Tuesday, May 30 , 2017, 5:59 am | Overcast 58º

 
 
 
 

Cleaning Ancient Coins a Lesson in History, Physics for Freshman at Providence Hall

Is the crusty material on an ancient Roman coin “old dirt” or “oxidized metal”?

In a lesson crossing the humanities and physics curricula, Providence Hall humanities teacher Bruce Rottman and science teacher Laura Schultheis recently team-taught freshman students a lesson about ancient Roman coins and using the principles of electrolysis to clean the coins.

Rottman began the class session with a lesson on the fall of Rome in 476 A.D., the resulting loss of millions of coins under layers of dirt, and the eventual recovery of those coins by modern-day treasure hunters.

Schultheis followed the history lesson with a review of the principles of oxidation and the attraction of positive and negative charges in an ionic electrolytic cell. She set up a lab for the students, using a salt water solution, an iron nail, an ancient copper coin and a low-voltage battery. When students attached the coin to the cathode (negative electrode) and the nail to the anode (positive electrode) and then immersed both in the salt-water solution, the solution bubbled and fizzed around the coin as the layers of corroded material fell away. After about a half-hour in the solution and some vigorous rubbing with olive oil, the coins were visibly “cleaner” or less corroded.

”This is a great example of our integrated approach to curriculum, with collaboration by our humanities and science teachers,” said Tim Loomer, academic dean. “Of course, the educational value of an activity of this nature is incalculable, but perhaps of most worth is students watching their humanities and science instructors working together on an academic endeavor. This is what the future work force holds for them.”

After about a half-hour in the solution and some vigorous rubbing with olive oil, the coins were visibly cleaner. (Providence Hall photo)
After about a half-hour in the solution and some vigorous rubbing with olive oil, the coins were visibly “cleaner.” (Providence Hall photo)

Students appreciated both the teacher collaboration and the lab activity.

“I really appreciated you taking the time to engage with us outside of our physics class,” freshman Gabriel Clark told Schultheis. “The process was very interesting, and I was surprised with the results I gathered.”

Freshman Maddy Niessen added: “I thought it was really fun to do an experiment and to actually use coins from thousands of years ago. It was really awesome that when we finished cleaning the coins, we could see the faces on them.”

Schultheis deems the collaborative teaching experiment a great success.

“We will do this again next year, for sure,” she said.

— Elaine Rottman is the director of advancement at Providence Hall.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >