Rebecca Shackleton
Rebecca Shackleton
Year: 2013
School: Ripon College

Growing algae: Exploring algal biodiesel in the high school classrooms

Greenhouse gasses released in the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global climate change. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, trap heat, and lead to changes in earth’s natural systems. The transportation sector, primarily fueled by non-renewable energy sources contribute to a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. As the global population increases, the need for sustainable energy alternatives to meet future transportation demands, reduce dependency on non-renewable fossil fuels, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is becoming ever more pressing. Scientists are now researching a wide variety of biofuel feedstocks for bioethanol and biodiesel in hopes to develop commercially viable sustainable sources of energy. Microalgae is one form of biomass that holds great potential as a source of biodiesel, given its high oil yield and ability to grow in waste and salt water on marginal land. My research explores ways in which an inquiry algae lab can be integrated into the high school science curricula and used as a springboard to discuss topics such as sustainability, energy return on investment, and systems analysis.

The lab also provides students with the opportunity to construct and carry out an experiment where they will observe, analyze, and graph their results, in order to draw conclusions about the optimal conditions for algae growth. The algae lab was presented to 30 high school and middle school teachers in three professional development programs to encourage its use in the classroom and provide students with the opportunity to participate in the challenges that scientists are researching today.

My Experience

My internship has been a truly engaging experience. As the education intern I have had the opportunity to conduct laboratory research, attend weekly seminars, participate in the teaching fellowship programs, and give a presentation to local children. All of the above have expanded my knowledge of current plant research and helped me develop my communication skills. Here at BTI I had the guidance of a research mentor while still having the ability to follow my research interests.

Participating in the PGRP internship at The Boyce Thompson Institute has given me the experience of being truly immersed in scientific discussion. I now have the knowledge and confidence necessary to integrate plant biology and sustainability topics into my classroom curriculum.