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Grant Supports Development of Green Energy Curriculum

February 1, 2018

Next fall, Rochester-area middle school students will have the chance to convert waste into biodiesel, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Renuka Manchanayakage, assistant professor of chemistry at St. John Fisher College.

Logo for Constellation, an Exelon Company.

Manchanayakage, in collaboration with Fisher undergraduate students, is developing a Waste-to-Energy (W2E) education unit for the middle school students through the support of Constellation, an Exelon Company’s E2 Energy to Educate grant program. A highly competitive, national grant program, Fisher was one of only 18 grants awarded in 2017; the grant was obtained in collaboration with Fisher’s Office of Sponsored Research. The $25,000 grant will fund the development of three educational outreach efforts, touching middle school students from across Monroe County, as well as undergraduate students at Fisher.

Over the course of the spring 2018 semester, Manchanayakage will work with students in her Green Chemistry course to design initial concepts for the projects. The undergraduates will test their own original ideas for converting waste to energy, and share their research findings at the spring Symposium for Research and Creative Work at St. John Fisher College. Two students from the class will be selected to help Manchanayakage further develop and refine the middle school curricula throughout the summer.

Manchanayakage will also work closely with Mary Humphreys, a science teacher at Calkins Road Middle School, to ensure the unit aligns with New York State curriculum requirements.

The educational units will introduce the middle schoolers to concepts related to green energy and zero waste philosophy. And, using fryer oil, among other oils, the students will learn how biodiesel is made and study the properties of the renewable energy source.

Renuka Manchanayakage

Renuka Manchanayakage

“My research relates to sustainability and I’m always looking for educational opportunities because I believe these are concepts you need to teach when kids are little, so they can build on this mentality and be inspired to make better choices as it relates to the environment,” she said.

In addition to working with Pittsford, Manchanayakage will also partner with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to make the unit available to teachers across Monroe County. BOCES will maintain the kits, allowing them to be rented year-after-year.

Lastly, Manchanayakage will offer mini workshops on waste-to-energy to middle and high school students attending the Science Exploration Day, organized by the Central Western Section of the Science Teachers Association of New York State and held annually at Fisher each May.

“I’m hoping that access to hands-on learning about renewable energy concepts and experience in problem-solving today’s energy challenges may spark a greater interest in science and technology for students,” Manchanayakage said.