Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Assembly and Validation of a Colorimeter

Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Assembly and Validation of a Colorimeter

Article excerpt


A low-cost and portable colorimeter kit has been designed and developed as an educational tool at Penn State University by Dr. Daniel Sykes for K-12 schools' integrated STEM learning. This scientific instrument allows students to learn how scientists utilize light as a means to study the chemical and physical properties of materials with an accuracy of instruments such as the Ocean Optics USB 4000 Spectrophotometer costing nearly $2000. In addition, it serves as a platform to introduce the topics of wet chemistry, nanotechnology, electronics, computer Excel graphing, and algebra in the classroom.

Teachers at the Park Forest Middle School (PA) had previously developed an interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) team. The cross-curricular nature of the group strives to reinforce each teacher's subject areas by developing curricula and projects that connect individual subjects into a bigger, real-world picture. During the summer of 2011, two of the Park Forest Middle School STEM team members were privileged to study with Dr. Daniel Sykes, Senior Lecturer, Director of Analytical Instructional Laboratories, Department of Chemistry and Forensic Sciences Program in the University's Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program. The RET program, mentored by Dr. Francelys Medina, MRSEC Education and Outreach Coordinator, immerses K-12 teachers in hands-on research with leading scientists. During the six weeks that followed, additional members of the Park Forest Middle School STEM team staff became actively involved in developing and participating in a cutting-edge STEM endeavor centered on Dr. Sykes' colorimeter.

Working in teams, technology education students assembled the colorimeters and learned how the electronic components interact to quantify electromagnetic radiation in the visible light spectrum. When completed, students utilized the instruments in science classes to test properties of various solutions with a spotlight on nanoscale particles. The data collected was entered into Excel spreadsheets for graphing/analysis in their algebra class.


Innovations from the United States have often led the world to new discoveries and solutions to complex problems. However, there are alarming indications that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in the ability to apply science, technology, engineering, and math to complex problems facing our world. In order for our country to maintain its position in global business and as a major innovator, there is a need for educators to rededicate their efforts in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM). An excellent primer to the scope of the problem can be found in such publications as Science for all Americans (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990), Technically Speaking (National Academy of Engineering, 2002), Rising Above the Gathering Storm (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, 2007) and Engineering in K-12 Education (National Academy of Engineering, 2009).


Developments in technology over the last few years have allowed scientists to peer into and manipulate our world on the nanoscale. At this scale, materials exhibit novel and sometimes unexpected properties. Scientists and engineers are rapidly creating new technologies and products that take advantage of these properties. Examples of products currently on the market include, but are not limited to, transparent zinc-oxide-based sunscreen, scratch/sun-resistant automobile paint, and stain/odor-resistant clothing. A report prepared by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST 2005) suggests that by 2020 nanoscale technology will be making significant contributions in the areas of water purification, medical diagnostics, target drug therapies, and greatly improved solar voltaic cells. …

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