[USA] Joel Bertelsen might never get to teach another high school engineering class like this year’s group at Chatfield High School.
Thanks to a National Design Challenge grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Bertelsen’s introduction to engineering class has been working to design an experiment regarding two different types of algae that will be sent up to the International Space Station in June. They’re calling their project “The Green Machine.”
Normally, Bertelsen has his students design several things throughout the year, going from project to project. This class has gotten hands-on experience in a real-world setting.
“It’s been very exciting, stressful and really interesting to see a project that is so completely dependent on the outcome,” said Bertelsen, who has taught physics and engineering at Chatfield for the past 21 years.
The class, which has 26 seniors, is broken up into groups to work on different aspects of the project. The plan is to send two different types of biofuel-producing algae into space to and see if they behave the same way they do on Earth.
One of the algae samples produces hydrogen, while the other stores lipids, or fats. Students are working on algae experiments, ways to observe the algae once they’re on the space station and to get the samples there in the proper conditions for the tests. The algae will go up in a small bioreactor with four cylinders to contain the algae, a small camera and lighting.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station will simply hook up the bioreactor and later repackage it to send back after 30 to 60 days.
“The whole year has been trying to figure out the engineering,” Bertelsen said. “Redesigns have been ever-present.”
Bertelsen first learned of the grants from Stan Kennedy at Oakman Aerospace in south Jefferson County. Bell Middle School in Golden and Centaurus High School in Lafayette also received grants. Oakman Aerospace has been a partner with the class, as has the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
“It’s been a really fun experience over the last year,” said Kennedy, the president at Oakman Aerospace. “I wish we had these types of systems when I was in school.”
Alexandra Dubini, a research scientist at NREL, also has been a contact for the class. Dubini specializes in hydrogen production and the goal is to learn if algae can grow and survive in space while still producing hydrogen, which could be used for fuel or in fuel cells.
She thought it was a good project to give high school students a better feel for what they would do if they choose a career in engineering.
The experiment is scheduled to launch from Florida on the SpaceX CRS-7 flight in mid-June. Bertelsen and some of the students are headed down to watch the launch.
Students in the class have seized the opportunity and say they have benefited from the experience of working on a project that has to be 100 percent correct.
“It’s completely different because we had to come up with everything by ourselves,” senior Trevor Schrepel said. “We didn’t have instructions to follow.”
Fellow senior Renee Grundfor said the class was a big inspiration to enter a science field in college. She said she was a little frustrated at first that there weren’t many opportunities for grades, but, in the long run, it’s been a worthwhile class.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into science, but then did this and thought, ‘I can do this,’ ” said Grundfor, who plans to study medicine.
Bertelsen added that the class has been eye-opening for him as a teacher since he’s seen some of his students take charge and really invest in the project. Some haven’t, but he realizes that would be true at any company with any job.
“They have risen to the occasion,” Bertelsen said. “One of the coolest thing is to see the leaders and those really committed come in and do things on their own.”
Photo: Algae is exposed to light in a lab at Chatfield High School in Ken-Caryl Ranch on May 5. Joel Bertelsen has worked for the past year with his intro to engineering students to design an experiment on algae that will go to the International Space Station in June. (Seth A. McConnell, YourHub)
View original article at: Chatfield High engineering students work on space station experiment