Electrifying: Under NSF grant, Rowan Engineering explores how algae can improve the world

Electrifying: Under NSF grant, Rowan Engineering explores how algae can improve the world

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NSF funded project $300,000
Project teams Rowan with K-12 students
Rowan partners with the Center for Aquatic Sciences at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden

The National Science Foundation awarded Dr. Kauser Jahan, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University, a grant for $300,000 to implement projects demonstrating how algae can impact the future of the world and showing K-12 and college students how the humanities integrate with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The inspiration for the project came from the National Academy of Engineering’s list of Grand Challenges of the 21st century, a list of the greatest challenges engineers will have to focus on in the future.

Jahan’s program, “Algae Grows the Future,” is designed for her freshman engineering clinic. Students are assigned teams with designated “countries,” and for the semester it is the team’s job to research the country to find out how algae could be used to benefit the society. During the first part of the semester, students research the challenges the country faces, conducting a feasibility study for the use of algae. During the second part, the teams learn to grow algae and separate it from water.  They also conduct experiments on engineered applications of algae in materials, food, pharmaceuticals, fuels and carbon di-oxide sequestration.

“We want our students to be well rounded,” Jahan said, “by learning the engineering fundamentals with a relevant humanities component such as global and social injustices, ethics, diversity and inclusivity and gender biases in STEM.”

Jahan’s junior and senior clinic teams involved with the project develop hands-on activities to bring to local schools. The project was piloted at the Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Washington Township in the spring and received great reviews from the teacher and her class. The algae team will work to bring the project to the Glassboro High School’s STEM Academy, Rowan College at Burlington County and Rowan College at Gloucester County to teach students and engage them in STEM activities. The project uses hand-on activities and cyberlearning experiences through “Algae-City,” a virtual reality-based game, allowing students to explore the uses of algae and the principles of engineering.

The grant allows Rowan to partner with the Center for Aquatic Sciences at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden. The center has an algae center where Jahan’s team will create interactive activities for visitors to learn about the engineering behind algae.

This summer Jahan's students are developing experiments to generate electricity from algae, separation of algae into various constituents and the use of algae gel for making products.

The NSF grant is for three years, but Jahan says the project is well liked by her students and they will likely implement it in future clinic classes.