Going green excites students—especially those who can use science to explore ways to keep the planet healthy.
With the help of a new $1.6 million grant from HHMI, Craig Ogilvie, a physics professor at Iowa State University (ISU), hopes to ignite students’ passion for science by giving them a chance to apply their skills to today’s scientific challenges and environmental problems. ISU will revamp its introductory lab courses and develop a new interdisciplinary class on science and sustainability so that sophomores can experience firsthand how science can help solve complex and socially important problems.
“Many of our science students feel like they have to go through three or four years of courses before they can practice being a scientist and experience the joy of asking a question and using scientific methods to find an answer,” says Ogilvie. “If you give students a choice to generate their own questions and the tools to answer them, they grow and do an outstanding job.”
All introductory science labs on campus will be transformed: rather than focusing on traditional cookbook exercises, students will design their own experiments, even in labs with 200–300 students enrolled each semester. Armed with new skills, students can move on to a course in which they will form project teams to design and conduct experiments related to environmental sustainability. For example, they may study the chemistry of turning organic matter into biofuels, determine the energy efficiency of recycling technologies or wind energy, or look at the impact of a warming climate on water resources in Iowa.
By giving students a chance to test their own ideas and experience how various disciplines—including chemistry, economics, and agriculture—can be used to address environmental concerns, Ogilvie and colleagues intend to excite the imagination of a new generation of problem solvers.