Grades 6-8

Poop Power

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

Everyone knows drinking water can’t come from filth. And electricity can’t safely mix with water.

Except when cross-curricular integration is making waves!

Fresh water shortages are a big deal.

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A team of researchers in Saudi Arabia (a thirsty place with deserts and salt water to spare) have devised a way to alleviate this problem. Oh, and generate ‘green’ electricity, too!

Here’s the simple version of how it works:

  • acquire some poopy water (i.e., filled with ‘organics’)
  • verify the organics include the right bacterial microbes
  • wait for the microbes to start digesting organics
  • assemble a microbial fuel cells (MFCs)
  • collect the electrons produced as a byproduct of digestion
  • use MFCs for electrodialysis to remove salt from sea water

From Toilet to Tap Water‘ is a <6-minute video (from the engaging series by Ph.Detours). It features Dr. Noura Shehab (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) explaining her research on how to use microbes to power sea water desalination.

Related Learning Activities:

  1. Create a flow chart, 3-D model, or other graphic representation to show the desalination process.
  2. Compose ~5 PR slogans or tweets to convince people that drinking water made from poop-eating microbes is a GREAT idea.
  3. Consider various versions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (options: 26-min video/full text; 3-minute recap; Iron Maiden song; traditional text). Add at least 1 verse to any format to explain when/how the characters may have used microbes to quench their thirst.
  4. Complete a world or national map with legend to show areas where fresh water is lacking.
  5. Dr. Shehab’s work desalinates ocean water. Research and debate whether or not the poop power option could be applied to clean fresh-but-filthy water for drinking. What is the trickiest part of this puzzle – getting enough microbes? capturing the electricity? other?
Let's appreciate: Iron Maiden and Coleridge in one post - now that's some kind of cross-curricular integration!
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