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Develop Web-based Modules to Educate High-School Students in Studying Microbial Fuel Cell Dynamics

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2017 ASEE Mid Atlantic Section Spring Conference


Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland

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April 7, 2017

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April 7, 2017

End Date

April 8, 2017

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Peibo Guo Conestoga High School

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Kail Jialang Yuan


Zuyi Huang Villanova University

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Zuyi (Jacky) Huang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Villanova University. He teaches Chemical Process Control (for senior students) and Systems Biology (for graduate students) at Villanova. He is enthusiastic in applying innovative teaching methods in class to educate students with modeling and control skills. He was awarded Joseph J. Martin Award in 2016 ASEE annual conference. His research is focused on developing advanced modeling and systems analysis techniques to manipulate microbial biological systems for generating biofuels from wastewater and for combating biofilm-associated pathogens. His BESEL group developed the first model for microbial desalination cells and the first metabolic modeling approach for quantifying the biofilm formation of pathogens.

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USA high-school students are falling behind their peers from other countries such as Finland and Korea in their mathematical performance. Solving ordinary differential equations (ODEs) is especially challenging to USA high-school and college students. It is thus necessary to re-generate the momentum of inspiring or stimulating high-school students to participate in more math-related trainings or projects. In this work, we developed the first version of a web-based training approach to train high-school students modeling skills to simulate the dynamics of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) in MATLAB Simulink. Due to its capability of digesting organic compounds from waste water to generate electricity, the MFC is regarded as one of the most sustainable approaches to treat waste water and generate bioenergy at the same time. MATLAB Simulink provides a friendly platform on which students can build ODE models by linking functional blocks from the Simulink module library. This makes solving ODE models as interesting as building Lego projects. In this work, training handouts along with recorded videos were developed for two simpler ODE models, one describing the liquid level in a tank and the other quantifying the temperature in a continuous flow stirred-tank reactor (CSTR) where an exothermal reaction takes place. As part-time student researchers, high-school students watched the videos and reproduced the results shown in the videos within 3 weeks. They then independently built the MFC ODE model in MATLAB Simulink to quantify the profile of feeding substrate concentration in MFC, the density profiles of electrogenic and methanogenic bacteria, and the electrical current signals from MFC. The MFC model consists of four differential equations, four equality equations and 25 parameters. High-school students were able to finish the project within four weeks by working on the project on weekends. While high-school students generally finished the MFC project independently, the instructor provided two Skype meetings (totally one and a half hours) to check students’ programs and provide suggestive comments. A survey was given at the end of the project to evaluate the improvement students’ knowledge in MFC and gather what students like and dislike the web-based training approach. The survey results showed that: 1) it is possible to attract high-school students in STEM fields by providing interesting mini-projects that are related to their daily life (e.g., bioenergy production and waste water treatment); 2) the web-based training approach was effective in conveying the training materials; 3) Skype meetings were helpful but students preferred in-person meetings; 4) the web-based training approach offered flexibility in students’ schedule; 5) students’ knowledge in MFC and MATLAB Simulink had been significantly improved after the training; 6) after the training, students liked the research in STEM field and planned to find a STEM major for their college study.

Guo, P., & Yuan, K. J., & Huang, Z. (2017, April), Develop Web-based Modules to Educate High-School Students in Studying Microbial Fuel Cell Dynamics Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Mid Atlantic Section Spring Conference, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland.

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