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RET Participant’s School Wins ‘Battle of the Brains’

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Visitors to Science City in Union Station will soon learn about energy by running in human-sized hamster wheels.

The idea for the exhibit came from juniors and seniors at Olathe North high school.  Their entry to the Burns and McDonnell Battle of the Brains competition landed them a first-place $50,000 award and the opportunity to turn their ideas into an actual, hands-on exhibit at the Kansas City-based science center.

“The exhibit is all about energy and partially inspired from what the kids got to see on their field trip to KU,” said Amy Johnston, one of the students’ teachers.

Earlier this fall, Johnston brought 30 of her students on a field trip to KU and its Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis to learn more about biofuel research.   Johnston was one of eight participants in the 2011 Research Experiences for Teachers program at the University of Kansas.  The summer program, also called RET:SHIFT, engages teachers in research about biofuels – from how they are made to how they burn in vehicles and impact the environment. 

Both the fieldtrip and Johnston’s participation in KU’s RET program have motivated Olathe North students to learn more about biofuels and energy.  Several seniors are currently working with KU faculty on research projects and many of the younger students are interested as well.

The battle-of-the-brains winning exhibit is set to open next summer.  By making energy fun for visitors of all ages, it might even fuel a passion for science and engineering in the brains of future generations.

“It is amazing and awesome,” said Johnston, “Our students get to build an exhibit at Science City and we start working on it in just a few weeks!”

--by Claudia Bode

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