As the middle school students at The Renaissance International School wrap up their work on biodiversity and renewable energy and start the new year, they had one last treat in store for them: a trip to two different labs at UC Berkeley! We started our day in the laboratory of Professor Potts, where one of the graduate students, Matthew Luskin, spoke to us about his research. Matthew has been working in Indonesia to understand how it is that biodiversity - particularly as related to larger predators -  changes at the border between forest and palm oil plantations (as compared with the biodiversity of the pre-existing forest) for conservation purposes.

The students were fascinated to hear how he went about answering this question: he hiked into the forest for weeks at a time, setting up camera traps to record what animals were in the vicinity. Once the cameras were in place, he allowed them to collect data for months so that he could analyze the relative frequency of herbivores and predators. Although Matthew found that there was an increase in a certain species of pig near the edges of the forest, he did not find a corresponding increase in the presence of predators such as tigers.

We then went to visit the Energy Bioscience Institute (EBI), where we were warmly greeted by Shelley Brozenick. Shelley started off by giving us an overview of the work done at EBI, where researchers from different disciplines work together to explore the future in bioenergy.

MiddleSchoolPlants UCBerkeley

She explained the focus on creating biofuels using a cellulosic process (breaking down the cellulose in cell walls to sugar in order to form ethanol). This process, although more expensive and complicated that simply using corn to create biofuel, will require less land and can be done with a greater variety of plants, including parts of plants that have no other use at present.




Shelley then led us on a tour of this amazing facility, explaining that much of the layout was determined by consulting the researchers that now worked there.

As a result, the building not only houses the actual laboratories, but also informal community areas (complete with whiteboards) so that researchers working on different things can have greater contact, allowing new connections and solutions to be developed. It was a real treat to see such an amazing laboratory.