April 22nd marks the 50th annual Earth Day! Around 20 million people celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 by organizing rallies and peaceful protests to educate Americans about the environmental concerns of the times. Today, Earth Day has evolved into an international celebration of green technology, clean energy and environmental policy reform.
As a science teacher, there are many ways to incorporate the principles of Earth Day into your classroom laboratory. Many biotechnology techniques have rapidly improved environmental monitoring in recent years. For example, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) has made it possible for scientists to quickly and easily test for biological contaminants in the water supply. Genetic engineering techniques have proven very important for bioremediation, as certain strains of microorganisms have been designed to degrade hydrocarbons present in the environment after oil spills.
Below are a few experiments that will allow you to link environmental awareness with Biotechnology. We think they’ll really inspire your students to explore the science and technology involved in environmental protection. Even better — many of these experiments can be done at home without the requirement for expensive equipment!
- How Clean is the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe?: In this experiment, students will learn about the microorganisms that exist in our environment. Microbes present in air and water samples will be isolated and cultured on nutrient agar plates. Students will identify differences in the isolated bacteria and characterize the appearance of individual colonies.
- Bioremediation by Oil Eating Bacteria: Oil spills cause devastation to the environment killing sea life, birds, and coastal plants. Spraying areas of contamination with oil-eating microbes accelerates the degradation of the oil. This process is known as bioremediation. In this open-ended experiment, students will grow a mixture of oil-eating bacteria and observe their effectiveness at degrading a variety of oils.
- Battling Bacteria: Ecosystem Dynamics in a Petri Dish: In this experiment students create their own microbial ecosystems and investigate the dynamics of competition and abiotic/biotic change on community composition. By using bacteria with short generation times students can observe, test, and collect their own data on key ecological phenomena in a week!
- How Clean is Clean? Testing the Effectiveness of Antibacterial Cleaners: Microbes, including bacteria, are living organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. In this lab, students will do two experiments to explore the properties of bacterial growth. First, they will determine a bacteria’s ability to resist the antibiotic ampicillin, then they will test different household cleaners to determine which is most effective at preventing bacterial growth.
- Invisible Footprints: Seeing Carbon Dioxide and Understanding Climate Change: What would happen if each person was in charge of their own personal atmosphere? In this colorful experiment, students actually are! Explore the global carbon cycle and climate change in a simple, positive, and intimate way. Ideal for the middle school classroom.