Expanding the Use of Online Remote Electron Microscopy in the Classroom to Transform Undergraduate Education

In this NSF funded project, we seek to expand the field-testing of promising instructional strategies focused on the in-class usage of remotely operable electron microprobe (EMP) and scanning electron microscope (SEM) available in the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM) at Florida International University. This project focuses on the application of new strategies for integrating education in research practices into introductory and upper-level geoscience courses facilitating the transition of undergraduate students from passive, directed learners to engaged, self-directing investigators, a key developmental stage in the education of undergraduate science majors. We also seek professional development activities that will engage geoscience faculty with these technologies and their instructional potential. Some specific objectives of this project is to determine whether providing students with remotely operable instrumentation experience would improve their success in science courses and whether this can aid in the development of an investigative mind-set and the associated behaviors of researchers in students.

The participating institutions and faculty include Jeff Ryan of University of South Florida (USF), Rosemary Hickey-Vargas of Florida International University (FIU), Jaime MacDonald of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and Mary Beck of Valencia Community (VC) College. All of these PI's are committed to institutionalizing the approaches implemented in this project on their campuses.

We Invite Geoscience Faculty to Participate in this Project

  • This project offers remotely operable electron beam instruments at Florida International University's Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM) are available for this application as a part of our NSF project.
  • Discounted facility rates are available for first time users. Facility rates
  • Operators of the instrument are available to assist you with onsite or remote use. Operators can also travel to your institution to conduct workshops for remote use of the electron beam instruments.
  • Narrated videos for remote connection and general operating procedures for electron beam instruments is available. Tutorials
  • Dedicated research scientists and PI team will provide assistance in developing curriculum adapted to your course material needs. People
  • Samples intended for remote use can be shipped to FCAEM and be appropriately processed for electron beam analysis. Instrumentation

Examples of EPMA use in Geoscience classrooms

  1. An In-Class Demonstration and Activity Using the FCAEM Remotely Operable Electron Microprobe This activity is intended for a Junior or Senior level course in Petrology, or a senior/first year graduate course in Geochemistry. It can also be part of a graduate level course in Analytical Methods.
  2. Mineral Recalculation Using Remote Electron Microprobe Analysis. This activity is intended for Freshman to Senior level undergraduates in a Mineralogy/Crystallography course. The remote user introduces the students to EPMA and Wavelength Dispersive Spectrometry (WDS). WDS analysis is done on olivine phenocrysts to determine the major chemical elements and students use the chemical data to calculate the exact chemical formula of the mineral.
  3. Term Research Project on EPMA. This project is a for a junior-level Mineralogy/Petrology course where students cooperatively conduct petrographic and electron microprobe analytical studies on suites of metamorphic rocks collected on class field trips.
  4. Feldspar Mineral Chemistry Using the FCAEM Remotely Operable Electron Probe Micro-analyzer. The objective of this assignment is to familiarize students with electron probe microanalysis, x-ray analytical techniques, mineral formulas/associations and compositions and examining data quality. The assignment is designed using Excel to normalize data and calculate end member compositions. The instructor should spend time in class refreshing student's skills with Excel commands. The higher order thinking skills for this assignment include having students scrutinize collected data, calculating mineral components, and understanding possible ionic substitution.

Site-based activities that can be transitioned to remote use of EPMA

  1. Extending Mineralogy by Electron Microprobe Analysis. This lab/activity is intended for sophomore or junior-level course in petrology. The students explore mineral chemistry through the use EPMA instrumentation in a "learn as you go" technique. This activity can be slightly altered for remote use with in-house samples or user samples shipped to FCAEM.
  2. Olivine Thermometry. This problem set is given as an assignment in Mineralogy or Petrology classes providing students the opportunity to practice calculating mineral components, tests for equilibrium, and using a simple thermometer in Excel. This exercise can be adapted for remote use of the EPMA on in-house olivine samples or samples at the users discretion.
  3. Zoned Plagioclase Exercise. This exercise allows students to become familiar with different types of zoning found in plagioclase feldspars and interpret the petrogenesis of the zoning types from optical and microprobe data.
  4. Calculating Mineral Formulas, Unit Cell Content, and Geothermometry. Students use electron microprobe analyses of a peridotite partial melting experiment to determine mineral formulas, calculate unit cell content, plot results on a classification diagram, and use a geothermometer. The exercise is especially suited for a spreadsheet like Excel, but can be done by hand. The bulk of the exercise involves data manipulation and simple calculations, but also includes some open-ended questions. The exercise is appropriate for mineralogy or petrology courses. The problem set helps students gain experience with a spreadsheet, manipulate and use quantitative chemical data, investigate the structure of mineral formulas, and see an application of phase equilibria in petrology.

Examples of SEM use in Geoscience classrooms

  1. Activity Using the FCAEM Remotely Operable Scanning Electron Microscope. This activity is intended for Freshman to Senior level undergraduates in a Mineralogy/Crystallography course. The remote user introduces students to SEM and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS). Energy dispersive X-ray analysis is preformed on a set of unknown mineral samples. Students use the collected EDS spectrum to identify unknown mineral samples.

Site-based activities that can be transitioned to remote use of SEM

  1. Microfossils Lab using SEM. This activity is geared towards undergraduate students in an invertebrate paleontology course. The lab assignment has students examine different types of microfossils and pick foraminifera from sediments and acquire images from them using the SEM.
  2. Introduction to SEM/EDS, "Every Composition Tells a Story". This lab is designed as an introduction to the investigation of minerals with the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and the X-ray analyzer (Energy Dispersive Spectrometer - EDS). It explores the relationships among the optical image, the backscattered electron image, and the chemical composition of minerals in thin-sections.

Broader Impacts

Beyond continuing these kinds of activities at USF, FIU, FGCU, and VC, this project seeks a broader impact through the wider adoption by faculty working with diverse audiences of what is an exciting integration of research and education though student classroom experiences that can lead to mentored scientific investigations and publications. We encourage interested faculty to visit the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) website at Carleton College to view engaging activities and effective pedagogy. These resources include strategies on how to involve undergraduates in research and preparing undergraduate students for research in the Geosciences which are all part of the On the Cutting Edge-Strong Undergraduate Geoscience Education collection series an NAGT program.