Algae Academy comes to USM-LAC

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LEWISTON — Ike Levine is looking for Maine teachers to inspire algae appreciation — and hopefully the next generation of researchers and scientists.

Levine, a professor of natural and applied sciences at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College, is president of the national nonprofit Algae Foundation. He has planned the first Summer Science Institute at USM-LAC this summer.

It’s a weeklong intensive training, July 9-13, free to teachers and students.

The first half of the week involves teachers learning the curriculum to bring algae lessons to their classrooms in the fall. The second half of the week: teaching those lessons to a group of Maine kids, grades 5-10.

Teachers will be paid stipends and earn continuing education credits, which the institute will pay for, Levine said.

He’d like up to 25 teachers and so far has 11. He’d also like between 21 and 50 students and so far has two. 

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“Some of my former students are teachers now and I’ve said, ‘It’s time to give back, c’mon now,'” Levine said.

Three years ago, the Algae Foundation won a four-year, $2.1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to work on an algae-related curriculum for community colleges around the country. 

Levine said the federal government has committed close to $1 billion over the past 12 years studying micro-algae and seaweed for end uses such as biofeed and biofuel.

“By 2022, there’s going to be the need for 12,000 algae jobs,” he said.

How do those workers get their start? Enter, he hopes, the foundation’s Algae Academy to reach the younger generation.

After training teachers through videos online, the Algae Foundation sent out 48 classroom kits to teachers in California, Michigan and Ohio last fall, reaching about 5,000 students.

This year, the foundation will restock those 48 kits and hopes to train 100 more teachers, 25 of them in Maine through the summer institute.

“This is the first time the Algae Foundation is actually, physically, in person teaching the teachers,” Levine said. “Normally, we just do webinars and videos and emails, but we found that only to be about 70-75 percent effective. We thought we could push that to the high 90s if we trained the people in person, in advance, so when the kits came to them, they’d be fully cognizant of what was involved.”

Included in the kits are the materials for a weeklong, one- to two-hour-a-day lesson.

“They’re going to have to learn how to grow an algae, how to count the algae, how to do some graphing and analysis of growth rates,” Levine said.

It will also challenge students to find algae in their everyday lives: in toothpaste, ice cream, chocolate milk, other everyday household products.

“One of our sayings is, ‘Take a deep breath, thank the algae,'” Levine said. “Fifty percent of the oxygen that is made every single day on this Earth comes from algae. One out of every two oxygen molecules in the air is algae-based. If you want to know why shrimps are pink or salmon is pink, you’ve got to thank the algae. If you want to eat sushi, you’ve got to be eating algae. We’re going to try to demystify algae, make it fun.”

Teachers and students interested in applying before the July 2 deadline can reach Levine at ilevine@maine.edu.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

A sixth-grader measures algae to determine growth rates in May 2017 in Michigan during Algae Foundation programming. (Submitted photo)

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