SCIENCE OF INNOVATION: Biofuels - An Engineering 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

An Engineering 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

         Encourage students to work within constraints to design an optimum growth chamber for yeast using the Design Investigations section of Facilitate Inquiry as a guide.  As a class, set up constraints within which students will have to design, such as providing a limited selection of materials with which to work or volume of “product” produced, among others.

         Replay the video with the sound muted.  Ask volunteers for their thoughts about the lab environment shown throughout—the tools that support growth and the science knowledge, laboratory technical abilities, and other microbiological expertise they think individuals might need to work in a microbiology lab. Suggest small groups do research to compare and contrast tenets of biology and microbiology.

 

                                                                                                 (page 2)

 

 

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 9.

 

Explore Understanding

Elicit general requirements for growth in any living thing, and then narrow the discussion to microbes to emphasize that all organisms have the same basic requirements. Then 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. Use prompts such as the following to start students talking:

         Living things require….

         Requirements for life differ among different groups of organisms in that….

         Environmental conditions for microbes vary in terms of ….

         Things that make some microbes grow faster are….

         The factors that could be manipulated in a growth chamber for microbes are….

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

         Cellular respiration makes yeast valuable for baking bread because….

         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. Continue the discussion focusing on the apparatus used to grow microbes including bacteria, yeast, and others, and how they might be grown in laboratory environments using prompts such as the following:

         When I watched the video, I thought about….

         The microbes in the video were being grown in….

         The microbiologists I saw in the video handled the microbes with….

         The housing provided enabled the organism to make biofuel by….

         Optimal growing conditions for yeast are....

         Yeast become dormant when….

 

Ask Beginning Questions

Stimulate small-group discussion with the prompt: This video makes me think about these questions…. Discuss with students factors that can impact the growth of microbes on a surface such as a desk, and then extend those factors to an industrial scale required to mass produce a resulting product such as ethanol. 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.  Challenge students to design the optimum features of a growth chamber for yeast, to model the actions of engineers whose job is to design tools for industrial-scale microbe growth.  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 you model factors that impact yeast growth in a controlled environment?

         What materials might be used to construct an artificial growth chamber for yeast?

          How do the natural requirements of yeast impact an experimental housing design?

 

                                                                                                 (page 3)

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 investigations. In this inquiry, students might use active dry yeast, sugar or other sweeteners; measuring spoons, measuring cups, and measuring tapes; warm water; and  funnels. For their growth chambers, they might use test tubes, small plastic bottles, plastic foam coolers, cardboard boxes, tape, thermometers, and small thermostats. They might also need materials to manipulate the environment, such as light bulbs, heating pads, hand-warmer packets, and low-wattage light bulbs.

 

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 9)

Groups might come together to brainstorm ideas for the same environmental factors, or each group might explore different ones. Students should brainstorm to plan their design strategies. Remind them to work within class-determined constraints. Student results can include research about yeast growth, experimental design, or actual physical chambers. Keep students focused by using prompts such as the following:

         A growth chamber can be designed to sustain optimal warmth for yeast growth by….

         Temperature increase might be controlled if we….

         The carbon dioxide produced by the yeast would need to be…..

         The actions necessary for sustainable temperature would require the housing to be able to….

         In constructing a chamber for yeast, we should consider the yeast cell life requirements of….

         To ensure the integrity of the structural material, we should consider….

         To conduct the investigation safely, we will….

 

Focused Approach(Copy Master pages 10)

The following exemplifies one way in which students might design a growth chamber for yeast. Again, remind students that “growth” refers to reproduction or increase in the number of individuals in the colony, which is necessary to obtain more of the valued “product.” Student results can include plans, drawings, and the building of the actual structure.

1.      Encourage students to think about how they can construct a growth chamber for an industrial microbe such as yeast. Give students free rein in determining which materials they plan to use as long as they can justify their choices. Remind students of the design constraints established in the Innovation and STEM: Take Action with Students section. Use questions such as the following to help students focus their design discussions.

         What constraints must we consider when designing our structure?

         What are the design variables?

         What insulation source could be used in a temperature-controlled chamber?

         How can we adjust for the continued increase in temperature from a heat source?

         What materials might work best for the structure itself?

         How can we determine which materials work best for the growth chamber?

 

                                                                                                 (page 4)

 

2.      Encourage students to discuss their answers and then brainstorm a list of possible solutions before settling on one they will try. Some students might find that after an initial attempt at a solution, they might need to start over with another idea. Remind them of the constraints, if needed, using prompts such as the following to keep students focused:

         The environmental factor we are designing for is….

         The way we are going to measure our yeast growth rates is…

         The safety measures we are incorporating are….

3.      Students should determine a measure to assess the viability of their design. They might first create a prototype, such as a small balloon fitted over a test tube containing 1 gram yeast, 20 milliliters water, and a substrate, which will register a change in about an hour. Then they might use what they learned to devise a growth chamber that will fill a large balloon with gas over several hours. Students might find that temperature increases gradually over time in an insulated box, and they should consider how to keep the chamber at that optimum temperature for growth.

4.      Students might continue their investigation by adapting their design to optimize for two or more factors simultaneously.

 

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

As students carry out their investigations, ensure that they record their observations and measurements. Students should analyze their observations in order to state one or more claims. Encourage students with this prompt: As evidenced by… I claim… because….

 

An example claim might be:

As evidenced bythe large change in size of the our balloon, we claim that our growth chamber’s design provided a good temperature for yeast growth over a 24-hour time period because our temperature readings remained constant over several hours after we installed a thermostat to turn the light bulb on and off as needed.

 

                                                                                                 (page 5)

 

 

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 chambers to videos we found on the Internet of growth chambers being used to grow yeast. Our design was the same in that we had built structures for a similar result, yet we ran into problems with consistency and found we needed a thermostat, which corrected our issues.

 

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 in the past. Ask groups to give short presentations about their structures and any testing they did with those chambers. Encourage questions from the audience on each groups’ thinking process as well as their procedures and results. Encourage reflection, using prompts such as the following:

         My ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence….

         My ideas changed in the following ways….

         The quality of my structure would have been improved if I had paid more attention to....

         The best feature of my design was….

         Now that I know the results of this construction of a growth chamber, a similar engineered idea that I would like to explore is….

 

Inquiry Assessment

See the rubric included in the student Copy Masters on page 11.

 

 

Incorporate Video into Your Lesson Plan

 

Integrate Video in Instruction

Bellringer:  Play the video as students are getting settled. Have students respond to a prompt such as:  Research into biofuels is important because…. orFinding ways to produce biofuels from nonfood cellulose is important because…. Then use their ideas as a springboard into lessons on the environmental impact of human population growth.

 

Homework:  To support a discussion on the impact of microbes on the environment, have students glean information about the microbe in the video and its impact on the Chesapeake Bay environment. They might construct Chesapeake Bay food chains or food webs, or write a few descriptions of the economy of the area and the impact of S. degradans.

 

                                                                                                 (page 6)

 

Using the 5E Approach?

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

Explain:  Be sure students understand that a cell should be chosen for bioengineering because it already possesses some quality or qualities that make it valuable for additional changes to be made. To support a genetics unit, students might apply their understanding of the genome of an organism to the manipulation or use of genes identified for a particular purpose. Genetic engineering of foods and medicines has been done for decades. In much the same way, Hutcheson’s knowledge of the bacteria’s genome detailing multiple enzyme functions was instrumental in understanding how to generate biofuels with nonfood sources. You might help students make these relationships using a concept map like the following.

Elaborate:  The microbe in the video survives in colder salt water and does not require warm temperatures for optimum performance. It does, however, sense when a food source is available, and turns on its enzymes to feed on the substrate.  Once students have heard how the bacteria found their way into the marsh and fed on any/all substrates they contacted, there is a natural segue to a discussion of ecological food webs. You might have students map possible food webs using in a concept map like the following.

 

                                                                                                 (page 7)


Connect to … sTeM

Scientific Research:  Explain to students that often, many individuals and companies are exploring the same solutions to problems. The advent of commercial penicillin is one such effort. In the early 1940s, several companies were researching how to mass produce the drug. With America’s involvement in World War II, the need for penicillin became paramount. In these unusual circumstances, researchers and companies alike shared information, enabling the large-scale production of the drug before the invasion of France in 1944. Ask students to consider how today’s social environment impacts the research on biofuels. Students might conduct Internet research to identify factors that bolster research as well as stifle it. Students might begin their research using keywords such as issues, biofuels, ethical, and environmental.

 

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 8)

 


 

Copy Master: Open Choice Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Biofuels

Use this guide to investigate a question about how to model a growth chamber for large-scale production of a microbe. 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.

         A growth chamber can be designed to sustain optimal warmth for yeast growth by….

         Temperature increase might be controlled if we….

         The actions necessary for sustainable temperature would require the housing to be able to….

         In constructing a chamber for yeast, we should consider the yeast cell life requirements of….

         To ensure the integrity of the structural material, 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 among the different microbes you have read about on line for comparison.

 

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?

         My ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence….

         The quality of my structure would have been improved if I had paid more attention to....

         Now that I know the results of this construction of a growth chamber, a similar engineered idea that I would like to explore is….

                                                                                         (page 9)

 

COPY MASTER: Focused Inquiry Guide for Students

 

Science of Innovation: Biofuels

Use this guide to investigate a question about how to model a growth chamber for large-scale production of a microbe. Write your report in your science notebook.

 

Ask Beginning Questions

How can we best design a growth chamber for optimum yeast production?

 

Design Investigations

Brainstorm with your teammates about how to answer the question. Use these prompts to help you design your comparison.

         The environmental factor we are designing for is….

         The way we are going to measure our yeast growth is….

         The safety measures we are incorporating are….

 

Record Data and Observations

Organize your observations and data in a table or graph as appropriate. Sketch your design.

 

Make a Claim Backed by Evidence

Analyze your data and then make one or more claims based on the evidence shown by your research. 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 engineering end result or with those who found research using a different procedure, or talk with an expert on line. 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?

         My ideas have changed from the beginning of this lesson because of this evidence….

         My ideas changed in the following ways….

         The quality of my structure would have been improved if I had paid more attention to....

         Now that I know the results of this construction of a growth chamber, a similar engineered idea that I would like to explore is….

 

                                                                                                (page 10)


 

 

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 11)

 

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