Tune in for algae TV

Is a team of researchers from the University of Arkansas developing an algae-to-butanol process the next big thing in reality TV? Let's hope so.
By May 27, 2011

How many of us thought we’d ever care so much about a family of handle-bar moustache sporting motorcycle gurus who dramatically produce American Choppers? Or, maybe for others of us it’s a group of fishermen in Alaska who have the deadliest job in the world, or even for others, it’s all about some “real” housewives. There’s no denying we care about the ins and outs of everyday life of other people, and now, a team of researchers from the University of Arkansas may have just made anyone in the algae industry’s dream come true.

Jamie Hestekin won the Innovator of the Year award for his early work with algae, and part of his reward is having a film crew following his team around in the labs at Fayetteville on their quest to make an algae-to-butanol farm ready device. Through PBS-based Planet Forward, his team will be filmed for a year. Hestekin explained that the students on his team are excited for the chance to be on camera doing what they are truly interested in, but for him, an award like this isn’t about the bright lights or recognition.

Think of it this way, before our favorite reality shows uncovered the tiny details of motorcycle making or catching king crabs on the Bering Sea, did any of us care, think or wonder about those worlds? (The answer is no for a high percentage of us). And, it’s no different for Jamie and his team, and in most cases, the rest of the science and research community. As Hestekin told me, he can write papers for journals and speak amongst his colleagues about his algae-to-butanol process, but a chance like this to get the word out on algae research is a great thing that will help educate, inform and let people into the world of algae.

Who knows if Hestekin will be making appearances on Lettermen or selling action figures, but we do know this: for people to see real people doing real research and getting real results in an industry where a lingering cynicism about the actual possibility of turning algae into our future energy source is constantly floating overhead, this reality show is worth watching and all of us should be tuned in.

For more on Hestekin’s research: