Iowa State’s Bioreactors Inspire Science Curriculum

A new curriculum, “From Here to There with Woodchip Bioreactors” brings Iowa State University’s water quality research and engineering into seventh- through 12th-grade classrooms.

The curriculum outlines activities to create lab-sized mini-bioreactors and introduce students to scientific methods as they monitor water quality flowing into and out of the cells, which are filled with woodchips or other materials to support denitrifying microbial activity.

Exercises also teach math and statistics for charting and comparing results. Lab-based lessons complement other activities, such as analysis of current news about water quality and development of presentations that scientists need to give in their careers.

The curriculum was developed by Michelle Soupir, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, working with Eric Hall of Hallscience, an educational consultant from Ankeny, Iowa. Funding was provided by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University.

“I got the idea when Dr. Soupir was guest lecturing about bioreactors for a middle school science teacher workshop at Iowa State through the Bioeconomy Institute,” said Hall. “Teachers really embraced this as a model for the cycling of matter, a concept we teach in K-12 science classes, though usually focusing on the carbon or water cycles. Using this real-life example provided a number of lessons that align with current science education standards, such as designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating about the results.”

The curriculum is free for teachers to download at OER Commons, an open-source educational resource. Teachers from Des Moines and Gilbert have already used the curriculum and reported that it enhanced application of the content and improved student learning.

“This is the kind of positive opportunity that can come of partnerships between K-12 teachers and Iowa State faculty, which can invigorate teaching and improve student experiences,” said Hall. 


Michelle Soupir, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, 515-294-2307,
Eric Hall, Hallscience,
Ann Y. Robinson, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service, 515-294-3066,