South African Journal of Science
On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353
Students often regard laboratory instruments as 'black boxes' which generate results, without understanding their principles of operation. This lack of understanding is a concern because the correct interpretation of analytical results and the limitations thereof is invariably based on an understanding of the mechanism of measurement. Moreover, a number of tertiary institutions in Africa have very limited resources and access to laboratory equipment, including that related to the field of photonics, which prevents students from acquiring hands-on practical experience. We address both of these challenges by describing how students can assemble a novel, low-cost spectrophotometer, called the SpecUP, which can then be used in a range of experiments. The same kind of information can be generated as that obtained with costly commercial spectrophotometers (albeit of a lower quality). With the SpecUP, students also have the opportunity to vary instrumental parameters and to observe the effects these changes have on their experimental results, allowing for enquiry-based learning of spectroscopic principles. The results obtained for some chemistry-related spectrophotometric experiments are described for each of the two operational modes of the SpecUP although the instrument can be applied in fields ranging from physics to biochemistry.
Keywords : spectrophotometry; educational; spectrophotometer; photonics; SpecUP.