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Analyzing beach sands with a SEM/EDS

Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College, rbeane@bowdoin.edu
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: May 10, 2006 | Reviewed: January 17, 2015


In this laboratory exercise, students pose a question that can be answered using the SEM and sand they collected from beach profiles. Then, they use the SEM to answer their question or test their hypothesis.

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Learning Goals


  • Design a small testable project
  • Demonstrate use of an instrument


  • Generating hypotheses and asking questions
  • Selecting samples to test hypothesis or address question
  • Use of the SEM/EDS

Context for Use

This is designed for a three hour laboratory exercise in an introduction to physical geology course.

Teaching Materials

No handouts are used for this exercise.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Groups of two to six students work well in the SEM lab: one student controls the joystick, one student controls the mouse, and they switch responsibilities during the lab. Groups larger than two seem to promote discussion better than smaller groups. However, groups larger than six are not ideal, because not all students are actively involved. This exercise might be done over more than one laboratory period, with students working on other exercises when they are not using the SEM.


Approximately two page report written by each student with sections addressing the question/hypothesis, methods, data, and interpretation.

References and Resources

Partial support for developing this exercise came from NSF 9951390.

Beane, R. J., 2004. Using the scanning electron microscope for discovery based learning in undergraduate courses. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 52, p. 250-253.