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Biofuels from Algae 

Graduate Fellow Christine Shulse & Teacher Partner Danika Garcia

High school students explore how single celled organisms can help alleviate global warming and ameliorate the energy crisis through investigating algal biofuels. Students become biofuels scientists with the end goal of determining what conditions are optimal for algal lipid production. Algae can use sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce lipids, which are easily transesterified to produce biodiesel. In this activity students will extract lipids from algae and visualize them using thin layer chromatography. This activity is used to help explain the carbon cycle and macromolecules, as cells incorporate inorganic or organic carbon into cell structures, and can be condensed into two days or expanded to five, depending on the needs of the classroom. If a two-day version is desired, students simply extract lipids and visualize them, eliminating introductory activities on the carbon cycle and chromatography. A discussion of the need for alternative energy sources arising from this activity will also introduce students to the impact humans have on the environment. As a final assessment, students write a position paper arguing for or against an investment in algal biofuels technologies by the United States government.

Grade Levels: 9-12

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will be able to explain the carbon cycle and how carbon flows between at least three reservoirs (atmosphere, land biomass, and fossil fuels).
  • Students will understand that glycerol and fatty acids are the building blocks of lipids.
  • Students will be able to articulate the advantages and disadvantages of using algal biofuels as opposed to second-generation biofuels or fossil fuels.
  • Students can analyze the effects of human activity on climate change.

Student worksheet (word doc - pdf)

Teacher worksheet (word doc - pdf)

Jellyfish Trees

High school students will determine the evolutionary relatedness of jellyfish through DNA sequences. Increasingly, scientists are relying upon molecular sequence data to classify organisms rather than morphological characteristics, which may be misleading (i.e. cryptic species). In this activity students build a cladogram and use it to determine the closest relative of a jellyfish. As a final assessment students will build a cladogram showing the evolutionary relatedness of a group of animals of their choice. Alternatively, students may write a one-page essay reflecting on the relevance of the material covered in this activity to their own lives.

Grade Level: 9-12

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will be able to interpret evolutionary relatedness from a cladogram as well as explain the drawbacks to this method.
  • Students will understand that DNA can provide evidence for evolution. 

Student worksheet (word doc - pdf)

Teacher worksheet (word doc - pdf)