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Teacher’s experience continues day 11 and counting


I’m writing this after we had finished the experience, just a bit behind. But it will have to due, I was really busy on the experience so keeping up with the entries was tough.

On Monday, we went back to the lab to finish our samples. And during that time we received data from our mentor. Using this data we started to put our presentation together for Thursday night. A very important night and I will discuss that in another entry. Once we finished our samples we had a total of 18 samples to go into the XRF (explained in an earlier blog entry). We had hoped to see it happen on Tuesday. However, bad news came our way, the XRF had to be fixed. They needed to order a part to fix it. So we ended up not getting the data from the Lab XRF to compare to the portable XRF. Our lab mentor Eirik e-mailed us to let us know he had fixed the machine on Friday, and hoped to get our samples taken care of. He worked hard to fix the machine and I know he probably worked long hours to get it done. So a big thanks to him. He said he would send the results to us, since we had leave on Friday. A teaching moment here, research does not always go the way you want it. Great point to make to the students.


Well on Tuesday and Wednesday we had tours to go on. One was to Atmospheric Lab where we meet up with scientists working on Cloud detection. We were given a tour of the facilities and learned about their projects.


Next on the list of tours was a tour of the Glass labs. This was interesting and two of the STARS researchers were assigned to this lab. This is where they are trying to experiment with different mixtures of glass to add to radioactive toxic waste and safely store this waste. Hanford site is currently holding barrels of radioactive waste from 70 years ago. So the clean up process is being improved for future use. The glass lab is playing a major role in this project. It was great to see different components of the lab.


The next two days were visiting different parts of PNNL and talking to different people. We meet with our mentor George for the last time before our presentation. This was a brief meeting talking about the results and what we had accomplished for future research. George did a great job explaining some of the data and reviewing the research. Overall, we had prepared everything for future research and hope to see some of the data at a later date. That day we went to the planetarium for dinner and a show. Saturn was viewable that night, and some people stayed to look through the awesome telescopes they had. That ended our day on the Tuesday.

Our last night for tours took place at the LIGO Hanford Observatory, here scientists are using sensitive optical equipment to search for gravitational waves from black holes.

Ultimately, LIGO is the largest sustained ultra-high vacuum in the world (8x the vacuum of space) keeping 300,000 cubic feet (about 8,500 cubic meters) at one-trillionth the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.-obtained from LIGO website






The 4 km (a little less than 2.5 miles) of tunnel seemed to never end when we viewed it. The site was amazing and we had a brief lecture on theory of general relativity before the tour.

Well by Wednesday most research groups had finalized their projects and were preparing for the next night. This would be one of the most important nights for the STARS group.

Lab and Dig Site


On Friday we ended up in the lab for the whole day. Here we worked with Eirik Krogstad and Ian. The work started with us drying our samples in an oven for an hour. While that was taking place we measured out a recipe of flux and oxidizer (flux material was made of Lithium Borates and Lithium Bromide. Oxidizer was Ammonium Nitrate). The flux is used to bind the the sample and prepare it for fluxer (Fluxer used to prepare samples for Xray Fluorescence analysis).

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Our sample was mixed with the recipe to create a material that would be inserted into a “fluxer” instrument. Here the mixture would be melted into a disc which could be used in a lab XRF. Before we could do this, we had to grind the samples into fine powder. We used a SPEX  mixer/miller. The sample was placed into a tungsten carbide mixing vial and then grinded down to a powder. There was a lot more to the procedure, but for this entry I’ll only cover the basics. In the fluxer the mixture would be melted at high temperatures. The eventual product was a clear disc that would be placed in the XRF unit for analysis. DSC_0216


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Our research was based on the assumption that we would see an elemental change among the strata. Which we could plot in detail through use of the XRF. Our mentor hoped we would find a pattern between layers and a correlation to the pre-service teacher’s results.  I’m really trying to write this as simple as possible. I will post our presentation at a later date. We didn’t finish all our samples and had to come back on Monday to complete them. I think one of the most important things I’m learning is that there are fun and not so fun jobs (sound like a kid here), but the bottom line is you have to follow all the steps to reach a conclusion. Something many students would rather not do and skip steps. Also you need to work as a team, one person can’t do everything and it’s important that you work together to seek an answer. Collaboration! Nothing new about this, very similar to my other experiences.  

The weekend came upon us a bit too fast since we had not finished every thing. On Saturday we took a tour of the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility in Ellensberg WA and the Gingko Petrified Forest. The wind farm was very interesting, we had a chance to go inside the tower of one of the wind turbines. The improvement on the wind power is amazing. There was hardly any noise from the turbines, a definite improvement on the technology. One the most amazing things was the view of the cascades and Mount Rainier.

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The Gingko forest had some interesting species.


Sunday morning we went to the dig site to help out for a little while. It was really interesting learning how to properly dig and wash the soil. We ended up staying for a few hours and leaving the site later in the morning. DSC_0367DSC_0368


The end of the day was ours to do whatever we wanted.  To relax a group of teachers went boating on the Columbia River and it was great. We went swimming and boating on the river for about two hours. This ended the weekend and another week was upon us. 7 days down and 7 more to go. Friday the 26th we would leave so this was the last week. So the next entries would be the last.


Keep an eye on the blog for conclusion to our Siemens experience.

Dig Site, B-Reactor and I’m not glowing yet


Well Wednesday and Thursday of the research experience were really exciting and interesting. First, with the help of our mentor we solidified our research. Our priority is to determine the elemental component of the soil near the mammoth and determine whether mammoth originated from this area or carried in from the floods. How we are going to do this is to go into the field and collect 24 samples. Hopefully, three samples per strata layer. While taking samples we are hoping to use the portable XRF to take elemental readings. Once complete we will take the samples back to the lab and use the XRF in the lab to get elemental readings. In this instance we are hoping to cross reference the portable readings with the lab readings. Also we are hoping to compare our results with the lithographic results.


Interesting huh? Yep, we have a lot to do and that would be done on Friday, hopefully. We did get a chance to go to the dig site. Boards covered the actual bones because they were trying to protect them. But it was a great to see where we would be working.


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We also had a chance to talk to some of the people who had been working the site for a while. One was an ex-teacher, he is retired now and works with others about educational opportunities on the site. He is also one of the leaders of the Ice Age Flood Institute. Learned a ton of information from the volunteers. After looking over everything we headed back to PNNL to do some more training. We headed to the Geoscience building to speak with a Analytical Geochemist, Erik Krogstad. He helped us decide on the particular procedures we would need to use when testing the samples in the lab. This is where the Rad training would pay off. We were given a tour of the lab and where we would be working for part of the the day on Friday. Pretty exciting stuff since we would be doing the collecting and researching ourselves. Definitely a great teaching moment for the kids and wonderful information to bring back to the classroom. By the end of the day we knew what we needed to do to complete our assignment.

On Thursday we had a great day, we started the day touring the B-Reactor used in the Manhattan project. This was really interesting, I did not know much about the project nor the reactor. Now I’m really interested in what went on at this plant. It was an a great day of visiting the plant. Next entry will highlight the dig and lab work.

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Research Experience Begins

Before I even begin these posts, a brief introduction into the the experience would be helpful for some people. The program is supported by Siemens, Discovery, DOE and others. Two experiences took place one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the other at Pacific Northwest Laboratory. Both at different times Oak Ridge in June and PNNL in July. PNNL is the one I took part in. All the bios of all the participants are located on the Siemens Academy page.


Well it’s the second full day of the Siemens/Discovery STARs experience at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory(PNNL) and I have already learned a lot of information. We have completed 6 different training courses and a Rad test. In the end we became Rad I worker certified. The person who trained us told us that now we were trained for the year and were able to use this in any DOE(Department of Energy) location. Amazing how much we need to know to safely do our research.

Our hotel is located on the Columbia river and it’s a beautiful area for jogging. Located in Richland WA, the area is one of contrast. In one section you see green then in the other you see desert. Definitely a bit different from the East.

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The first two days included lectures, introductions and our research assignments. The people in charge introduced themselves and gave us a brief introduction about to what to expect during the week. Pretty interesting stuff going on at PNNL right now, you can check out their news here. There are five groups of teachers each are working with a mentor at the Lab. All the groups are working on different topics. Some on CO2 capturing , microbes, radiation and then our group, we are working on the Mammoth site. During the first couple of days teachers discussed their goals in their research. One of the things that was stressed to us is that this experience was about the process of research. We were learning how research is happening in the real world. Then teach our students about that process and how to properly implement the process. One of the tools we were given was a science notebook, never had one or used one. But it is a great tool to help keep our research information.

On day two Tuesday we listened to a discussion on Biosecurity: Trends in the Global Age, by Rachel Bartholomew (she is part of research at PNNL). A bit scary about Bio terrorism and the use of genetic manipulation to create viruses. This is a bit different from my last trip when we toured Hudson Alpha and all the good things they are trying to do. Very drastic differences between the two.  After the talk we all went to see our mentors. Ours was George Last, a scientists involved with the Coyote Canyon Mammoth dig. George was awesome and really took the time out to explain what was happening at the dig and what his research was about. We talked about our research as a group and ended the day by solidifying our research hypothesis and purpose. Our goal was to obtain samples from each of the layers of strata and use XRF(X-ray Fluorescence) to identify the layer’s elements. George hoped we could prove or disprove the theory that the mammoth had been brought by the flood waters into the area. The geological history of the area was rich with floods, more specifically ice age floods. As we would learn, this area was rich in geological history.

After a long day we had dinner and listened to a discussion on Technology Tools. The days are long and we were going to get the opportunity to visit the dig site on the third day of the experience. Overall a ton of things were happening, and I have had very little time to keep up with my blog. But I will try.  See the next blog entry for our trip to the dig site and the B-Reactor (yep more glowing).