Educational Outreach

creative discovery museum logo

The U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) has taken a novel approach to bioenergy education and outreach by targeting 4th-6th grades. BESC has developed lesson plans to educate and inform students about the basics of energy production and utilization. BESC has utilized a novel hub-and-spoke approach of working through regional science centers to maximize the direct hands-on access and adaptation to local conditions. These include basic concepts such as the carbon cycle, lignocellulosic biomass as a substrate for the production of biofuels, as well as technical and economic obstacles to a biobased fuel economy. Lessons were piloted in schools in Georgia and Tennessee and were made available to schools nationwide beginning in the spring of 2010. A series of Science Night programs offered to students and the general public through local schools, museums and community centers have reached nearly 175,000 thousand students, teachers, and parents in face-to-face interaction.

Child's thank-you note.

Classroom Resources and Distance-Learning Tools

BESC, in collaboration with the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, developed hands-on lesson plans for students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Farming for Fuel educates students about the carbon cycle, lignocellulosic biomass as a substrate for the production of biofuels and the technical and economic obstacles to a biobased fuel economy. These lessons include educational objectives such as measurement and graphing (of sugar content), microscopy (for plant and animal cell structure), and climate (the carbon cycle). These lessons can be executed by trained staff and volunteers within a school or at a Family Science Night event. A ‘kitchen science’ version of the lessons is posted on the BESC website for use by the general public or in any school, museum, or even home around the country.

In the past two years, BESC and CDM have continued the hands-on activities but emphasized the use of technology to increase their outreach.

    road trip challenge logo
  • Roadtrip Challenge app. This free educational game teaches strategies for wise energy use while driving cars. Students design their own cars and select types of fuel to travel between regional science centers. Six routes are now ready for download, with 3-4 more planned. Get the app. The game was prototyped and is now exhibited in interactive museum kiosks in Alabama, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington. The free app is available for download in the Apple App store under the educational category. The game incorporates lessons to explore fuel efficiency and fuel availability (e.g., electric and E85 cars) as well as the environmental impact of fuels.

  • CDM's Biofuels website, which launched in 2014, showcases the resources that have been created through the BESC-CDM partnership. They include enhanced curriculum and activities, website videoconferencing capabilities for museum and science center educator training sessions, and special presentations by BESC staff.

Distribution via Regional Biofuels Education Hubs

The BESC-CDM partnership, has broadened their scope—partnering with regional science centers and museums around the country to create biofuels hubs.

BESC and CDM provide equipment, supplies, and training to the staff at each regional science center hub. BESC also provides start-up support for 100 lessons at each hub for its first year and 50% support for 100 lessons in its second year. Eventually, the programs become self-sustaining and provide their own support.

At this time, 18 museums in 15 states are using the Farming for Fuels curriculum and activities. In 2015–2016, more than 50,000 students went through alternative energy/biofuels curriculum and hands-on distance learning activities. Pre-service teachers were taught about the science of bioenergy and biofuels and trained to teach the outreach lessons in the schools where they serve as student teachers. This approach, which features hands-on science outreaches instead of "show" type outreaches, has enabled BESC to steadily increase hands-on science contacts. It is a method of sharing best practices for science education and a model of STEM/STEAM-oriented activities for children and parents. It maintains the integrity of the initial lesson but, provides flexibility to participating science centers and museums to adapt to their individual markets. And, ultimately, it encourages interest in careers about science, engineering, and mathematics fields. Other museums have used this model for other grant applications to bring better science education methods to informal education centers. A more detailed description was published in Robinson, W. 2014. "Farming for Fuels," Dimensions, 16(2), 46-48.

Museums and Science Centers Involved with the Farming for Fuels Program

  • Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga, TN
  • Adventure Science Center, Nashville, TN
  • The MUSE, Knoxville, TN
  • Tellus Science Museum, Cartersville, GA
  • Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Dallas, TX
  • Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium, Fort Myers, FL
  • DuPage Children's Museum, Naperville, IL
  • Science Museum Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, OK
  • Leonardo's Discovery Warehouse & Adventure Quest, Enid, OK
  • Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, Tulsa, OK
  • Museum of the Great Plains, Lawton, OK
  • Discovery Center of Idaho/STEM Guru, Boise, ID
  • Thanksgiving Point, Lehi, UT
  • SpectrUM, Missoula, MT
  • Science Factory Children's Museum & Exploration Dome, Eugene, OR
  • LeMay America's Automobile Museum-Tacoma, WA
  • Explora-Albuquerque, NM
  • Exploreum-Mobile, AL
  • Exploration Place-Wichita, KS

Family Science Night Events

Family Science Nights are portable experimental work stations, which are presented as part of parent-teacher organization meetings, school open-house nights, gatherings at community centers, town libraries, and other local venues to inform the general public about biofuels and bioenergy. Two date, nearly 200 Science Nights were presented nationwide and have reached more than 65,000 students, parents and teachers.

family night candid family night candid museum education candid family night candid

Additional Resources

Visit our sister bioenergy science centers for additional education and outreach resources.

Contact Us

Janet Wespheling

Dr. Janet Westpheling (
Activity Lead for BESC Education and Outreach activities
Genetics Department, University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30622

Wayne Robinson

Dr. Wayne Robinson (
BESC Biofuels Coordinator
(423) 648-6066

BioEnergy Science Center one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy.