Using the SURE to build a Photobioreactor [Awesome sounding Science]

21 Sep

This is the third post from student’s in Prof. Miller’s Scientific Reasoning and Discovery course last year.  This team, made up of Rio Hart, Bryan Kane, Joseph Sipos, Megan Kavaras, and Naazneen Essabhoy, was  responsible for finding the best way to grow as much algae as possible in the most efficient way, while trying to discover the feasibility of even larger scale growth.

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Most undergraduate students aren’t given the opportunity to conduct research with a professor, let alone freshmen. However, through the UHP, with generous funding from the Sigelman Undergraduate Research Enhancement (SURE) award, we have been able to not only research bio-fuels (more specifically, the usage of algae as a bio-fuel), but conduct actual experiments to determine the feasibility of large-scale algal growth.

Algae!

Almost ready for your car.

Our team of five was one of three teams in Vitalgae, a start-up bio-fuels research initiative. Aptly named “Scale Up”, our mission was to grow as much algae (specifically Botryococcus braunii) as possible in the most efficient way. To do this, we conducted a series of experiments, each with a different variable changed (ex. light intensity, salinity, algae concentration, etc.). In order to complete these experiments, we required a growing environment and supplies, which is where the support from the SURE award plays a pivotal role.

Through our grant, we were able to purchase everything we needed to build two photobioreactors for our algae. While it might seem trivial to grow algae, we needed the ability to control every aspect of the growth cycle. Through the grant, we were able to purchase LED growth lights, growth flasks, algae cultures, various flocculants, and air control supplies, all of which were essential parts of our experimentation.

In the end, as demonstrated at our “algae open house”, we were able to present our findings of the most efficient algae growing process, the feasibility of even larger scale growth, and where we expect to go from here. It is our hope to continue our experiments under the guidance of our extremely supportive professor, Houston Miller, and with the continued support of the UHP.

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2 Responses to “Using the SURE to build a Photobioreactor [Awesome sounding Science]”

  1. Brandon Minor September 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    very, very cool, especially for such early undergraduate research. Hopefully it might become more than an experiment.

  2. John December 21, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    Great information related with photobioreactor.

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