Alternative Energy Resources Reading Assignment

When I was teaching introductory college courses, I would assign a series of reading assignments to be completed during the semester (in the old days, this was called “writing across the curriculum” and sometimes caused ripples because some never thought that one could do so in a chemistry class, let alone a science class.)

This particular assignment was developed about twenty years ago, but I think that it is still viable today.


What are the advantages and disadvantages for each of the following processes with reference to power production? 

  1. List the major advantages and disadvantages for nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. Which of the two is currently in use in this country and where is it being used?
  2. List the major advantage and disadvantages for using solar energy in power production.
  3. Summarize the major advantages and disadvantages of the widespread use of wind power.
  4. Identify the major advantages and disadvantages of geothermal energy.
  5. What is a fuel cell? What are the advantages of fuel cells in terms of power production?

Based on your study and evaluation of the various alternative energy sources currently available, what are your conclusions about the options available to your generation?

Notes for the alternative energy resources reading assignment.

I first offered the following areas as topics for consideration in the teaching of science in In my blog post “Thoughts on the Nature of Teaching Science in the 21st Century.” 

  1. Energy – not only energy production today but energy sources (renewable and non-renewable) for tomorrow
  2. Global warming – if there was ever a topic that called for the public to have a knowledge of science and its role in society, it is global warming.  (“Earth’s Dashboard Is Flashing Red—Are Enough People Listening?)
  3. Environmental chemistry – how we view recycling and what can go into landfills and what cannot; this would also include acid rain. I might point out that there was an article in The Journal of Chemical Education some years ago in which the instructor posed the question about the cost of recycling. The essence of the problem was “what to do with some Co2+ solution that was left after an analytical problem. Should the solution be diluted to a safe level and disposed of by pouring down the drain or shipped off as liquid waste; should it be precipitated and shipped off to a landfill as solid waste; or should it be recycled and used again during the next semester. The calculations for this problem are typical calculations for an introductory chemistry course and one can set up the calculations to be dependent on the size of the class. The only information that an instructor would be need would be the cost of the original raw materials as well the cost of shipping liquid and solid wastes. And, from the numbers of times that I asked my students to do these calculations, it always appears that that recycling is the best solution. (“The Educational Case for Recycling”)
  4. The role of chemicals in our environment – I would include the issue of mercury and mercury compounds in the preservation of vaccines and what this may or may not do. I would also include the use of the word “organic” to mean pesticide and insecticide free produce (when all foods are organic in nature).
  5. The debate for free thought in the classroom – if I was a biologist, I might have entitled this the creation/evolution debate. But to me, this issue has several impacts besides biology; it goes to the issue of free thought and what our responsibilities as scientists and educators should be. It also speaks to how we, individually, believe.


I will be referencing this page in an upcoming post – “I Made a Mistake.”