Through partnership with MIT, Sisson students explore the microscopic world

Mount Shasta Herald
Sisson seventh graders in Mike Savarese’s science class were able to see diatomaceous earth collected from the Burney area under a powerful electron microscope.

Sisson’s seventh grade students were treated with an online scanning electron microscope presentation from an instructor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last week in Mike Savarese's science class. 

Greg Defrancis, a high school classmate of Savarese’s, is now the director of MIT’s museum. Through some networking, Savarese and Defrancis arranged for the SEM presentation for Savarese’s students. 

Savarese sent fish scales, fish skin, and diatomaceous earth to MIT to be looked at under the electron microscope, which uses a beam of electrons and their wave-like characteristics to magnify an object's image, unlike an optical microscope that uses visible light to magnify images.

Students were able to see the opening of the nerve canal for the lateral line on a fish, the layering of calcium carbonate on the very edge of an abalone shell, the wide variety of single shelled skeletons of diatoms from diatomaceous earth collected near Burney falls, and the growth rings of a salmon scale, Savarese said. 

The students were taught how the SEM uses electrons to also determine what elements are present and in what percentages. Gold purity was explained as an example, said Savarese. 

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“All elements have a specific signature of electrons which are emitted as the SEM shoots electrons at the specimen,” he explained. “The resultant electrons which are then released from the specimen are collected and analyzed by the SEM. Students could see first hand the technology to measure images and possible careers in this very small world of electrons.”

“Diatomaceous earth was my favorite,” said seventh grader Charlotte Aston. 

“So many different shapes, and sizes ... like cool shaped pasta,” said Christian Baker.

“Small objects look like another planet. The edge of a fish scale looks like the edge of the Grand Canyon,” said Madison Casteneda.

“It seemed really cool how the electrons interacted with the object and how they created secondary electrons to form the image,” said Mila Bradley. “The entire experience was amazing and really opened my eyes to the world of science,” 

Rynn Cobb said it was “cool” to see the salt crystallization and she can’t wait to see more.

Savarese is scheduling this experience every 2 two to 3 weeks for the rest of the school year. 

“Distance learning has created many challenges facing students, parents, and educators. Keeping students motivated in the present reality is very difficult,” Savarese said, extending his thank you to Defrancis for providing a unique opportunity for Mount Shasta students.

River Grace works at the JEOL JSM-6380LV scanning electron microscope at Florida Tech. He did a lot of analysis on this and their laser scanning confocal microscope.