Why Algae?

When students first entered the classroom this semester, they were greeted by this sight:  
 
 
Needless to say, there were some questions asked.  The 10-gallon tank in the background holds the stock algae that we will be using for our “algae” experiments over the course of this class. (Special thanks to Dr. Belinda Sturm, Environmental Engineering professor at KU for the algae).
 
Inside the tank are two types of microalgae: Ankistrodesmus and Chlorella. My students have asked, “Why algae?” enough that Miranda Gray, plant pathologist at Kansas State University, developed a module on model organisms (doc and ppt). From this module, my students were able to come up with the following reasons to use algae when studying Environmental Science:
  1. Algae are prevalent in basically all ecosystems on Earth
  2. It is easy to tell when the algae have grown (Built in color indicator!)
  3. Very small size makes it easy to use in a HS classroom.  Replicating trials is easier also!
  4. Algae are cheap (free if you acquire it from a natural source), and hardy. [Something I have learned: It is always good to use an organism that is difficult to kill when dealing with HS scientists].
  5. Algae = Plant = Producer.  Since producers occupy the “lowest” trophic level in any given ecosystem, it is easier to make predictions about the impact on the other members of the community.
  6. Algae = Plant = No permission is necessary from an ethics board to experiment on algae.

Throughout the course of the semester, my students will be designing and implementing experimental treatments that will aim to test how algal growth responds to a number of factors, including:

  • Changing climate conditions
  • Acid deposition
  • Fertilizer run-off/Eutrophication
  • Invasive Species
  • Population dynamics (addition of primary and secondary consumers)
  • Oil spills and other point pollutants

If you have any questions, comments, or desire to collaborate with my students please email me at andrewising@usd475.org

***This post appears on our class’s blog, along with a few experiments.  We are currently analyzing the data from our climate experiments, and I will post the experimental protocols/data/conclusions soon.  Follow @Mr_Ising to know about any new updates first.***