEACT meeting at Pomfret School. The theme for the day was "Spectroscopy and Astronomy in the High School Classroom". Twelve teachers from MA, CT, and RI gathered together for the morning of hands on experimentation and lively discussion about spectroscopy applications. 

Sandy tapes her pizza box closed to remove light noise
During the first half of the meeting, all the participants built their own spectroscope from a pizza box. Yes, you can make a spectroscope from a pizza box that gives excellent quantitative data. This hands-on project takes atomic spectra beyond observations of pretty colors. Students can use their spectroscopes to identify unknown elements or analyze mixtures of elements by measuring the wavelength of the the visible lines.
Pedro and Calin cutting out the holes from their pizza boxes.

I led the teachers through the project in the same way that I do this lab with my students. They traced the template onto their own pizza box, cut out the necessary holes, and assembled the boxes. Once the boxes were built, they calibrated them with the mercury lamp. 
Josh checking the light leaking into his box, and Steve folding up the pizza box (not as easy as it looks).
Mike and Helaine are putting the finishing touches on their spectroscopes

Tim Rose, my colleague at Pomfret School, came out to help with the spectroscope project.

After we finished working with our spectroscopes, we took some time to discuss the project and possible road blocks to completing the project with their students. The razor blades were the first thing that many of the teachers raised as a road block. One of the teachers used two pieces of tape to make a slit for the light on his box, another teacher suggested using old gift cards to create the clean edge for the light slit. The second road block that several teachers brought up was access to atomic spectrum lamps. Many of the teachers don't have access to the gas tubes and lamps to calibrate the spectroscopes. One teacher suggested using colored LEDs with known wavelengths to calibrate the boxes. There was some question about using the mercury gas tubes in schools. Most schools have banned all mercury in the science labs, even a mercury emission tube with a tiny amount of it enclosed in glass. Some schools still use fluorescent lights with mercury, these make a good light source for the calibration. Another teacher shared a plastic version of the gas tubes that she has in her lab that is less likely to break. I enjoyed taking time to discuss the project with experienced chemistry teachers from a wide range of schools. 
Front row: (left to right) Pedro, Mary, Sandy, Jim, Steve, Kevin, Leslie, Tim
Second row: (left to right) Calin, Mike, Micaela, Ed, Sharon, Helaine

The second half of the program was dedicated to the connection between astronomy and chemistry. Josh Lake, our astronomy teacher here at Pomfret School, gave a talk about the development of spectroscopy in relation to discoveries in astronomy. Josh walked us through the use of spectroscopy in astronomy, highlighting the major developments and main players in the progression. A lively discussion accompanied his talk, with teachers asking and answering questions along the way.
Josh Lake talking about the uses of spectroscopy in astronomy.

We finished the program with a tour of the Pomfret School observatory. Josh drove the group in one of our short buses (know as "toasters" on campus) to the observatory for a quick look at our facility. We enjoyed lunch together in the dining hall to wrap up the day.
Josh is explaining the difference between emission and adsorption spectra.

Josh leading a lively discussion with the group about spectroscopy applications in astronomy.
Here are links that Josh shared with the group from his presentation:

Link to PPT Show (58 MB is the compressed size, it was 250 MB originally!): 

Hubble Ultra Deep Field Video: