Biofuels in High School

AHope College, where undergraduate research is the norm, poster presentations are not unusual. Wandering into the Intro to Engineering Lab then, and finding students presenting research on Biofuels was not all that surprising. Talking with the students who understood the subtleties of their research and could speak with clarity about the context and stakes of the research wasn’t surprising either. Seeing professors taking a break from their research to learn more didn’t shock me either. What did get me, though, was that these weren’t Hope College students presenting. These were high schoolers here for just a week at one of the many ExploreHope Summer Science Camps offered in the summer. 

In their single week on campus, these students got to grow potential biofuels to measure yields, work with data from MSU’s Biofuel research facility, visit said facility all the way in Kalamazoo, and crunch numbers for their very own research presentation. After all of their meaningful experiences in science, I chatted with the students to see what they’d gotten out of their full week.

While all the students spoke of a real interest in the research and how real world it was, many found within themselves a passion for the gadgets which made the research possible, like drones and satellite imaging. The students spoke excitedly about the potential for drones and AI to change the world of farming (remember, these are high schoolers), even coming up with an AI robotic weeder in our short session. 

Perhaps the most exciting recognition by the students was that the grad students and PhD’s who roamed the fields at MSU’s lab were normal humans, just like themselves (though probably a bit older). Whether the students wanted to be the researchers or the one’s who made the research possible, this experience showed them what was in grasp. These camps give kids a real taste of a possible future. They give them a framework for a story they might one day tell about themselves. 

Whatever story these kids will end up telling about their experience, from talking with these kids, fun will be included. From barbeque sauce ice cream (some poor lady mistook it for chocolate syrup at MSU’s food court) to scavenger hunts in research fields, these kids had a fun, full week to remember.


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