SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Biofuels - A Science Perspective (Grades 6-12)

Objective:


Framework for K–12 Science Education - LS1.A: Structure and Function, LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms, LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems, ESS3.A: Natural Resources, ESS3.D: Global Climate Change, ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems, ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology, ETS2.B: Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World


Introduction Notes:


Science of innovation

Biofuels

A Science Perspective (Grades 6–12)

 

Lesson plans produced by the National Science Teachers Association.

Video produced by NBC Learn in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office
and the National Science Foundation.

 

Background and Planning

 

About the Video

This video features Dr. Steve Hutcheson, a professor of microbiology at the University of Maryland. While sources of biofuel currently exist, such as ethanol made from corn, Dr. Hutcheson is developing a new approach to producing biofuels from cellulosic biomass, using a bacterium discovered in the Chesapeake Bay. The video also discusses the potential of a high-value bacterium for producing valuable chemical products.

 

0:00     0:14     Series opening

0:15     0:49     Introducing importance of fuels and the idea of alternative fuels

0:50     1:22     Introducing Dr. Hutcheson and his view on using corn for biofuels

1:23     1:50     Describing Dr. Hutcheson’s approach for producing biofuelsand what makes his discovery innovative

1:51     2:24     Discovery of Saccharophagus degradans as the cause of a major salt grass die-off

2:25     3:00     Explaining the genome sequence and potential to make hundreds of enzymes

3:01     3:30     Explaining how the genome sequencing led to the understanding of how the bacterium could be used

3:31     3:50     Explaining how patents and trademarks protect ideas

3:51     4:17     Dr. Hutcheson explaining the evolution of his work

4:17     5:10     Summary and conclusion about unexpected sources of ideas

5:11     5:23     Closing credits

 

Language Support

To aid those with limited English proficiency or others who need help focusing on the video, make transcript of the video available. Click the Transcript tab on the side of the video window, then copy and paste into a document for student reference.

 

Framework for K–12 Science Education

      LS1.A: Structure and Function

      LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms

      LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

      ESS3.A: Natural Resources

      ESS3.D: Global Climate Change

      ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

      ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

      ETS2.B: Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

 

(page 1)


 

 Emphasize Innovation

 

Innovation Process

Taking the Product to Market

By filing for a patent, Dr. Hutcheson was able to protect his ideas in the form of a tangible and useful invention. He then had the temporary right to exclude others from making, using, or selling his invention – although, as a stipulation of the patent process, he agreed to disclose all of the information about how the invention worked so that others can learn from it and improve upon it. The sharing of knowledge enables others to continuously reshape, retool, and re-evaluate the world around us by constantly building upon previous platforms of invention. In the meantime, Dr. Hutcheson created a startup company and trademarked its name. As the product his company made changed, he changed the company’s name so as to clearly identify those products.

 

Take Action with Students

Guide students to understand how the market, or potential customer base, plays a role in a commodity being produced. Dr. Hutcheson notes that he started out producing enzymes, but he realized that the market’s demand—or potential for realizing a profit—wasn't as strong as he had thought. So he moved into a different area, which was how to engineer the bacterium to make “value-added” products. By the term value-added, he means that the resulting products have a higher value than either the feedstock that is being converted or the biomass that's being utilized. Have students deconstruct a simple technology, such as a pencil, and detail the materials that go into it: wood, metal, graphite, and rubber. Describe how that example of a technology is a value-added product because it can be sold for more than the combined cost of the individual materials.

 

Innovation and STEM

The innovation highlighted in Science of Innovation (SOI): Biofuels incorporates many aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. For example, required science knowledge includes an understanding of the microbe’s life and growth patterns—in this case, how the bacterium produces enzymes to break down cell walls of plants. Math concepts involve those that enable genome sequencing. Starting with a vision and relying on science and math knowledge, Hutcheson is innovating a bio-technology by finding a new use for an organism that has a potentially damaging impact on the environment. One aspect of the engineering design process is the retooling of systems for different end products. Hutcheson notes that he started out producing one thing but realized that the market’s demand wasn't as strong as he thought, so he moved to a related, but different, area that had greater economic potential.

 

Take Action with Students

         Using the Design Investigations section of Facilitate Inquiry as a guide, encourage students to investigate how microbes can be manipulated by people to create valuable products for our use.

         Help students brainstorm to form a list of some of the constraints within which bioengineers have to work with in order to manipulate microbes for human use.

 

(page 2)

Possible responses include cost, convenience, the environment in which the microbes will be used, what the advantages and disadvantages of these microbes might be relative to more traditional methods of refining oil for fuel, and the health and safety of the workers. Have students make recommendations for the parameters of the constraints they list. Guide students to understand that engineers are very interested in sustainability of the materials they use in their processes.

 

Facilitate Inquiry

Encourage inquiry using a strategy modeled on the research-based science writing heuristic. Student work will vary in complexity and depth depending on grade level, prior knowledge, and creativity. Use the prompts liberally to encourage thought and discussion. Student Copy Masters begin on page 10.

 

Explore Understanding

Make the discussion of S. degradans and its biofuel byproduct more tangible for students by using an analogous microorganism with which students are familiar and that is more easily obtained and safer to manipulate: yeast. Elicit from students the many uses of yeast cells in the kitchen. Use prompts such as the following to start students talking:

         Yeast are _______that are used in industry for….

         You might have used yeast in the kitchen at home when….

         Cellular respiration makes yeast valuable for baking bread because….

         Yeast cells become dormant when….

         Unicellular organisms such as yeast might be advantageous to use in experiments because….

 

Show the video SOI: Biofuels and encourage students to jot down notes while they watch. The video makes the case for bacterial growth using different substrates, or kinds of biomass, that will result in a given product. Remind students that “growth” here refers to reproduction, and that more “product” is produced by increasing the size of the colony, not the size of the individual organism. Make the connection between the bacterium in the video and the analogous yeast by explaining to students that S. degradans has the ability to produce enzymes that allow it to digest cellulose and other plant matter in salt grasses, in order to use those products for nutrition; likewise, yeast cells produce enzymes that allow it to break down sugars in order to use them for its nutrition.  Both organisms carry on digestive processes that break down plant matter into products that the organism can use for life. Continue your yeast analogy by discussing the possible substrates yeast can grow on, using prompts such as the following:

         When I watched the video, I thought about….

         The economic costs of making corn-based alternative fuels are….

         The products made by the bacteria in the video are useful for….

         Yeast might grow on….

         Yeast might grow and reproduce more quickly using a substrate such as _____ because….

 

Ask Beginning Questions

Stimulate small-group discussion with the prompt: This video makes me think about these questions…. Direct small groups to list questions they have about factors that influence how experiments are designed. Return to the yeast analogy and remind students that yeast undergo

(page 3)

 

the anaerobic respiration process of fermentation, whereby they use sugars and create the byproducts of carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. Then challenge students to design the optimum features of an experiment for growing yeast that would result in the greatest amount of the “product”—in this case, carbon dioxide. Have students compare the products formed from this process, and have them distinguish between valued-added products and by-products of the process. Ask groups to choose one question and phrase it in such a way as to be researchable and/or testable. Some examples are:

         How could yeast be used to model the production of biofuels?

         How do the natural products of a yeast cell impact any experimental design?

         What substrates result in the best growth conditions for yeast?

         How are the byproducts of yeast reproduction important?

 

Design Investigations

Choose one of the following options based on your students’ knowledge, creativity, and ability level and your available materials. Actual materials needed will vary greatly based on these factors as well.

 

Possible Materials

Allow time for students to examine and manipulate the materials you have available. Doing so often aids students in refining their questions, or prompts new ones that should be recorded for future investigation. In this inquiry, student results might simply be their experimental design protocol. If students choose to carry out their investigations, they might use materials such as small balloons (in order to measure volume of gaseous by-products), active dry yeast, sugar, artificial sweeteners, mashed bananas or grapes, measuring spoons, measuring cups, warm water, test tubes, funnels, and measuring tapes. Guide students away from any pasteurized products as they will not readily support yeast growth.

 

Safety Considerations: To augment your own safety procedures, see NSTA’s Safety Portal at http://www.nsta.org/portals/safety.aspx.

 

Open Choice Approach(Copy Master page 10)

Groups might come together to agree on one question for which they will explore the answer, or each group might explore something different. Students should brainstorm to plan their experimental design strategies. Student results can include their experimental design or actual work with yeast. Work with students to develop safe procedures that control variables and enable them to make accurate measurements. Keep students focused by using prompts such as the following:

         Plant materials vary as a food source for yeast because….

         To enable the greatest amount of product, the growth conditions should….

         In constructing an experiment with yeast, we should consider….

         To measure the amount of “product,” we could….

         To ensure the scientific integrity of the experiment, we should consider….

         To conduct the investigation safely, we will….

 

(page 4)

 

Focused Approach(Copy Master pages 11–12)

The following exemplifies one way in which students might design an experiment to determine the type of growing conditions for yeast that would yield the greatest amount of the by-product—carbon dioxide. Again, remind students that “growth” refers to reproduction or increase in the number of individuals in the colony. Student results can include plans, controls, or actual data.

1.      Use questions such as the following to help students focus their design discussions.

         What are our experimental design constraints?

         What are the experimental design variables?

         What range of food sources does yeast require?

         What purposes do the different pieces of equipment need to serve?

         How does yeast change its rate of growth with environmental changes?

         What conditions will yield more carbon dioxide from yeast?

          What additives might yield better results?

2.      If students will be experimenting, give them free rein in determining which materials they plan to use, as long as they are working within the established laboratory and safety guidelines. Use prompts such as the following to keep students focused:

         The conditions necessary for growth of yeast require the manipulation of environmental factors such as….

         A consideration of time for growth and reproduction might influence….

         Factors we should consider when choosing our materials include….

         In desiring a high rate of cellular respiration, we should consider….

         To ensure the growth of yeast, we should consider….

         Of many materials useful as a growth substrate for yeast, we will compare….

         The variable I will test is….

         The steps I will follow to test my variable include…

         The variables I will control are….

         To conduct the investigation safely, I need to make sure that….

3.      Students might first research yeast requirements for growth, and then create detailed plans that focus on food sources or environmental influences (temperature, pH, light/dark, oxygen/no oxygen) to change the growth of the organism. Students might explore various aspects of their design through paper and pencil storyboards, step by step, or the actual carrying out of tests to determine whether growth pattern of the organism is due to growth substrate or the environmental factors.

4.      Students who carry out an actual investigation might add 1 gram yeast, 20 milliliters warm water, and a given amount of a substrate into a small balloon. After placing the balloon in a warm environment, students could measure the circumference of the balloon over time as the yeast population gives off carbon dioxide gas. Students should realize that a greater circumference is indicative of a large volume of by-product. Have students measure the circumference of the balloon at different time intervals (e.g. every 1 minute or few minutes) and relate changes of volume over time to the higher reproductive rates for the yeast.

5.      Students might continue their investigation by adapting their experimental design for different influential factors – for example, students might test different growth media and temperature variations to develop conditions for maximum growth rates and hence maximum carbon dioxide production.

 

(page 5)

 

Media Research Option

Groups might have questions that are best explored using print media or online resources. Students should brainstorm to form a list of key words and phrases they could use in Internet search engines that might result in resources that will help them answer the question. Review how to safely browse the Web, how to evaluate information on the Internet for accuracy, and how to correctly cite the information found. Suggest students make note of any interesting tangents they find in their research effort for future inquiry. Encourage students with prompts such as the following:

         Words and phrases associated with our question are….

         The reliability of our sources was established by….

         The science and math concepts that underpin a possible solution are….

         Our research might feed into an engineering design solution such as….

         To conduct the investigation safely, we will….

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Students should analyze their data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence their data shows. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by… we claim… because….

 

An example claim for the experimental design might be:

As evidenced bythe way we controlled variables (balloon size, temperature, measurements of substrates and yeast cells) in our experimental design, we claim that we can compare the growth rate in yeast on a sugar substrate with growth rate in yeast growing in crushed fruit or distilled water because the substrate is the only variable that will change. Therefore we can observe which substrate yields more growth rate and therefore more carbon dioxide production to inflate the balloons.

 

An example claim if students carried out their investigations might be:

As evidenced bythe data collected in our trials, we claim that a higher rate of growth in yeast in a sugar substrate is better than the rate of growth in crushed fruit or distilled water because the amount of CO2 collected in the balloon is significantly larger in the sugar substrate so that substrate must have a more readily available energy source in it.

 

Compare Findings

Encourage students to compare their ideas with those of others—such as classmates who investigated the same or similar questions; material they found on the Internet; experts they chose to interview; or their textbooks. Remind students to credit their original sources in their comparisons. Elicit comparisons from students with prompts such as:

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that….

 

Students might make comparisons like the following:

We compared our experimental design/investigations to videos we found on the Internet of yeast being used in baking recipes. Our design was the same in that we had the yeast growing in some similar media.

 

(page 6)

 

Reflect on Learning

Students should reflect on their understanding, thinking about how their ideas have changed or what they know now that they didn’t before. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

         The claim made by the expert in the video is….

         I support or refute the expert’s claim because in my investigation….

         When thinking about the expert’s claims, I am confused as to why….

         Another investigation I would like to explore is….

 

Inquiry Assessment

See the rubric included in the student Copy Masters on page 13.

 

 

 

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

 

Integrate Video in Instruction

Bellringer:  Play and replay the video with the sound muted as students are getting settled. Have students answer a question such as: The video makes me think about…. or The bacteria you see in the video looked like they could…. Allow volunteers to share responses and record them as springboards for your discussion on working with a non-bacterial microbe that would be safe in a classroom. You might build a concept map such as the one below:

 

 

(page 7)


 

Compare and Contrast:  To support a discussion on microbes, have students watch the video, focusing on the segment about growth of S.degradans at 1:51–2:24. Tell students the video focuses on performance of a microbe that could be the best of all biofuel microbes and carry on more breakdown of plant material than other species. Have students use their notes to compare the qualities of the marine bacterium and what it does that made it so useful for generating biofuels in a concept map, such as the following:

 

Using the 5E Approach?

If you use a 5E approach to lesson plans, consider incorporating video in these Es:

Explore:  Use the Design Investigations section of the Inquiry Outline to support your lessons on yeast, measurements, or microbe growth and environmental factors.

Elaborate:  In a lesson on genetics, or one on bioengineering, use recent research into biofuels such as that summarized by “Science Daily” at the following URL to expose students to real-world methods for manipulating microorganisms. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130219121347.htm

 

Connect to … Health

Diet Analysis:  Play the segment (0:50–1:22) that discusses corn’s “image problem” as a substrate for biofuel production. Encourage students to research some of the many uses of corn in our everyday diets by challenging them, individually or in groups, to find the greatest number of uses or the most unusual or unexpected uses of corn. Interested students might also research how the use of corn for ethanol impacts the diets of people, especially children, in developing nations.

 

(page 8)

Prompt Innovation with Video

After students watch the video, have them research patents associated with biofuel production. They can do so with an Internet search on Google.com/patents using search terms such as the following. If time is limited, point students toward the following patents.

 

Primary Search Terms

Cellulose/cellulose

Ethanol fuel

Enzyme system/Enzymatic

Commodity Chemicals

Petroleum

Biopetrols

Biofilm

Biomass

Bioprocessing

Saccharification

Additional Search Terms

Corn

Corn starch

Bacteria

“Saccharophagus degradans”

Waste Degradation

Pollutant

 

 

Patent Examples

6,759,040:           method for the preparation of multiple-specificity hydrolytic enzyme mixtures

7,365,180:           composition of an isolated polypeptide system

2007/0292929:    method for producing ethanol from lignocellulosic material

2009/0305356:    method for increasing enzymatic activity during a continuous processing reaction

2010/0185017:    method of producing a commodity chemical, or an intermediate thereof

 

Suggest students read abstracts of patents that attract their attention. Then hold a discussion about how various innovators are improving on the process. Use prompts such as the following:

         This patent is for _____, which is related to the invention shown in the video by….

         This patent describes _____, which differs from the invention shown in the video in that….

         I think doing/making _____ would be an innovation because….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(page 9)


 

Copy Master: Open Choice Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Biofuels

Use this guide to investigate a question about how yeast might be used to model production of biofuels. Write your report in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

The video makes me think about these questions….

 

Design Investigations

Choose one question. How can you answer it? Brainstorm with your teammates. Write a procedure that controls variables and makes accurate measurements. Add safety precautions as needed. If possible, carry out your experimental design.

         Plant materials vary as a food source for yeast because….

         To enable the greatest amount of product, the growth conditions should….

         In constructing an experiment with yeast, we should consider….

         To measure the amount of “product,” we could….

         To ensure the scientific integrity of the experiment, we should consider….

         To conduct the investigation safely, we will….

 

Record Data and Observations

Record your observations. Organize your data in tables or graphs as appropriate.

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence your data shows. Make sure that the claim goes beyond summarizing the relationship between the variables.

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who investigated the same or a similar question. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that….

 

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

         The claim made by the expert in the video is….

         I support or refute the expert’s claim with bacteria because in my investigation with yeast….

         When thinking about the expert’s claims, I am confused as to why….

         Another investigation I would like to explore is….

(page 10)

 

COPY MASTER: Focused Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Biofuels

Use this guide to investigate a question about how differing substrates affect the growth of yeast colonies. Write your lab report in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

How do substrates vary as food sources for yeast?

 

Design Investigations

Brainstorm with your teammates about how to answer the question. Write a procedure that controls variables and allows you to gather valid data. Add safety precautions as needed. Use these prompts to help you design your investigation.

         The conditions necessary for growth of yeast require the manipulation of environmental factors such as….

         A consideration of time for growth and reproduction might influence….

         Factors we should consider when choosing our materials include….

         In desiring a high rate of cellular respiration, we should consider….

         To ensure the growth of yeast, we should consider….

         Of many materials useful as a growth substrate for yeast, we will compare….

         The variable I will test is….

         The steps I will follow to test my variable include…

         The variables I will control are….

         To conduct the investigation safely, I need to….

 

Record Data and Observations

Organize your observations and data in a table such as the samples below.

 

Yeast Growth in Various Substrates

Substrate

Initial Balloon Size

Final Balloon Size

Artificial sweetener

 

 

Crushed fruit

 

 

Table sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

(page 11)


 

 

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence shown by your data. Make sure that the claim goes beyond summarizing the relationship between the variables.

 

My Evidence

My Claim

My Reason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compare Findings

Review the video and then discuss your results with classmates who did the investigation using the same or a similar system or with those who did the investigation using a different system. Or do research on the Internet or talk with an expert. How do your findings compare? Be sure to give credit to others when you use their findings in your comparisons.

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of the experts in the video in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those of my classmates in that….

         My ideas are similar to (or different from) those that I found on the Internet in that….

 

Reflect on Learning

Think about what you found out. How does it fit with what you already knew? How does it change what you thought you knew?

         The claim made by the expert in the video is….

         I support (or refute) the expert’s claim because in my investigation….

         When thinking about the expert’s claims, I am confused as to why….

         Another investigation I would like to explore is….

 

(page 12)


 

 

 

Copy Master: Assessment Rubric for Inquiry Investigations

 

 

Criteria

1 point

2 points

3 points

Initial question

Question had a yes/no answer, was off topic, or otherwise was not researchable or testable.

Question was researchable or testable but too broad or not answerable by the chosen investigation.

Question clearly stated, researchable or testable, and showed direct relationship to investigation.

Investigation design

The design of the investigation did not support a response to the initial question.

While the design supported the initial question, the procedure used to collect data (e.g., number of trials, control of variables) was not sufficient.

Variables were clearly identified and controlled as needed with steps and trials that resulted in data that could be used to answer the question.

Variables

Either the dependent or independent variable was not identified.

While the dependent and independent variables were identified, no controls were present.

Variables identified and controlled in a way that results in data that can be analyzed and compared.

Safety procedures

Basic laboratory safety procedures were followed, but practices specific to the activity were not identified.

Some, but not all, of the safety equipment was used and only some safe practices needed for this investigation were followed.

Appropriate safety equipment used and safe practices adhered to.

Observations and data

Observations were not made or recorded, and data are unreasonable in nature, not recorded, or do not reflect what actually took place during the investigation.

Observations were made, but were not very detailed, or data appear invalid or were not recorded appropriately.

Detailed observations were made and properly recorded and data are plausible and recorded appropriately.

Claim

No claim was made or the claim had no relationship to the evidence used to support it.

Claim was marginally related to evidence from investigation.

Claim was backed by investigative or research evidence.

Findings comparison

Comparison of findings was limited to a description of the initial question.

Comparison of findings was not supported by the data collected.

Comparison of findings included both methodology and data collected by at least one other entity.

Reflection

Student reflections were limited to a description of the procedure used.

Student reflections were not related to the initial question.

Student reflections described at least one impact on thinking.

 

(page 13)

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