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From Pond Scum to Power

Melissa Salpietra, NOVA scienceNOW

This animated slideshow introduces biodiesel as a fuel alternative. With concern about the use of petroleum-based fuels at an all-time high, biodiesel is experiencing a popularity surge. And algae—otherwise known to some as pond scum— are grabbing headlines as the next potential biodiesel superstar. But how and why do algae make oil? And why do they make so much of it? In this audio slide show, U.C. Berkeley's Kris Niyogi describes the process and its potential.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Use along with your photosynthesis unit to create real-world relevance and increase student interest, then go to an activity on biodiesel.
  • There is a lot of jargon in the audio, so teachers may need to address this important new vocabulary.
  • Addresses what algae are and how they produce oil that can be used as a biofuel. Compares algae to land plants as a source for biodiesel.
  • This resource is partially a video and partially an interactive. It does a great job connecting the dots between photosynthesis and bio-fuels.
  • Could be used to introduce a unit on photosynthesis.

About the Science

  • Presents and animates each step in the process of turning algae into biofuel.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This activity is a great introduction to algal biofuels for the middle to high school levels. Dr. Niyogi who runs a research lab investigating very physiological effects of genetic algal mutations has been on PBS Nova describing a number of topics. This is appropriate for a biology course, without diving into the biochemistry details of photosynthesis, sugars to lipids production, and transesterification of the lipids to biodiesel. This resource would not be appropriate from a biochemistry point of view.

About the Pedagogy

  • Engaging animations divided into bite-size mini-videos break down the process of understanding in an effective way. Allows time between segments for students to ask or answer questions and reflect on what they've just seen before clicking on to the next segment.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Uses a variety of media images, animations, and video to educate how algae can be used to generate biodiesel.
  • Transcript is available, and user can go back and forth between slides.

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