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
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.
- Working with LED strips: Vimeo or YouTube
- Building an illuminator box: Vimeo or YouTube
- How to grow algae: Vimeo or YouTube
- How to make the top agar overlay: Vimeo or YouTube
- How to take pictures of the fluorescence image: Vimeo or YouTube
- How to use ImageJ to analyze the image: Vimeo or YouTube
- How to analyze multi-color images: Vimeo or YouTube