The Green Revolution in the classroom – University of Copenhagen

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16 January 2017

The Green Revolution in the classroom


Production of food, medicine and alternative forms of energy is and will be a global challenge. Biotechnological tools have the potential to make our society greener and more sustainable. This is a topic that very much interests schoolchildren. Therefore, Kristian Ejlsted, student helper at Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, has put together an education programme with focus on algae and their many remarkable biotechnological properties.

Original text in Danish written by Natasja Lykke Corfixen.
Translation to English by Lene Rasmussen.

Biotech Academy at Technical University of Denmark is run by students from a number of Danish universities, including University of Copenhagen. They are bringing research topics of current interest into the classroom via a web-based platform. The teaching materials are freely available and they are developed by the university students themselves in collaboration with relevant research institutions and companies.

The education programme The Green Revolution (Den Grønne Revolution) has been developed by Kristian Ejlsted. It focuses on how algae can be used as a superorganism to solve some of the challenges our society is facing. Kristian Ejlsted is studying biotechnology and is furthermore working as a laboratory assistant in the Section for Molecular Plant Biology at Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen. We have talked to him about the teaching material he has developed:

How was the education programme put together?
”I wanted to design an education programme about the use of algae in biotechnology. The Lundbeck Foundation was willing to support the project. So I visited leading researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Roskilde University, Technical University of Denmark and in industry. Through this I learned about the use of algae and the project includes many different applications such as the production of bioethanol, water fleas as fish feed, hydrogen for production of electricity, sewage purification, and the production of enzymes that can for example be used in the treatment of cancer.”

”I have been so fortunate, that Poul Erik Jensen and Agnieszka Janina Zygadlo Nielsen from Copenhagen Plant Science Centre at Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences have helped to develop an experiment about photosynthesis and supported it financially. The experiment has become a complete package with instructions for carrying out the experiment as well as algae and other materials that I can send out to primary schools and high schools free of charge. The exercise gives students the chance to examine photosynthesis and respiration. All of the teaching materials are freely available online.”

What reactions have you gotten from the pupils you have taught?
The students find it highly entertaining to be allowed to make small pellets made of algae enclosed in alginate. The pellets are put into a liquid with a pH indicator that changes colour if the algae are making photosynthesis or respiration. The students find the visual part of the experiment fascinating. It allows them to observe photosynthesis in action. They have learnt a lot from this experiment and the teachers are also enthusiastic about it since it is fairly easy to make, also for the lower school classes.

Why are precisely algae an interesting topic to involve school children in?
“Photosynthesis can be used both to synthesize interesting substances and to produce green energy, and in a lot of respects it can help save the world. Algae are easy to connect with green and sustainable production. That is why this area is interesting for the children and young people. Even though the teaching material has been simplified, the material still contains brand new research and it’s relatively easy to understand what algae can do compared to other microorganisms.

Did you also get anything out of developing the project and teaching?
“It has been cool to get the opportunity to teach and to talk with the students and thereby inspire them. I had among other things a really fun and inspiring experience after one of my presentations when I helped a student find an internship within the plant world. The education programme gives me the chance to inspire young people who did not previously have an interest in biology but at the same time it enhances the interest among those who are already fascinated by the topic.”

”I have also been reminded how it was to be in school and thus been able to find the best way of communicating the material to the young people. Exactly this is somewhat of a forgotten art form that well-educated researchers can easily forget. It has therefore been great to be able to play with communication and to turn a difficult subject into something that everybody can understand. And it has been very rewarding to be project developer! I have built up a large network within the field and I have only been met by scientists who thought it was exciting to be part of the project,” concludes Kristian Ejlsted.