Student Research Projects

An investigation of the composition of glaze and ceramic pieces from Nicaragua, Part II

Student Areli Ibarra '15 (Biology, Chemistry, Hispanic Studies)
Department Chemistry
Course Independent Study


Cultural techniques in the making of glazed ceramics in Nicaragua have evolved from traditional methods using natural minerals for pigmentation, to modernized methods utilizing chemical oxides. Modern samples were collected from two sites, San Juan De Oriente and Masaya, but samples utilizing traditional techniques could only be acquired from San Juan de Oriente. The purpose of this research was to investigate and identify compositional variation between the traditional and modern ceramic pieces through scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) which provides both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the elemental composition of the ceramic samples. Crystal structures in the ceramic glaze were imaged by back-scatter electron scans using the SEM, while EDS revealed concentrations (percent composition) of the major elemental components of the glaze. Preliminary analysis of the samples has revealed a significant difference in both the crystal structures present and the elemental composition between the traditional and modern pieces. Further analysis examined the trace elements through inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Concentrations from samples were atomized and ionized to parts per billion for accurate results in the distinctions in the elemental trace analysis through mass spectrometry. Elemental ratios were compared to previous qualitative and quantitative analysis completed through SEM-EDS. Results supported both sets of data revealing distinctive and comparable results of the samples elemental composition of glaze and clay ceramic pieces from Nicaragua.


Recipient of a Virginia Wesleyan Undergraduate Research Conference Grant, 2014.