March 25, 2014

Culver Academies physics instructor Phil Blessman has been awarded a $10,000 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant. Instructors receiving the grant will spend their summer personally fulfilling activities that reinvigoriate their spirits.

Blessman plans to study rocks that have been displaced by glaciers around Culver and Marshall County. He will gather samples from the area and travel to Greifswald University in Germany to analyze the samples. The university has equipment to allow for polar microscopy, x-ray florescence, and x-ray diffraction examinations. The equipment will provide a finger print, so to speak, for Blessman to study.

Phil Blessman

Phil Blessman

“Having immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1990, I am acutely aware of being displaced, of being a traveler in space and time, not unlike the research objects I am interested in,” Blessman told The Pilot-News, the Plymouth, Ind., newspaper. “It was important to me to design a project with local meaning. I wanted to take a closer look at the glacial landscape in this area.”

Blessman will work with Indiana Geological Survey Glacial Geologists Dr. Marni Karaffa and Dr. Henry Loope to collect samples from the area. Blessman will take the samples to Germany where he will work with his brother, Dr. Georg Grathoff, senior lecturer in mineralogy at Greifswald University. Grathoff will assist Blessman in preparing slides for examination. Three types of slides will need to be made: thin slides, fusion tablets, and fine powder slides.

Blessman will be spending approximately one week with each lab technique collecting data. The data from the polarizing microscope will provide a visual identification of the minerals present in the sample to determine the speed of formation and genesis of the rock.

The x-ray fluorescence will provide the ratios of elements in the samples including trace elements. The x-ray diffraction will determine the percentage of various minerals based on their varying crystal dimensions. The results will aid in determining the overall composition of the rocks and in the identification of the bedrock source from which they came.

When Blessman returns home, he will compile all the data and form it into a “story” of where the samples originated, how they were originally formed, and their age.

“I have taught high school physics for the past 19 years, but I have not engaged in science research since I received my master’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1995,” he told The Pilot-News. “This project will allow me to once again do science, rather than ‘just’ teach, allowing me to ‘recharge the batteries’ as I get to focus on pure scientific research.”

Blessman is planning to attend the 2015 National Science Teachers Association in Chicago and present his findings. He would also like to re-introduce a geology course to the Culver curriculum. For now, he will use his new knowledge to assist students in research projects.

“I teach AP Physics but there are connections across the fields of study. The opportunity to learn more will help me be a better teacher by learning to be a better researcher.”

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