RCC students get up close look at meteorites

By: By Dennis Watts - Contributing columnist
Celeste Lewis, center, and Samantha Lewis discuss their research with Steven Singletary, Science Department program director at RCC. Dennis Watts
Dennis Watts

Anyone who stays abreast of the business world knows that networking, connecting with others, is a key to success. Networking facilitates success in academia also.

Last fall Robeson Community College Chemistry instructor and Science Department program Director Steven Singletary attended the North Carolina Astronomy meeting. He met, networked and developed a relationship with staff from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, which is located in the mountains of North Carolina. A partnership between the institute, RCC, Fayetteville State University and the RCC Foundation grew out of this relationship. This past summer two Early College High School students, Celeste Lewis and Samantha Lewis (no relation) worked as interns under Dr. Singletary’s supervision and with Robeson Community College Foundation funding on a PARI research project.

Singletary was able to secure meteorite samples from the institute that the two RCC Early College students then analyzed and identified using an electron microprobe at Fayetteville State University. Singletary was instrumental in getting the electron microprobe at Fayetteville State several years ago when he was employed there. At the time, there were only seven of these instruments in the entire world and five were in government labs.

Samantha and Celeste first spent several days at RCC this summer polishing the meteorite samples, a necessary prelude to analyzing them with the microprobe. They then accompanied Singletary to FSU’s lab and observed as he coated the samples with carbon, another step needed to facilitate the analysis.

After these preliminary steps, the samples were placed inside the electron microprobe and students again assumed control. They analyzed their samples by using a computer to move the samples around inside the equipment so various areas of the sample could be “probed” by electrons shot at them from a stationary “gun” within the equipment. A computer recorded the data, which Samantha and Celeste analyzed later in order to classify their samples.

Meteorites are classified by their composition, what they are made of, and structure, how those elements are put together, according to Singletary. Samantha and Celeste noted that both of their samples were classified as chondrites, meaning that the samples had chondrules or mineral grains in them. Among chondrites there are three subcategories. Samantha discovered that her sample was what is known as ordinary. Celeste discovered that her sample was “enstatite.’ Scientist believe that the Earth was formed from enstatite material, which has more metal content, particularly iron. Carbonaceous meteorites have a lot of carbon, but none of the samples Samantha and Celeste studied proved to be of this type.

“We’re trying to figure out our origins, what the Earth is made of,” Samantha said

“It was a great experience to learn something new. Not a lot of people get to work hands on with meteorites,” Celeste said.

Next month Samantha and Celeste will present at the North Carolina Astronomy meeting at Guilford Tech along with faculty and students from places such as UNC Chapel Hill, Western Carolina University, East Carolina University, High Point University, and others.

“I’ve been very impressed with maturity of Early College students,” Singletary said. “Most students would not be doing what they are doing before their sophomore year of college. When these students graduate, not only are they going to have their associate degree, they are also going to have this experience of presenting at conferences and that is going to help them get into the science programs that they will be applying for.”

Samantha is considering pursuing a Chemistry or microbiology degree at Methodist or Appalachian and would like to work in criminal forensics one day.

Celeste plans to attend UNCP to major in Biology or Math and then attend veterinary school at North Carolina State University.

Celeste Lewis, center, and Samantha Lewis discuss their research with Steven Singletary, Science Department program director at RCC. Dennis Watts
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/web1_Watts-col-pix_1.jpgCeleste Lewis, center, and Samantha Lewis discuss their research with Steven Singletary, Science Department program director at RCC. Dennis Watts

Dennis Watts
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/web1_Dennis-Watts_1.jpgDennis Watts

By Dennis Watts

Contributing columnist