Research Experiences for Teachers

PI: Bala Subramaniam - KU

Science teachers from Kansas high schools have had the opportunity to conduct their own research with the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) at KU. The CEBC applied for Education and Diversity funding from Kansas NSF EPSCoR so they could step up their efforts to encourage high school science teachers to conduct research and be better prepared to help students with scientific research. Jeremy Way and Jo McCormick are two high school teachers who researched biodiesels and developed a teaching module called “What’s Green About Biodiesel?” They and the Education Program Coordinator at CEBC presented the module in November, 2007, to teachers at the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE) conference. With the help of the CEBC Education Program Coordinator, Claudia Bode, Jeremy Way and Jo McCormick gave a presentation on this inquiry-based curriculum module, which they developed as part of their Research Experiences for Teachers work. Jeremy Way and Jo McCormick explained the rationale for this module and also demonstrated inexpensive testing methods.

For six weeks in the summer of 2008, four high school teachers Carolyn Pearson, Alan Gleue, Steve Stultz, Jason Sutton created educational research materials with CEBC staff on the following research projects:  Shelf life and fuel properties of different biodiesel formulations; “nono-sized” titanium oxide; and Environmental effects of ionic liquids on snails.

Carolyn Pearson, physics teacher at Bonner Springs High School in Bonner Springs, KS, and Steve Stultz, biology teacher at J.C. Harmon High School in Kansas City, KS, worked with Susan Williams, KU professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, to study biodiesel formulations. They made biodiesel from different blends of soybean oil and coconut oil and tested their shelf-life and fuel properties. They found that coconut oil stabilizes the fuel and increases the shelf life but it also increases fuel viscosity, which negatively impact engine performance. They created related lesson plans, videos and online benchmark assessment tools. Jason Sutton, biology teacher at Gardner-Edgerton High School in Johnson County, KS, studied the environmental effects of a new class of chemicals called ionic liquids. While these chemicals do not evaporate and cause air pollution, little is known about how they will impact land and water resources. Aaron Scurto, KU assistant professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, helped Jason test the effects of ionic liquids on pond water snails. This work has been turned into an inexpensive and simple “ecotoxicology” lab activity for high school students.

To complement this lesson, Claudia Bode created a short educational video for TeacherTube and YouTube, called “Air Pollution Solution,” that explains ionic liquids with simple drawings.

Alan Gleue, a physics teacher at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, KS, focused on capturing sunlight with fruit-based dyes using Gratzel Solar Cells (dye-sensitized solar cells, or DSSCs). These “smoothie” solar cells are cheaper to make than standard solar cells, but not as effective. One of the key ingredients is titanium oxide. With help from Javier Guzman, KU assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, Gleue determined that the solar cells work best with “nano-sized” titanium oxide, tiny particles that are 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Gleue also created a website for his AP physics students to use that describes how to make these solar cells.

Gleue and Bode also collaborated to write a case study, called “Rated MPG for Confusion” (submitted to the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science). In the U.S., fuel efficiency is measured with a “miles per gallon” or MPG rating and this case study explores the common misunderstanding that every increase in MPG gives an equal decrease in the amount of gas consumed [Larrick and Soll, “The MPG Illusion,” Science 20 June 2008: 1593-1594]. “Rated MPG for Confusion” is a creative approach to helping students improve their basic science skills, such as unit-based calculations, plotting data, and analyzing graphs in the context of a relevant issue.

The standards-based resources are available online at: Some of the teachers involved in Research Experiences for Teachers followed up by bringing their students to KU, to visit the School of Engineering and the rest of the campus. The students learned about pursuing advanced degrees at KU and learned more about CEBC research activities.

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