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TIA: Tennessee Inventors Association in Knoxville Tenn and Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge and Knoxville, TN  

August 2011 Innovation in our High Schools

Meeting Date: 
August 20, 2011

The August meeting of the TIA featured Bob Gant, a science teacher at Morristown-Hamblen High School East. Bob discussed the Bioenergy Research Program at the high school. He also discussed how students are being motivated to innovate.

Bob Gant has a strong science background that is proving invaluable for his current career path. He has bachelor's degrees in Chemistry and Biology, a Masters and a Doctorate in Ecology. In order to teach at the high school level, Bob went back to school and obtained a Masters in Science Education. With this background, Bob has started the Bioenergy Research Program at Morristown-Hamblen High School East.

Morristown-Hamblen High School East has 1,400 students. About half of those students are identified as lower socio-economic. Through Bob's efforts he obtained through the Carl Perkins IV Career and Technical Education Grant a Biofuels Technology Grant in 2008 that provided funds to purchase equipment, material, and supplies to enhance biofuels research and development. The grant has enabled Bob to teach the high school students at an unprecedented level for the East Tennessee area.

The grand design of the program Bob is implementing includes lectures, a chemistry laboratory, original research projects, and application and testing. The lectures provide students with background information on renewable energy and biofuels. He teaches then techniques and procedures along with specific information on special topics. The laboratory portion allows Bob to teach the students about equipment operation, processes, experiment design, and data collection, analysis, and report preparation.

A unique aspect of Bob's program is that he has his students working on original research. Each student has a project of original research that is related to bioenergy. The students are excited about their research. Unlike many other high school classes that are viewed as being filled with drudgery, Bob's students look forward to working on these projects and often put in extra time.

In 2011 the students will work on several different original research projects. One project is the investigation of common duckweed (Lemna minor) as a potential source of bioethanol production. Another project is researching duckweed waste from bioethanol production as a potential high-protein feed resource for domestic fish. Another student is researching the applicability of biodiesel-based solvents for plastics recycling. One student is researching biodiesel-based paint remover. Another research project is investigating the activation of the hexose/amino acids transport chain in chlorella prothecoides for enhanced biomass production via mixotrophic/amphitrophic using alternative carbon sources.

The application and testing program adds a sense of real-world activity to the high school environment. The students test the biofuels they create in various engines donated to the school and purchased with grant money. The students learn first hand how effective their efforts were in making biofuels. Also, in cooperation with the vocational education group at the high school, a mini-car has been build and is used for performance testing of the biofuels. The mini-car is also used for parades and special events, which contributes to the esprit de corps of the students.

For the last several years Bob's students have participated in various science fairs. In 2011, two of Bob's students received the Third Place Award in Environmental Science at the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair. Students Michael J. Hulick and Andrew Howington received the Gary Lessman Award. Students Andrew Howington & Michael Hulick did very well with their project "Activation of the Hexose and Amino Acid Transport Systems in Clorella protothecoides (vulgaris) for Enhanced Biomass Production via Amphitropic (Mixotropic) Reaction Using Alternative Organic Carbon Sources." Students Nicholas Dearing and Ryan Herald and Chelsea Solomon were awarded fourth place and students Aleshia Rosenbalm and Shaela Workman were awarded fifth place.

At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2011, students Michael J. Hulick and Andrew Howington received a third place award for their project.

At the US Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition 2011, students Michael Hulick and Andrew Howington were the state winners in Tennessee for their project "Use of Brewery Wastewater to Increase Heterotrophic Algae Biomass Production."

Through Bob's efforts, students are excited about science.