Science of Innovation: fuel cell efficiency

Innovation rarely occurs in a vacuum, and this installment of the “Science of Innovation” video series emphasizes that. Neither scientist involved in the research highlighted would have succeeded as quickly without the knowledge and input of the other. Use the video to point out to students how seeking out help when a stumbling block presented itself turned out to be beneficial to both people involved.

Students might think collaboration is the same as teamwork or groupwork, yet many in business and education alike differentiate among them. Groupwork involves an exchange of ideas, but there’s no common outcome. Teamwork is often focused on some collective end product and several people with different kinds of expertise contribute to its execution. Collaboration may also be focused on a collective end product, but involves discussion and joint decision-making through consensus. While students have likely been working in teams, use the connected lesson plans to push them toward more collaboration—exchanging ideas, coming to consensus, and engineering designs.

Collaboration was key among the parties involved in the “Science of Innovation” video series—NBC Learn, USPTO, NSF, and NSTA. The series is available cost-free on,, and Use the link below to download the lesson plans in a format you can edit to customize for your situation. Then, let us know how you like them!

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Image of Navy “plebes” scaling a monument to remove a dixie-cup cover from the top and replace it with a Midshipman combination cover courtesy of Slagheap.


SOI: Fuel Cell Efficiency highlights Professors Reginald Farrow and Zafar Iqbal and their research efforts in cellular-level probes and biofuel cells to produce a fuel cell that is 100 times more efficient than existing fuel cells.

Lesson plans

Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding the efficiency of energy transformations. Both include strategies to support students in their own quest for answers and strategies for a more focused approach that helps all students participate in hands-on inquiry.

SOI: Fuel Cell Efficiency, A Science Perspective models how students might investigate how the amount of chemical energy in a food source affects the amount of work it can do.

SOI: Fuel Cell Efficiency, An Engineering Perspective describes how students might model a biofuel cell, using a food such as potato chips or cheese puffs as the fuel source, to heat water.

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