Cleveland Elementary Students Learn About Bioplastics

The Ohio City studio owner’s workshop coincided with the culmination of the class’ science unit on energy and renewable vs. nonrenewable resources.

“He came in and did a little lab to create their own biomaterials, or what he considers booger worms,” Scotta said. “They used sodium alginate, which is from brown seaweed that grows in cold-water regions.

“It binds and when it eventually dries, it forms a type of plastic strands, which could eventually turn into some kind of resource that we’re hopefully going to be able to use in the future as a biodegradable plastic.”

In the 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, the students added food coloring and braided the gel into friendship bracelets.

Maurer’s Ohio City design firm engages in all facets of architecture — from research and innovation in low-impact material technologies to design and fabrication, as well as building commissioning and net-zero retrofits.

He’s currently working with leading researchers at NASA and MIT to develop and promote new bio-materials, such as biodegradable plastics. This includes participating in the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

“We taught the kids this could be biodegradable plastics soon, which they knew we sorely needed,” Maurer said in a press release. “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 (International Space Station), so we’re getting closer,” he said.

Scotta said the students were interested in hearing how biodegradable plastics could actually contain living organisms.

“What they took away was a deeper understanding of how we can use our resources, take what we already have and improve upon it,” Scotta said. “We already have recyclable plastic, but it takes a really long time for it to be able to get into that recyclable stage. Biodegradable plastics will be the wave of the future.”

Naturally, the demonstration fit squarely into a STEM-related experience, with numerous third-graders expressing interest in pursuing a science-related career. Others were excited about the potential positive ramifications from biodegradable plastics.

“I felt like it was a cool experience and will help save our environment more than plastic,” third-grader Paige Shugrue said. “It’s more helpful because it is renewable.

“I thought it was really amazing, because I got to squirt out biodegradable plastic and, when it was dry, it felt like real plastic, but a little different. I would want to do it again in the future.”



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Gilles-Sweet Elementary School third-graders learn about biodegradable plastics

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