2015 Imagine Tomorrow Awards Ceremony at Washington State University on Saturday, May 30, 2015.
2015 Imagine Tomorrow Awards Ceremony at Washington State University on Saturday, May 30, 2015.

One of the goals for the NARA project is to enhance the bioenergy literacy of students, educators and the general public. NARA (through the USDA-NIFA) has supported the Imagine Tomorrow competition as a means to promote bioenergy literacy to high school students and educators.

On May 30th, 2015 , 425 high school students ( 44% female; 56% male) attended the Imagine Tomorrow competition at Washington State University. Imagine Tomorrow invites high school students to promote projects and ideas that relate to alternative energy development. It is a fun and rewarding competition, where students and schools receive cash awards for high-ranking projects.

Since 2012, NARA’s support allowed the competition to expand its reach to include Oregon, Idaho and Montana high school teams along with the Washington teams that traditionally participated. In addition, a new project category on biofuels was initiated to complement the other three categories of technology, design and behavior.

The biofuels challenge

Of the 121 teams competing, 19 entered the biofuel challenge category. Listed below are the four highest scoring projects in this category.

1st place: Recycling Waste Heat for Biohydrogen Generation

Tesla STEM High School; Redmond, WA.

This team measured the amount of hydrogen and ethanol produced from bacterial strains digesting varied feedstocks including wood. They also designed a system that converts the ethanol to hydrogen, which is used to charge fuel cells. The waste heat from the fuel cells is then recycled to enhance the bacteria digestion.

2nd place: The Biofuture: Aquaponics

Tesla STEM High School; Redmond, WA.

This team created and tested a small-scale aquaponics system used to generate electricity.

3rd place: Making Biofuels from Algae

Skyview High School, Vancouver, WA.

This team evaluated algae growth with varied fertilizers and compared algae harvesting methods. The algae oil produced from the treatments was evaluated for energy density.

4th place: Grape Pomace Biodiesel

Henry M. Jackson High School, Mill Creek, WA.

This team performed hydrolysis on grape pomace to extract fermentable sugars. Yeast growth rates and oil production were then measured when fed the fermentable sugars.

Tesla STEM High School in Redmond WA made an impressive mark on the competition. Eight teams (the maximum number of teams allowed to compete for a single school) participated. Six of these teams placed within the top four rankings for the four research categories. Although Tesla STEM High School has a modest student population (600 students), they had 23 teams compete for the eight available Imagine Tomorrow slots. At last year’s Imagine Tomorrow competition, Tesla STEM High School took home nearly $50,000 worth in cash and prizes.

“We take this event pretty seriously”, said Mike Town, a teacher at Tesla STEM High School. “The publicity following our success helped increase the number of students applying to the high school through the lottery and indicates that students and parents take notice”.

Assessing the impact of Imagine Tomorrow

The USDA-NIFA (through NARA) is funding studies to measure the level of bioenergy literacy exhibited at the Imagine Tomorrow competition and whether the event has an impact on students’ career choices.

Read Refinement of an Energy Literacy Rubric for Artifact Assessment and Application to the Imagine Tomorrow High School Energy Competition here.

A full understanding to how the Imagine Tomorrow experience affects student career choices will need a few more years of study, however, based on preliminary surveys, the experience has a positive influence.

NARA provides team mentoring

High school Imagine Tomorrow teams generally complete their science projects after school hours and are assisted by one or more high school educators. For many students and teachers, the time, financial requirements, and learning curve can be daunting. To provide team support, educators and graduate students affiliated with the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) and Facing the Future (both NARA affiliate organizations) provide workshops, webinars and on-going support to the teams. This involvement not only helps to increase the number of teams participating in the competition, but can also help raise the project and experience quality for the participating team. An additional benefit is that the workshops allows NARA scientists to interact directly with high school teachers providing an efficient transfer of primary science information to the classroom.

To learn more about how NARA’s education team interacts with high school teachers, read Teacher Professional Development for Energy Literacy: A Comparison of Two Approaches here.

Danica Hendrickson from Facing the Future reports to teachers at the 2015 Imagine Tomorrow Competition.
Danica Hendrickson from Facing the Future reports to teachers at the 2015 Imagine Tomorrow Competition.

During the competition, NARA members Karla Eitel and Danica Hendrikson gave a presentation titled “Teaching about Biofuels in the Pacific Northwest” to approximately 30 teachers from throughout ID, MT, OR and WA. This presentation highlighted the resources, like the Bioenergy Literacy Matrix and Fueling our Future, NARA makes available to educators and opportunities to integrate the NARA project into classroom curricula.