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Introduction of a modern X-ray diffractometer invigorating an undergraduate geology curriculum and student research


, : Introduction of a modern X-ray diffractometer invigorating an undergraduate geology curriculum and student research. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 30(7): 131

The geology curriculum and undergraduate research opportunities have been substantially enhanced in the last three years at CWU by two NSF DUE grants (ARI and DUE programs) and university matching funds. The first was for complete renovation of the teaching and student research space (ARI-STI 9415059), the second for a new automated x-ray powder diffractometer installed in the renovated space in December 1996 (DUE 9651022). The XRD configuration was selected so that students need not make any manual changes of x-ray beam optics components; all slits are computer controlled, and the detector is a simple sealed proportional type with <1 c/s background. Various XRD topics have been progressively phased into the fall quarter, sophomore-level mineralogy course in 1996, 1997 and 1998, replacing some of the hand specimen and external crystallography. XRD topics now include basic diffraction; x-ray tube and detector operation; counting statistics; sample preparation on glass slides and low-background holders; diffractometer scan data collection; and data analysis for single phase identification and simple cell refinement. After students demonstrate competence in x-ray safety and health knowledge, and instrument and software operation, then they may use the XRD unsupervised for their own samples and other courses. In senior-level classes such as geochemistry and advanced mineralogy, students are introduced to other topics such as clay preparation and identification, mixed phase quantitative analysis, and cell refinement of lower symmetry minerals. Student research using XRD has included samples as diverse as lahars and pumice, rain forest soils, mixed carbonate/siliciclastic arid-lake sediments, and mafic pods in mylonites. Geology students are unanimously enthusiastic about learning to work independently with this high-precision quantitative tool so early in their careers. All faculty have noticed the carryover to other courses in the form of more student enthusiasm for quantitative work and added attention to precise measurements.

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