November 06, 2010
Why did Alma College students take boards covered in carbon paper to a gun range? And how can it help us learn about the evolution of the solar system?
Prof. Melissa Strait of the Chemistry department and her students study impacts between asteroids in our solar system, which they simulate by shattering rock samples and analyzing the behavior of the resulting debris. To help measure the motion of that debris, Prof. Jensen of the Physics department proposed a new type of detector based on carefully calibrated carbon paper targets.
To bring this from concept to reality, Prof. Jensen turned to two incoming freshmen, Anne Bruce and Angela Clayton, who were participating in Alma’s ASPIRE program. They worked with PRISM student Alex Lundquist (Physics) and junior Miriam Lipman (Physics/Chemistry) to design, build, and calibrate the new detectors. As a final test, the group worked with an expert from a local shooting range to shatter a carefully selected rock sample (chosen to mimic asteroid characteristics and minimize the chance of bullet ricochet) and observe the detectors’ recording of the debris. (A video of the test is included below.)
The system worked very well, and Anne and Angela presented the poster below at a regional meeting of the American Chemistry Society during the Fall of their freshman year at Alma. Their work was awarded second prize among all student research posters presented at the meeting. (Click on the poster to see a larger version.)