GSECARS hosted three groups of local ESRP high school students at Sector 13 at the Advanced Photon Source. The students, with guidance from staff scientists Matt Newville and Tony Lanzirotti, used synchrotron radiation to perform experiments with topics ranging from the investigation of metals in dandelions to a microanalysis of canine hair to looking for biomarkers in fossils. The three groups will present posters at the APS User Meeting in May, 2013.

Glenbard East High School and Wheaton North High School

Teacher Mentor: Karen Beardsley
Proposal: “The absorption of common metals in leaf of the common dandelion as a measure of metals in soil”
Students: Wendi Guraziu, Jourdan Ewoldt, Thomas Beardsley, Kelly Beardsley

In the literature there are some organisms that are described as potentially being useful “bioindicators”. Bioindicator species are biological organisms that can potentially be used to monitor the environmental health of an ecosystem and can, for example, be used as a monitor of anthropogenic metal contaminants in the environment. It has been proposed the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) potentially fits the criteria for a bioindicator plant and several published studies have evaluated its potential use as such with mixed results. This group from Glenbard East High School and Wheaton North High Schools proposed an experiment to evaluate this using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence analysis at beamline 13-ID-E of dandelion leaves that they collected throughout the campus of the Glenbard East High School in Lombard, Illinois. The dandelions they collected (almost 30 in total) were geographically located throughout the campus and included areas near buildings, near roads and parking lots, in athletic fields and near a detention pond area found on the grounds that collects water from the whole campus. For each sample, they selected a single leaf for analysis and then compared the measured metal abundances to evaluate if they see correlations between metal content and proximity to anthropogenic sources of metals, as would be expected for a bioindicator plant. The group is still processing their data, which will be presented at the APS Users’ Meeting as a poster, but o far they are seeing some very pronounced differences in samples from different locales.

Neuqua Valley High School

Teacher Mentor: Tricia Noblett
Proposal: XRF Microanalysis of Canine Hair to Evaluate the Relative Sensitivity of Eumelanin Chelation of Copper to Melanin Content as an Expression of Hair Color
Students: Nicole Jandick, Lillian Brister, Garrett Ginell, Evelyn Darden

Melanin is a biological pigment that can be found in plants and animals worldwide. In animal hair and fur the melanain polymer Eumelanin is the one that gives hair its black-brown color, in low concentrations of eumelanin (in the absence of other forms of melanin) will give hair a more yellow (blonde) coloring, and the presence of pheomelanin (the red-brown melanin polymer) is responsible for red hair coloration. Melanin is also known to be a very powerful metal ion chelator and it has been proposed in the literature that, for example, differences in analyzed copper levels in ancient fossils represent differences in the coloring (and thus melanin composition) in the original animals. This group from Neuqua Valley High School proposed an experiment to evaluate this using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence analysis at beamline 13-ID-E to evaluate the relative sensitivity of copper binding to small differences in melanin content and type. The group collected canine hair of varying color and then used the X-ray microprobe to measure differences in copper content in the hairs both in an “as collected” state and after extended exposure to a dilute copper-sulfate solution. They then measured the degree to which each different hair color was able to bind various levels of copper added from a solution. The results will be presented at the APS Annual Users’ Meeting but the group has already presented the data at the regional science fair and has been asked to now present the study at the Statewide Illinois Science Fair.

Community High School District 99, South High School

Teacher Mentor: Theresa Quain
Proposal: “Prevalence of Metal Biomarkers in Fossils of Mazon Creek Fauna and Evolutionary Implications”
Students: Apoorva Sooranahalli, John Shimanek, Caroline Purcell, Sam Boroumand, Crystal Loehman, Julian Martinez, Rachel Smith, Andrew Molina

The fossils found in Mazon Creek, Illinois are well-known for their amazing preservation of the soft tissue of animals and plants. These fossil beds were deposited during the Carboniferous period, roughly 300 million years ago. Other published studies have found that microbeam can be powerful analytical technique for providing additional insight into the anatomy of fossilized soft-body tissue by examining the distribution of trace metals (such as copper) that were bound to organic complexes preserved in the rocks. This group from Downer’s Grove South High School proposed an experiment to evaluate if X-ray fluorescence imaging at beamline 13-ID-E could provide unique insights in to the paleontology of fossils recovered from Mazon Creek. For their study they analyzed a fossil “bristleworm” (Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta) and one of the unique discoveries they made is that along specific anatomical parts of the animal elevated levels of arsenic were found. One of the unique aspects of Mazon Creek geology is that the preserving sediments are contain abundant siderite, an iron carbonate mineral. This unique type of sedimentary deposit, called Laggerstätte, creates fossils with exceptional preservation. Siderite also has a very high adsorption capacity for As species which may explain the observed results.