Story posted July 11, 2005
The spectrophotometer is a deceptively simple-looking instrument. Just a metal box with several dials and gauges. Couple it with an array of software programs, however, and it becomes a sensitive and powerful instrument for measuring the wavelength of light.
It can be used to analyze water quality, measure glucose levels, monitor bacterial growth, perform protein assays and a host of applications in the environmental sciences, physics, and biotechnology.
It also can be used to open a world of scientific discovery to high school students in Maine.
For over a decade, Bowdoin has offered an intensive, weeklong summer workshop in spectrophotometry to Maine high school teachers. Groups of eight science teachers are selected in pairs from high schools around the state to receive training in spectrophotometry, which is conducted by Bowdoin College Professor Emeritus Tom Settlemire and Director of Laboratories Pamela Bryer.
At the end of their studies, the teachers leave with proficiency in the instrument and a multitude of ideas for experiments to bring back to their classrooms.
They also leave with a spectrophotometer.
Through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institution, Bowdoin is able to give the instruments to the high schools free-of-charge. Thus far, 80 teachers have passed through the workshop and 80 spectrophotometers are in use in Maine high school science labs through the program.
"We're trying to get equipment into Maine schools that can enrich science exploration, and this has yielded some wonderful projects" says Settlemire. "A past participant used it with students to extract pigment samples of cranberries to determine their ripeness - helping farmers with their harvest. Another school joined with the town to analyze local water quality to determine what pollutants were present."
This summer, David Consalvi - the sole science teacher at Shear High School in Eastport - is returning to Bowdoin for his second professional-development workshop. Last year he participated in an AP Biology Workshop instructing teachers in advanced-placement biology curriculum and labs.
"This is incredible," he says. "Spectrophotometry will really give the kids a way to see some of these science concepts - water quality, wavelength, different pigments involved in photosynthesis.
"Plus," he adds, "my students love the idea that I'm going to school too. They get a big kick out of that."