Integrated Science Class Envisions a Sustainable World
During their unit on Ecology, students in Integrated Science are learning about the nation’s sustainability goals and the role of humans in preserving the planet. To deepen understanding of these concepts, the class toured the Eco-Machine and Morningstar Solar house at Penn State’s Sustainability Center.
The Eco-Machine filters waste water. The small-scale demo model is one of only three across the United States. The filtering process begins in a 3,000 gallon waste water tank. The water is pulled through the machine, passing through two closed biological filter tanks. Then, the water moves through three 1,000 gallon open-air tanks. Elephant ear plants grow hydroponically in these tanks, and biofilm on their roots plays an integral part of the filtration process. After passing through the open-air tanks, the water goes through a clarifying tank before being released into the wetland onto a pebbled surface beneath the machine, completing its journey by watering the lilies growing in the substrate.
There is a small pond of duckweed in the machine too that further utilizes the waste water. Duckweed, a highly invasive plant, entered the system totally by chance, but researchers discovered its filtration powers. It’s also packed with protein and can be eaten by animals and humans alike! After seeing the demo, students can imagine the potential for eco-machines in underdeveloped countries with no source of potable water. Not only are they useful, but they are lovely to be in as well. The Grier students really enjoyed the touch of summer on a cold winter day!
In the Morningstar solar house, students saw many ways of making sustainable homes. The house was created as part of a contest and now is used as a teaching tool on Penn State’s University Park campus. There is a community garden that is open to the public in the summer.
The house runs on solar power but also sports a small wind turbine. A few of the home’s sustainable features include: locally sourced stone floors and exterior steel siding, highly efficient appliances, an ingenious milk bottle system that indirectly warms the house through radiation, sky lights, large double pane windows, a rain barrel, compost bins, gardens, and a solar powered car.
One of the students commented that she has solar panels on her home in Mexico and they were all filled with ideas about how to live more sustainable lives.