A penny and SciAps LIBS can change the world

June 23, 2023

Recently, Catherine McManus, Chief Scientist at Materialytics Technology Corp (a materials analysis company located in Central Texas) borrowed our Z-903 LIBS handheld analyzer for a two-day scientific outreach at the request of a science teacher at Frost Middle School in Virginia.

Students learned about geology, different specialties in the field, the importance of science teachers, LIBS technology, what LIBS can do, and the important role science plays in our world. They were then able to use the SciAps LIBS to analyze pennies, recording when the penny was minted and the elements the LIBS measured in the penny. “We filled an Excel spreadsheet in real time and worked through observations together, such as certain elements seemed always to be present together or missing and the variations in pennies from different decades. We also looked at the relationship between copper and zinc,” says Catherine. Pennies are now 2.5% copper with the balance being zinc; however, most of that copper is in the coating according to the US Mint. Students also made observations about the surface and the concentration of copper.

Once their research and analyses were completed, students presented their findings.

“Nearly all of the 8th grade science students (several hundred) were able to experience the magic of Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy firsthand,” says Catherine. The students translated what they had learned about physical science over the last two years into real world applications. They could see the significance of understanding phase changes, how light can be emitted from plasma, and the value of basic science. “However, the best part was seeing the spark in their eyes as they watched the laser work and produce results. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career,” says Catherine.

Multiple teachers commented on how the outreach showed the students that they could become scientists—a career they never thought was a possibility before. “It was a life-changing experience for many of the kids,” says Catherine. “Thank you so much for so generously loaning a unit and for supporting these future researchers. The Z-903 was a great science motivator!”

After the outreach Frost Middle School shared this on Twitter "We’re bringing Red Planet analysis techniques down to Earth! This week 8th graders had the opportunity to use @SciAps_Inc  Z903 to analyze our world just like @NASAPersevere does on Mars. Learning about #LIBS, plasmas, rapid geochemical analysis, & careers in Geological Sciences!"

People are always thinking of new and interesting ways to use our devices. How can we support your work with our Academic Loaner Program? Reach out to us at academic@sciaps.com. University researchers can borrow a unit for a month provided they give us a summary publication of their research, that we can post, without impacting any of their publishing rights. Find out more here.

SciAps, Inc., is a Boston-based instrumentation company specializing in handheld portable analytical instruments to measure any element, any place on the planet. Their industry-leading X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and laser-based (LIBS) analyzers are at work across every major industry. These breakthrough instruments have been expanding applications for portable, in-field measurements of elements, minerals, and compounds in corporate, research, and government laboratories around the world. Many academic labs, field research teams, and classroom professors use SciAps analyzers as teaching tools. Profile Builder software offers full calibration and method development.

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