2010-11 Winners

The Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts and the Center for Integrative Studies are pleased to announce the recipients of “Magnus the Good” Awards for 2010. These awards, funded by an endowment established by friends of the St. Olaf Paracollege, seek to encourage undergraduate research in student-faculty collaborations, and to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of St. Olaf students and faculty. The selection committee made awards to two research teams.When Obesity is a Good Thing: The Study of Microalgae for the Production of Renewable Fuels

Ben Auch ’12 and Professor Gregory Muth (Chemistry)

The dwindling of natural energy resources, combined with growing concerns over the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on climate, are contributing to an increasing worldwide interest in the development of renewable energy resources derived from biological sources. Microalgae, that familiar green slime that appears on lakes and ponds during the summer, have been suggested as a potential source of oil for use in renewable fuels due, in part, to their rapid growth, low land use requirements and their ability to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere [1].  Under the correct growth conditions, microalgae can sequester carbon from atmospheric CO2 and store it in the form of fat droplets essentially becoming obese in the process.  These fat droplets, once isolated and processed can be used to make biodiesel, a renewable fuel that can be integrated into the existing transportation infrastructure with no modifications.  With microalgae, it is conceivable meet our current transportation demands for fuel while simultaneously reducing the atmospheric green house gas carbon dioxide.

For microalgae to be used a viable oil source for renewable fuels, exactly how CO2 is converted to fat within each algal cell must be completely understood and optimized under mass culture conditions.  The overall goal of our work is to elucidate the chemistry and biology governing these conversions.  We feel that this work is of interest not only to the renewable fuels industry but also to more general audiences ranging from those studying the genetics and biochemistry of metabolic pathways involved in fat accumulation to those interested in ecological principles.

Going Local: Spanish and English Language Use at St. Olaf

Andrea Ohles ’11 and Professor Maggie Broner (Spanish)

This interdisciplinary study in Spanish sociolinguistics will analyze the language used in social/work interactions between Spanish-speakers residing in the United States (a linguistic minority) and their English-speaking peers (the linguistic majority). Specifically, this research project seeks to investigate the interactions between Spanish-speaking staff of St. Olaf College and the larger campus community and find out how the two groups perceive each other and how each group believes they are perceived by the other group.  The proposed project aims to discover how a person’s native language influences his or her social standing at St. Olaf and whether linguistic stereotypes inform the way in which he or she is judged by members of other linguistic groups. The project will investigate linguistic attitudes at St. Olaf and find out how language diversity and language differences on our campus impact social interactions between the target groups. In light of the sizeable (and growing) population of Spanish-speakers in the community of Northfield as well as the large number of Spanish-speaking staff members on campus, this topic is of great relevance for St. Olaf as a campus community.