Gilles-Sweet third graders create bio-degradable materials of the future

gilles sweet steam lab

Miss Scotta’s third graders welcomed a special guest to the Gilles-Sweet STEAM lab on Thursday, January 29 as a culmination to their science unit on energy and renewable vs. non renewable resources.

The students participated in an engaging real life experience with Christopher Maurer, the founder and principal from RedHouse studio in Ohio City. His design firm engages in all facets of architecture, from research and innovation in low impact material technologies, to design and fabrication, to building commissioning and net-zero retrofits. They split their resources between architectural design, research, and humanitarianism. 

Mr. Maurer is working with leading researchers at NASA and MIT to develop and promote new bio-materials, such as biodegradable plastics.

During the science lab, students made their own bio-materials — or “booger worms” — with sodium alginate, a commonly used product extracted from brown seaweed that grows in cold water regions. It is soluble in cold and hot water with strong agitation and can thicken and bind. In presence of calcium, sodium alginate forms a gel without the need of heat. By squirting strands of the material through a syringe into a cross-linking solution of saltwater. They added food coloring for fun, and the materials can be braided into friendship bracelets. 

When the materials dry they form plastics – sheets of strands. The braids have decent tensile strength. 

“We taught the kids this could be biodegradable plastics soon, which they knew we sorely needed,” said Maurer. 

He also shared with the students that someday in the near future, they may see this technology on the moon. “Our BioHAB is a project with NASA to make self-assembling off-planet structures using delivered living organisms in folded bags and in situ resources. We’re in between Phase I and II in the NIAC program, but we’ll shoot for the moon within the decade if all goes well! We already have some materials in space at the ISS, so we’re getting closer.”

Miss Scotta added, “This real-life experience was an engaging and meaningful culmination to our energy unit. It provided insight into our future and what students can continue to strive for in their future careers and aspirations. Students were captivated and said many times that “science is the best thing ever!” 



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