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ASP2021: A Virtual Conference

ASP2021: A Virtual Conference
Preliminary Schedule

Click here for the Schedule-at-a-Glance

    1:55 PM - 2:45 PM: Concurrent Session 11C: 1:55 pm PST (4:55 pm EST) - Oral Presentations
    Research Projects in (semi) Intro Astronomy with XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence))
    Conference Strand: Teaching Introductory Astronomy – What are We Doing Now?
    Ran Sivron, Baker University
    Mahmoud Al-Kofahi
    Abstract of Session/Presentation: Students with three semesters of calculus-based physics in our Liberal Arts university can get mid-level astronomy credits by completing a traditional intro level astronomy course and, in addition, conducting  a research project.  They commit to additional hours of instruction that prepares them for the project. Those students would not be able to take astronomy otherwise.

    Over the last few years the projects involved our unique meteorite collection:  roughly forty meteorites collected throughout Kansas over 120 years that were never before analyzed.

    We used our Rigaku X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometer and other methods in the following way:   One of us (Dr. Al-Kofahi) would guide the students through the experimental methods. Dr. Sivron would teach additional astrophysics theory(stellar populations, solar system formation, comets, asteroids, impacts, etc.)  and chaperone them through the rest of the project.

    Our approach was inspired by experiences with the REU NSF program, Dr. Sivron's experience with the Summer Science Program (, and our own research with Undergraduates. 

    Our students analyzed a few chondrite and metallic meteorites and successfully presented their results in Mid America Regional Astrophysics Conferences. Those results were not very surprising.

    What was surprising was how well they did, given the limits of our main instruments. For example, chondrites contained carbon and oxygen, but the XRF machine could not detect  Z<11. They had to come up with supporting measurements (density, heat capacity, etc, with interpolations),  before we sent the rocks for verification in a more advanced facility that supported their conclusions.

    In exit surveys our alumni, most of whom are in engineering and CS singled out the astrophysics project as a positive turning point.  One engineer said: "...I moved from one project to the next in my professional career. That was the first time we actually conducted a project!"