Trace Elements of Honey Using PIXE

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Paul DeYoung, Hope College
Dr. Graham Peaslee, Hope College

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This material is based on work supported by the Howard Hughes Medial Institute and by the National Science Foundation under grant No. PHY0969058.


Honey bees only travel about 2 km from their hive, collecting water and pollinating plants. Because of the small area they cover, honey could be a good indicator of environmental threats. Nine different honeys were collected from local honey farms, Meijer, and a honey farm in Indiana, and samples were prepared by burning honey at 550ºC for one hour. To analyze the honey ash, samples were hydraulically pressed into self-supporting targets for ion beam analysis. Proton Induced X-ray emission (PIXE) was used to find the trace elements present. The particle accelerator accelerates protons which excite electrons from the core shells of the target atoms. When these electrons fall back into their core states, x-rays of a particular energy that are characteristic of a particular element are emitted. These x-rays are detected and using their energy, the quantity of elements present in honey can be found in parts per million (ppm). It was found that these honey samples contain mostly aluminum, chlorine, potassium, manganese, iron, copper and calcium, although the concentrations of these elements vary greatly, and hopefully can be used to distinguish them and their environmental sources.

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