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Author

MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative

Grades

9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects

Science, Chemistry, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences, Engineering

Resource Types

  • Podcasts, 13 minutes, 52 seconds
  • Interactive Media
  • Activity - Classroom
  • Lesson Plans
  • Charts, Graphs, and Tables

Regional Focus

Global

Format

PDF

Fusion Energy and Climate Change

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Synopsis
  • In this lesson, students will listen to a podcast about fusion energy, participate in a kinesthetic fusion activity, take a virtual tour of the MIT Alcator C-Mod, read about energy usage in the United States, and research the impact that fusion energy could have on energy production.
Teaching Tips

Positives

  • The podcast features an interview with Dennis Whyte, the director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, who explains why fusion energy is so difficult to achieve.
  • The guide's wrap-up questions about the podcast will make students think critically about fusion.
  • Students will enjoy the fascinating 360° virtual tour of the Alcator C-Mod.

Additional Prerequisites

  • In the research resources section, the link to the International Atomic Energy Agency is broken.
  • Students should have a basic understanding of sub-atomic particles, atomic structure, and chemical reactions.

Differentiation

  • Science and engineering classes could use this lesson when teaching about atoms, energy, the Sun, and chemical reactions.
  • Social studies classes could debate the following statement: more money and time should be spent on trying to make fusion energy work. Students could consider the following questions as they prepare for the debate:
    • Why is fusion energy important?
    • How could fusion energy revolutionize the electricity and manufacturing industries?
    • If scientists can figure out a way to produce fusion energy, will it always be expensive?
    • Do we have time to wait for this solution or should it be a secondary priority?
  • English language arts or creative writing classes could write a science fiction short story set in a world where scientists have figured out a way to produce fusion energy. 
  • Other resources on this topic include this video on obstacles to producing fusion energy, this TED-Ed video on current and projected global energy needs, and this ClimateScience course on clean energy.
Scientist Notes
This resource includes a podcast in which an MIT expert is interviewed and describes the continuing efforts to produce energy using fusion, which is the same process by which our sun produces its energy. Fusion technology exists, but not at a scale that enables it to scale up and be used as a reliable source of energy production. Existing challenges and potential solutions are discussed. A transcript and educator's guide, along with additional resource links, are provided. This resource is recommended for teaching.
Standards
  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
    • ETS1: Engineering Design
      • HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
      • HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
    • PS1: Matter and Its Interactions
      • HS-PS1-4. Develop a model to illustrate that the release or absorption of energy from a chemical reaction system depends upon the changes in total bond energy.
      • HS-PS1-8. Develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.
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