UCLA’s Molecular Instrumentation Center (MIC) helps eighth-grader win science fair award

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Thanks to MIC’s UV-visible spectrophotometer, Gavin Loughran was able to investigate the absorbance rate of UVA rays by various colors of glass.     

** Update as of April 3, 2019 – Gavin placed third out of about 40 entries in the Material Science Division at the Los Angeles County Science Fair and he is now an alternate for the State Science Fair which will be held in Los Angeles from April 28-30, 2019.** 

An eighth-grader at a nearby middle school, Gavin reached out via email to MIC Director Dr. Ignacio Martini for help with his award winning experiment. “I started thinking about whether a person could get sunburned or get skin damage through a glass window and did some initial research and learned that a window allowed UVA rays to come through,” Gavin said. “I wanted to see if colored glass would absorb UVA rays and, if so, which color worked best. When I realized that my experiment would require more advanced instruments than my school science department could provide, I decided to contact the UCLA chemistry labs hoping for access to their UV/vis spectrometer. I am so grateful for the help I received from Dr. Martini.”

Gavin’s experiment won an award at his school’s science fair and he will now advance to the county level where he will present his research at the Los Angeles County Science & Engineering Fair on March 30, 2019, at the Pasadena Convention Center. 

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(Left) Gavin with his science award. (Right) His award winning poster titled “The Science of Colored Glass”. (Click on image to see larger version of poster photo.)

“It is wonderful that there is such a valuable resource at UCLA for science fair projects!” said Gavin’s mother, Emily Loughran. “These sorts of experiences really leave an impression on kids and can open new vistas for them”.

The spectrophotometer Gavin used for his experiment is a small instrument, primarily used in materials chemistry, to measure the amount of light that a particular sample absorbs at each color (or energy). According to Gavin’s poster, his objective was “to investigate which color glass (red, blue, green, amber, and clear) absorbs the most UVA rays.”  His hypothesis was that “amber colored glass will absorb the most UVA rays. If the glass is colored, then it will absorb more UVA rays than clear glass.”  His conclusion was that his hypothesis was rejected – “After several scans with a UV/vis spectrometer, and much computation of data averages, the green glass sample emerged as the most absorbent of UVA rays.”

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(Left) Gavin and Ignacio working at the UV-vis spectrometer. (Right) Readings from the instrument.

The UCLA Molecular Instrumentation Center (MIC) is a campus-wide, state-of-the-art core facility that enables the use of modern instrumentation in molecular characterizations.  The purpose of the MIC is to meet the needs of the UCLA scientific community by providing all aspects of technical support in the application of modern instrumentation to solve problems in cutting-edge scientific research. MIC professional staff is responsible for operating, maintaining, and upgrading the equipment and training users.  MIC encompasses four major areas: Magnetic Resonance, Mass Spectrometry, X-ray Diffraction, and Materials Characterization. 

As part of the department’s community engagement, MIC staff is available to help local students with their experiments using the MIC instruments. For more information, contact MIC Director Dr. Ignacio Martini, martini@chem.ucla.edu, 310-267-5467.

Article by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.  Photos courtesy of Emily Loughran.