Biology class create ‘hopeful innovations’

Paul Watson, Lamp Staff

Drones planting trees. Houses floating on water. Towers vacuuming smog. People eating drink containers.  

Even though this seems like a science fiction writer could have created these innovations, they exist today. Students in the Life in the Environment class researched and presented these subjects to their classmates this semester as hopeful innovations. 

“The hopeful innovations assignment is my way of exposing students to as many innovative ideas as I possibly can,” said Professor Becky Croteau, who has taught the class for three semesters.  “The ideas and products they present in class, and the people who invented them, are great role models for what all of us can do.” 

 “My favorite innovation is the editable water bubble,” said Lindsay Auxier, 18, an elementary education major. “It’s an alternative to using plastic for water bottles.”  

The water bubble is created from algae. The packaging can be eaten or will biodegrade in a few weeks. London-based Skipping Rocks Lab developed the edible material in 2013.  

Hannah Anderson, 20, an environmental science major, presented tree-planting drones as an hopeful innovation. DroneSeed, a Seattle-based companyspecializes in reforestation after wildfires. 

Anderson’s presentation reported drones can plant trees six times faster than humans, can begin reseeding within 30 days after a wildfire is extinguished, and can plant 80 acres in less than 8 hours.    

According to her presentation, tall shrubs replace up to 40 percent of the burned trees during natural reforestation. Using drones to replant forests solves the problem of shrubs replacing trees.  

“It is exciting that people are getting together to help solve problems,” Anderson said. 

Croteau agrees. “New ideas, new ways to address our problems, start with innovative individuals,” she said.  “The solutions come from people who look at a problem in a new way.”  

“When researching these innovations,” Auxier said, “you can learn about new inventions that can encourage you to be more eco-friendly and also it makes you more environmentally aware.” 

Among the other hopeful innovations presented was an air vacuum. Dutch Designer Daan Roosegaarde developed an approximately 23-foot tower that sucks in smog and expels clean air, using “patented positive ionization technology.” 

Another presentation described a 1000-square foot habitat called a WaterNest. The eco-friendly house is constructed of 98 percent recyclable material, with a solar-paneled roof, and designed to float on large calm water areas.  

“Life in The Environment is a non-majors, general education, biology course,” Croteau said.  “It introduces students to ecological and environmental concepts.  Environmental issues are emphasized and addressed by identifying sustainable courses of action.   

“Simply put, we explore the fact that everything is connected to everything else,” she stated.   

“Professor Croteau makes sure her students know that all hope isn’t lost and there are ways anyone can help,” Anderson said. “She also shows us that there are people all over the world working to help the planet.” 

“I had never taken a class like this before,” Auxier said. “Prior to this class I had no interest in the environment, and I had no idea how much humans impact it.” 

Unlike Auxier, Anderson took an environment class in high school, which awakened her interest in environmental science. She also said her chemistry and physics teacher inspired her interest in general science.  

Among the topics covered in Croteau’s class are water and land use, climate change and its consequences, alternative energy sources, urban ecosystems, feeding a growing population, and biodiversity and conservation strategies.  

Croteau said the class covers topics about which students are already worried, and she wants to ensure they understand the environmental challenges currently facing them. 

“I want them to know the truth,” Croteau said. “When we look at the issues from an international perspective, the truth is indeed frightening.   

“It is vitally important that we don’t let our fear freeze us,” she warns.  “All of us can still make a difference. More importantly, I want my students to feel empowered to embrace the changes needed and, perhaps, to be the agents of that change.” 

Because of this class, Anderson said she uses canvas shopping bags, re-usable water bottles, and less energy at home. Her home energy strategies also involve educating her parents and persuading them “to be more environmentally friendly. 

She admits she sometimes forgets to bring her reusable bags when shopping and using less energy at home sometimes requires wearing sweaters. 

Auxier is similarly affected.  

“My life has changed, now that I am more aware of our environment and how much humans impact it,” Auxier said. “I’m definitely trying to be more careful about my actions, because I do think that we have a beautiful planet, and I want it to be protected for future generations to enjoy.”  

She also said, “Professor Croteau inspires me because she’s so active in environmental issues and she truly cares about educating others about them.” 

Auxier is at the beginning of her post-secondary education. She plans to graduate Spring 2021 with an associate’s degree in elementary education, then transfer to a university to pursue a bachelor’s degree.  

Anderson plans to graduate in the spring with an associate’s in science, then transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.  

She hopes to start her environmental science career in Springfield, since environment-related jobs are available locally.  

Croteau is in her 13th year teaching full-time at LLCC. Her teaching career spans three decades. Some of the notable jobs she has had during her career as a biologist include working in water pollution control at the IEPA, researching climate change patterns of the past at the Illinois State Museum, serving as the Nature Conservancy’s Regional Steward for central Illinois, and being involved in numerous prairie and wetland restoration projects in Central Illinois.