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October 6, 2009
By Jim Sloan
Youth across the state of Nevada will join hundreds of thousands of young people around the nation Wednesday (Oct. 7) to simultaneously create biofuel.
The 2009 4-H National Youth Science Day experiment, called Biofuel Blast, will teach youth how cellulose and sugars in plants – such as corn, switchgrass, sorghum and algae – can be converted into fuel and how alternative energies can be used in their own communities.
A group of 4-H youth from Washoe County and Carson City, with the help of Dr. Victor Vasquez of the University Chemical Engineering Department, will demonstrate the experiment for the public in the second floor rotunda of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. Other groups will perform the experiment in Carson City, Las Vegas and many other areas throughout the state.
“Engaging youth early in scientific exploration has been shown to spark a lasting interest in the sciences,” said University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Dean Karen Hinton. “Science can often seem intimidating to young people, but 4-H National Youth Science Day makes science fun, real, and accessible. Kids will learn about cutting edge technologies and then take the next step to lead by applying what they’ve learned in their very own community.”
Vasquez agreed it was important to get young people excited about science.
“It was important for us to show these youth how cool it is to develop these things,” Vasquez said. “The idea that we need to be more responsible with our environment is directly related to the use of energy.”
The National Youth Science Day is part of the 4-H organization’s goal of engaging 1 million new young people in science, engineering and technology programs by the year 2013. The One Million New Scientists, One Million New Ideas campaign seeks to battle a national shortage of youth pursuing science college majors and careers. This year more than 5 million youth nationally have taken part in 4H science, engineering and technology programs.
“It’s a fun way for kids to work with science and learn how we can apply it to our everyday lives,” said Reno 4-Her Sabrina Nelson, who participated in last year’s National Science Experiment, which examined how hydrogels can conserve water.
A Tufts University study found that youth who participate in 4-H are more likely to get better grades in school, to seek out science classes, to see themselves going to college, and to contribute positively in their communities. In addition, 4-H youth resist peer pressure and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Six million 4-H youth and 514,000 volunteers nationwide were involved in 4-H National Youth Science Day, 4-H officials estimated.
As part of the Cooperative Extension System within the nation’s 106 land-grant colleges and universities, 4-H has been educating youth in the sciences for more than 100 years. Land-grant colleges and universities have been deeply involved in biofuel research for some time.
Vasquez and his colleague Charles Coronella are researching how to convert leafy or woody biomass into fuel. Their work is part of a $4.6 million study by the nonprofit "Gas Technology Institute". The University associate professors have experimented with converting wood and agricultural residue such as corn stalks and leaves, rice straw and switchgrass to fuel. Researchers from the Desert Research Institute and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station are also researching various aspects of biofuel in Nevada. They hope one day to have a small processing plant built in Nevada to demonstrate how biomass can be converted to useful products.
4-H’s science curriculum is based on university research. Combined with new initiatives like 4-H National Youth Science Day, the program will arm youth with the necessary technical skills to help America maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace.
About 4-H National Youth Science Day
4-H National Youth Science Day takes place every year during National 4-H Week (Oct. 4-10). In 2008, 4-H National Youth Science Day kicked off its inaugural year by partnering with Steve Spangler to showcase Helpful Hydrogels – an experiment that uses scientific principles to teach youth across the nation about water conservation. Youth from every state in the nation tested the effectiveness of water-absorbing polymers in an easy-to-administer soil and water experiment followed by sharing their results online and engaging youth around the country in a dialogue about important environmental issues.
This year’s national science experiment – Biofuel Blast – was developed in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension and Wisconsin 4-H with support from John Deere and DuPont. For more information on 4-H National Youth Science Day, please visit HUwww.4-H.org/NYSDUH.