RECAP: 2014 Research Experience for Teachers Program
This year, four high school teachers completed their summer research and curriculum development projects as part of the GLBRC Research Experience for Teachers program.
The high school teachers spent seven weeks working with GLBRC research mentors at UW-Madison and Michigan State University where they gained first-hand experience conducting current biofuels research and developed related education materials to bring back to classes during the 2014-15 school year. The participant summer projects are summarized below:
- Tom Martinez, biology and biotech teacher at Glenbard East H.S., IL, worked with mentors Jeff Piotrowski and Donna Bates in the GLBRC Experimental Fermentation Lab studying the directed evolution and engineering of yeast to produce biofuels efficiently. Tom developed a series of three labs in which students investigate antibiotic resistance and the directed evolution of standard bakers yeast to tolerate toxins such as ethanol, biomass by-products (eg. GVL) and foot fungus spray.
- Sarah Wright, chemistry, biology and biotech teacher at Monona Grove H.S., WI, worked with research mentor Quinn Langdon in the Hittinger Lab exploring the ecology, taxonomy and potential applications of wild yeast species for biofuel production. Sarah created simplified versions of the protocols used by the researchers so that high school students can collect, isolate and identify wild yeast species growing in their environment. She also developed a variation on the GLBRC Fermentation in a Bag activity in which students compare the fermentation rates of yeast communities living in environmental samples, such as soil, bark or leaves.
- Leah Williams, chemistry teacher at Middleton H.S., WI, worked with research mentors Alison Ferris and Mike Groendyk in the Rothamer Engine Research Lab studying the properties of various bio-derived drop-in fuels to replace standard gasoline and diesel. Leah created a series of activities for students to study the volatility of various potential biofuels. In the process, students design their own fuel mixtures and test their fuel's suitability to replace a reference fuel by generating and comparing distillation curves.
- Toby West, Instructor at Lewanee Intermediate School District Tech Center, MI, worked on a variety of research and curriculum development projects with mentors Dr. Joyce Parker and Dr. Jonathan Walton at Michigan State University. Toby studied the effects of pretreatment methods and enzyme loading rates on the conversion of biomass to sugars. Based upon the results of this research, he developed revisions to the GLBRC "CB2E" biomass to ethanol conversion lab. Toby also developed a new extension to the GLBRC bioprospecting labs in which students isolate and identify species of cellulose-degrading microbes using plating techniques and PCR.
In the 2014-15 school year, GLBRC Education staff will work with the RET participants as they pilot materials in their classes and develop final versions that can be disseminated more broadly.
Many thanks again to the excellent research mentors and all who helped Tom, Sarah, Leah and Toby with their projects!