Happy Thanksgiving, 2021

This year, we decided to try something a little different. I was a bit bored with our traditional fixing so we went with (almost) all new sides. To top it off, we even decided to make it a vegetarian meal.

The main dish course (which is squished to the side) is a caramelized onion and squash tart. Sides include (clockwise from the tart): Brussels sprouts with mostarda, brown butter mushroom pilaf, apple and fennel stuffing, broccoli quinoa salad and my traditional shaped dinner rolls, served with a side of black garlic gravy. Not shown are the apple pie – since it’s still in the oven – and the pumpkin pie – because that never lasts long enough for a photo.

Wishing all(!) of you a very happy holiday.

Almost finished

As any good Sith, I’ve been working on building my own lightsaber. As a not very good Sith, I’ve been taking my sweet time. Finally got some critical parts (umm, the blade) and the project is coming together nicely. Still have some wiring to work on and tweaks to the blade.

Students collecting data on their own potentiostats

One of the problems I am trying to solve with the FeAtHEr-Cm platform is to eliminate the instrument bottleneck that we see in analytical chemistry courses. For example, a class of 12 students, even if paired up, will unlikely be able to perform an electrochemistry experiment simultaneously because there are few institutions that would be equipped with a half dozen potentiostats.

That is, unless your institution is equipped with FeAtHEr-Cm potentiostats that your students built.

OK, so my class only has 2 students, but each student is working on their own potentiostat (which they built).

Each student is using python on their own computer to communicate with the potentiostat they built. In a previous class, we calibrated the feedback resistor in the current-to-voltage converter to ensure that the current reported by the instrument is correct (both students obtained relative errors better than 0.1%).

Jarrod is collecting data on ferrocyanide using a 2 mm platinum disk electrode.

In this experiment, the students are collecting cyclic voltammograms at scan rates ranging from 1 V/s to 0.01 V/s. This range requires them to change the feedback resistor so that the current range is appropriate for the measurement. They also explore the impact of including a filtering capacitor in the feedback circuit.

Nate is using a 25 micrometer diameter platinum electrode with the FeAtHEr-Cm. The image is hard to see, but yes, that is a steady state voltammogram with a steady state current of 15 nA!

Nate is trying a slightly different experiment, using a 10 MOhm feedback resistor, he is determining whether or not the home-built potentiostat can measure nanoamp levels of current. Turns out, we can! Here, the filtering capacitor plays a very important role in the integrity of the voltammogram. The 0.1 uF capacitor used for microamp current ranges is much too large, and when Nate saw that the voltammogram was “too smoothed”, he broke out the Santana lyrics. For everyone’s benefit, we ended class at that point.

FeAtHEr-Cm spectrometer

If you’ve been following (and I know one or two of you are), then you know that FeAtHEr-Cm is my Adafruit Feather microcontroller-based approach to building scientific instrumentation for the chemistry teaching laboratory. Not only does the platform allow for inexpensive instruments to be distributed throughout a classroom (at under $50/unit, each student in an analytical chemistry lab could have their own potentiostat), but the instruments are designed so that students can understand what makes them tick.

The btm100-alpha version

Joining the team is the btm100 which is a spectroscopic instrument designed to perform turbidity and nephelometry experiments. These techniques help scientists explore heterogenous solutions by measuring their cloudiness, and the techniques are used widely in fields such as environmental analysis. As an added bonus, the response from turbidity/nephelometry measurements mimics that of absorption/fluorescence measurements which are commonly covered early in the chemistry curriculum, so we have a fine opportunity to build on fundamental concepts (Beer’s Law) while expanding the suite of tools students are exposed to.

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