Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis

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Resources for High School Teachers from the RET:SHIFT program

Each summer, the University of Kansas Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) offers a 6-week summer research program for high school science teachers. The program is called “Shaping Inquiry from Feedstock to Tailpipe,” or SHIFT, and is funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition to research, participants also create new lesson materials, bringing scientific inquiry and engineering design back to their high school classroomstwo key practices of the Next Generation Science Standards.   Lesson materials created by this program are described below.

Growing Algae for Fuel

KU Professor shows Kansas teacher outdoor algae pondsNikki Burnett, Baldwin High School, Baldwin, KS, 2012
Mary Criss, Wichita North High School, Wichita, KS, 2010-12
Michael Hotz, Wyandotte High School, Kansas City, KS, 2010
Drew Ising, Junction City High School, Junction City, KS, 2011
Sharon McCue, Wichita Northeast Magnet High School, Wichita, KS, 2010
Shannon Ralph, Dodge City High School, Dodge City, KS, 2011-12
Scott Sharp, De Soto High School, De Soto, KS, 2011-12
Faculty Mentors - Val Smith, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Belinda Sturm, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering


Algal Awareness:  Identification of Common Algal Species in Kansas (pdf)

The Green Machine:  Making Algae Grow (pdf) - a step-by-step guide for setting up an algae growth chamber, or photobioreactor, and testing fertilizer effects.

Maximizing Algal Population Density (pdf) - an open-ended inquiry and engineering-based research project (Project guide; Rubric)

Top-Down Trophic Cascade Experiment:  Algae, Daphnia and Fish (pdf)

A Compilation of Daphnia Experiments (pdf)

Pond Scum or Energy Source: Part 1, Dry Baby Dry (pdf)

Pond Scum or Energy Source: Part 2, Calorimetry (pdf)


Converting Oils into Biodiesel

Kansas teacher discusses distillation with her studentsTroy Criss, Wichita Northeast Magnet High School, Wichita, KS, 2010
Jenny Gartner, Labette County High School, Altamont, KS, 2011-12
Amy Johnston, Olathe North High School, Olathe, KS, 2011-12
Jo McCormick, Washington High School, Kansas City, KS, 2010
Faculty Mentor - Susan Williams, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, Director for the KU Biodiesel Initiative, and Principal Investigator for the RET program



From Fryer to Fuel (pdf)
Biodiesel Reaction Worksheet (doc)
Biodiesel Weblinks (doc)
From Fryer to Fuel PowerPoint Presentatio (ppt)
Research Report Rubric (doc)
Make Biodiesel and 'Still' Use the Methanol (pdf) || Student Worksheet (pdf)
(key for worksheet available upon request, email
Refraction Action (pdf)

Renewable Energy and Biofuel Engine Performance

Remote control car adapted to run on biodieselGreg Bacon, Pratt Community College, Pratt, KS, 2011-12
Alan Gleue, Lawrence High School, Lawrence, KS, 2011-12
Todd Petersen, DeSoto High School, DeSoto, KS, 2012
Faculty Mentors - Christopher Depcik, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Edward Peltier, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering


A community college instructor and a high school physics teacher investigated how different biofuels combust in vehicles.  They also modified a remote control car to run on biofuel and analyzed pollution emissions from burning different fuels.  These teachers created the following lessons, which are described in detail on Gleue’s class website.

A Short Introduction to Thermodynamics
Creating Pressure Volume Diagrams with a Syringe and a Vacuum Gauge
Dirty Burn: Particulate Matter and Soot Collection
Light ‘em up:  Combustion of Fuels

In 2013, Gleue used KidWind kits to study wind energy. A detailed description of his research is posted on Gleue's website and shown in this video

Stirling Engines

Ecosystem Impacts

Steven Giambrone, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS, 2010
Lori Train, Topeka High School, Topeka, KS, 2010
Faculty Mentors - Sharon Billings, Associate Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, and Nathaniel Brunsell, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science


A community college biology teacher and a high school environmental science investigated ecosystem impacts from burning fuels – both fossil and renewable sources.  These teachers created the following lessons, which links biofuels to the growing environmental threat of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Tree Boring Isn’t Boring… But what’s it got to do with CO2? (doc)
The Breathing Earth: Investigating Carbon Flux in a Terrestrial Ecosystem (doc)
Assessment Questions (doc)
Global Warming PowerPoint Presentation (ppt)

Other Resources Related to Biofuels

  • Inquiry-Based Curriculum Module about Biodiesel:
    Teachers at CEBC's 2006 RET program developed a comprehensive, curriculum resource for high school science classes called "What's Green about Biodiesel?" (pdf)
  • As the “Cash for Clunkers” program comes to an end, our recent case study on gas mileage is a timely addition to your curriculum. This peer-reviewed case study is called, "Rated MPG for Confusion: Using Gas Mileage to teach graphing and data analysis skills" and was published on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. The case is delivered in four parts as described in the teaching notes.

    This case study follows a family’s dilemma about how to save money on gasoline. Should they keep their SUV and trade in their Corolla for a hybrid sedan? Going from 28 (Corolla) to 48 (Hybrid) miles per gallon (mpg) should really save money on gas. That’s a change of 20 mpg! Or, should they keep their Corolla and trade in their SUV for a minivan? The SUV gets about 13 mpg and the Minivan gets 17 mpg (a 4 mpg improvement). As they work through the case, students learn how to analyze fuel efficiency in terms of “gallons per miles” driven instead of miles per gallon (MPG), and gain graphing and data analysis skills. An extension activity also relates fuel efficiency to green house gas emissions. A homework assignment is also included that reinforces the graphing skills by considering a similar relationship (miles per hour).
  • Curricular activities related to Biodiesel:
    Carolyn Pearson, participant of the 2008 RET program, created a list of resources called, "What's Green about Biodiesel? Part II: Testing Different Biodiesel Blends (pdf)." This is a compilation of several engaging high school activities related to this timely topic.
  • Web-based assessment tools related to Biodiesel:
    Steve Stultz, participant of the 2008 RET program, created the following tools.
    Biodiesel Acid Number Testing (ppt) - Performance test for the "Energy" benchmark
    Biodiesel Shelf Life Experiment (pdf) - Performance test for the "Graphing" benchmark
  • Biofuel Basics YouTube Video:
     CEBC researchers are searching for novel ways to convert biomass into fuels and chemicals, without harming nature.
    The following video, called "Biomass? Maybe..." defines the term 'biomass' and how it might be used to make 'greener' fuels (aka biofuels). Watch the video to see how biofuels are different from fossil fuels (3 min 28 sec). (video)
  • Food-to-Fuel: KU Biodiesel Initiative: Biodiesel is a renewable and biodegradable fuel. A lab at KU is converting used canola oil from a campus restaurant into biofuel for campus buses. KU students and volunteers are involved in this endeavor under the guidance of Associate Professor Susan Williams. Learn more and watch videos showing how they do it.

Other Resources:

  • Fruit-based Solar Cells, by Alan Gleue, Lawrence High School physics teacher. 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 Dr. Javier Guzman, Alan 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.
  • Ecotoxicology Research on Ionic Liquids (pdf), by Jason Sutton, Gardner-Edgerton High School teacher. While ionic liquids do not evaporate and cause air pollution, little is known about how they will impact land and water resources.  Dr. Aaron Scurto 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. For more information, see this video on YouTube.

Learn More by Contacting:

Dr. Claudia Bode
Education Director
University of Kansas
(785) 864-1647

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