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Informational Resources

All of the contents below can be used for educational purposes, primarily aimed toward students and educators interested in the photosynthetic process.

Algae for Energy Experiment

Teacher speaking to group of students in classroom

Algae for Energy Explanation Video


Microscopic algae can be found just about everywhere you look – in ponds, puddles, on walls… and in the pool if it gets low on chlorine! Some people think of these organisms as "slimy", but they are just like tiny plants. They use the sun's energy to make everything that they need, just like a growing plant. In fact, we have known for decades that they can make hydrogen gas too. Hydrogen could be a great fuel if we could make enough of it in a cheap and sustainable way – it is odorless and non-toxic, and when burnt it makes only water (i.e. no greenhouse gasses). The project described here allows students to visualize (literally!) production of hydrogen by algae, allowing them to explore ways to encourage our tiny friends to make more or make it for longer.

The Algae for Energy project is an educational module developed through the Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers’ Academy, which is a professional development workshop for local teachers to develop new curricula and projects in sustainability. In this module, students will learn how to detect the production of hydrogen by algae on agar plates using a simple agar overlay method.  We are training local elementary, middle, and high school teachers how to do this, and offer educational materials targeted for different student levels that their teachers can modify and use to teach in their courses.

The Algae for Energy (AfE) experiment does not require an advanced laboratory to carry it out. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation through a grant to Professor Redding, which pays for the materials you will need. The only things that the school will need to provide are: a place to grow the algae, a cardboard box, a microwave oven and a small cooler (or Styrofoam box). The students will build their illuminators out of a cardboard box using LED strips and components provided by AfE. The algae are first grown on plates, and then covered with agar mixed with bacteria that can detect hydrogen – they become fluorescent when this happens. The students can image this fluorescence the next day with their own phone cameras using a small optical filter provided by AfE. The students will draw their own conclusions about the best hydrogen-producing strains and the best ways to grow them to get them to produce hydrogen.

This plan draws upon concepts from the next-generation science standards, in which learning is driven by the students’ own curiosity. They will be given only a cursory explanation at first, but as they do the experiment, we will answer their questions about how things work to get across basic concepts. Moreover, we will allow the students to choose different condition to grow their best algal strain, to see which ones are best. In this way, they become partners in discovery.

Training Videos:

Below are brief quizzes to test your knowledge on photosynthesis. They are recommended for those who have a solid understanding of the subject.

  • Quiz 1 is a 36 question multiple choice quiz presented by McGraw-Hill
  • Quiz 2 is a 10 question multiple choice quiz presented by Pearson 
  • Quiz 3 is 7 question multiple choice quiz presented by BBC

Alternative Websites Regarding Photosynthesis 

The below are Student and Classroom Videos through the development of very inexpensive and small video cameras have resulted in an explosion of non-professional videos on photosynthesis.

  • "Khan Academy" introduces Light Dependent, Calvin Cycle, C3 & C4 
  • "Crash Course" explains how plants feed through sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water 
  • "NOVA" explores the history of plant biology by studying the earliest scientific hypotheses to the present-day photosynthesis 
  • "Photosynthesis For Kids" explains photosynthesis in simple and understandable ways for kids

The videos listed below are for individual subjects. Here are some videos about photosynthesis. They may be fun to show students or possibly serve as an inspiration to come up with similar student projects. 

Below are TeacherTube videos which is a lot like YouTube except it is run by an educational group and does not allow public postings or comments. In general the videos are more limited, but of higher quality. Each video begins with a long 30 seconds of advertisement, so be patient (members can skip the ad). 

Below are a number of virtual experiments to help explain the various aspects of photosynthesis. Their difficulty ranges from the relatively simple to somewhat more involved. 

Graphic of blue animal wearing glasses saying "Yes!"

The following are excellent resources for educators to use in the classroom and beyond! The majority are appropriate for younger students but they may be beneficial for refreshing a more understanding audience.