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Dave Samuels

Faculty, students host exhibit at national science festival

Faculty and graduate students in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine will present an interactive exhibit on “The Power of Microbes” at the second USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., from April 28-29.

Visitors can discover how microbes convert garbage and waste into renewable energy. Using simple tests, kids and adults can determine the level of microbial degradation of landfill garbage, examine microbes in a termite gut and use a fermenter and interactive computer program to see how agricultural waste is converted to biofuel.

“The exhibit shows the critical role for microbes in generating renewable energy from landfills and plant materials,” said Anna Karls, the associate professor of microbiology who spearheaded UGA’s participation at the inaugural festival in October 2010. “In this exhibit we show how the microbial degradation of trash generates electricity-producing methane, and the microbial flora of the termite gut can convert wood waste to car ethanol.”

The festival, which bills itself as “the largest celebration of science in the U.S.” features more than 3,000 exhibits and upwards of 100 stage shows designed to encourage youth to pursue careers in science and engineering. The university helped sponsor the first festival, which was attended by more than 500,000 visitors.

“The kids who came by our exhibit really loved looking at the termite guts,” said Ashley Bono, a microbiology graduate student. “It was fun expanding what they knew. Some of the littlest kids picked up on things really quickly. They were amazing.”

Other UGA attendees include Margie Lee, professor of population health in the veterinary medicine college; and microbiology graduate students Dave Samuels, Crystal Phillips, Claire Edwards and Matt Hawkins. Jennifer Burley, a seventh grade science teacher from Duluth Middle School, also will participate as part of the Research Experiences for Teachers program funded through a National Science Foundation grant.