MU Extension 4-H helps kids have a blast with biofuels

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Ayma Sims, left, and Kendra Sanders-Baskins are all smiles as their balloon finally fills with carbon dioxide. The pair added more water than the experiment called for and were afraid their balloon wouldn’t rise. “We learned that you should always follow instructions,” said Sanders-Baskins.

Credit: MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: National 4-H Experiment - KC

Noah Sisson, left, and Symone Griffin put a balloon over the bottle to collect carbon dioxide gas created from the fermentation.

Credit: MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: National 4-H Experiment KC

Andre Sims measures the circumference of the balloon as part of Biofuel Blast, the National 4-H Science Experiment.

Credit: MU Cooperative Media Group

Description: National 4-H Experiment - KC

Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Daniel Felder’s afterschool 4-H group at Johnson Elementary School in Kansas City usually works with robots, but recently the group took a break to learn about biofuels and participate in the National 4-H Science Experiment.

“The kids had the opportunity to learn how to create different types of energy sources through fermentation,” said Felder, a University of Missouri Extension 4-H youth program associate.

The students developed a hypothesis, or prediction, about what was going to happen during the experiment. Then they worked in groups to test that hypothesis. Three of the four groups combined water and yeast with sugar, corn syrup or wheat bran in a clear plastic bottle. The last group used no additives.

“We only added yeast. The yeast destroys the sugar in stuff,” said Sha’Maria Gay. “It had nothing to destroy.”

All four groups placed balloons on the mouths of their bottles. Gay’s group was the negative control. Its balloon did not inflate, while the other groups’ balloons filled with carbon dioxide produced when the yeast reacted with the sugars. Students recorded the growth of their balloons and other observations, such as the creation of ethanol as a byproduct.

“The idea was to get different stations to have different results because it’s not only about the experiment, it’s the collection of data,” Felder said. The students will graph their data and present it to the group.

The National 4-H Science Experiment is part of the 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology initiative, a campaign to encourage young people to attain science and technology skills that are in high demand.

Four other 4-H Afterschool sites in the Kansas City area completed the experiment.

“We see ourselves as partners with the schools,” said Bill Pabst, an MU Extension 4-H state youth specialist who helped lead a similar experiment on the MU campus in Columbia. “There’s not enough time in the classroom to learn all there is to know about science, so we have to take every opportunity to have kids think about science and do science in a fun way outside of the classroom.”

The 4-H Afterschool program in Kansas City is a partnership between the Hickman Mills School District, the Local Investment Commission (LINC) and MU Extension 4-H.