Interdepartmental cooperation has always been a hallmark of success for the University of Utah. Two examples of this type of collaboration are found in the partnerships between Utah FORGE, a geothermal energy research project, and the University of Utah’s College of Education and the Department of Communication, within the College of Humanities.
The research being conducted by Utah FORGE near the town of Milford, Utah, is focused on enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technologies. The project is testing the tools and technologies to develop a geothermal resource where none exists naturally. If successful, these methods can be applied virtually anywhere in the world, providing a clean, inexhaustible energy source.
Harnessing the potential of geothermal energy could provide a great boost to the nation’s energy portfolio. Indeed, scientists suggest if we can tap just 2% of the energy found between 2 and 6 miles below the Earth’s surface, we would have more than 2,000 times the energy used in the U.S. every year. It is literally the heat beneath our feet. However, most people don’t know much about geothermal energy, and it’s rarely included in discussions about renewable energy sources. Through these inter-departmental collaborations, the three groups are working to change that.
Building on the research Utah FORGE is conducting, the College of Education is creating lesson plans which include geothermal energy as part of topic discussions around renewable energy. Doctoral candidate Tamara Young from the Department of Physics & Astronomy and assistant professor Lauren Barth-Cohen from the Department of Educational Psychology are working on the lesson plans.
These plans are designed to incorporate the latest Utah science with engineering education (SEEd) standards and include hands-on and virtual heat conduction experiments, data interpretation segments and group discussion activities. The plans are intended for K-12 students as part of the overall science curriculum.
“This is a unique opportunity for the Urban Institute for Teacher Education (UITE) in the College of Education,” said Mary D. Burbank, assistant dean and director. “We consistently strive to advance the material taught in schools both in Utah and around the country. This collaboration with Utah FORGE allows us to introduce important new subject matter to students of all ages.”
Additionally, Utah FORGE is delighted to be working closely with Sara K. Yeo, Ph.D., in the university’s Department of Communication to better understand the current level of understanding and familiarity with geothermal energy. Utah FORGE is collaborating with Yeo on a capstone course that includes surveying individuals about their awareness, knowledge and opinions of geothermal energy.
The 15-20-minute survey includes questions seeking to ascertain the public’s general understanding of geothermal energy and EGS. Responses are being obtained from 1000 individuals in 11 states across the western U.S. The capstone course will be repeated during Fall Semester 2021 to allow for a longitudinal data set to be created.
“This is a unique opportunity for the students to put into practice the theories we discuss in class,” said Yeo. “With the collaboration of the Utah FORGE team, the students developed the questions and determined the scope of the survey.”
“We are so excited to be collaborating with our colleagues at the College of Education and with Dr. Yeo,” said Joseph Moore, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Utah FORGE project. “The College of Education’s long record of innovation is an amazing resource for us to help build overall understanding about Utah FORGE and geothermal energy in general, while our collaboration with Dr. Yeo provides us with a baseline from which we can judge the progress of our efforts to educate the public about geothermal energy and EGS,” Moore added.
The Utah FORGE project is being managed by the Energy & Geoscience Institute at the University of Utah. Funding for the project is being provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. It is one of the largest non-medical grants the University of Utah has ever received.
The University of Utah is no stranger to geothermal energy—it is purchasing 20 megawatts of geothermal electricity annually from Cyrq Energy, a geothermal developer actively working in Utah and Nevada. Additionally, the Gardner Commons Building is entirely powered by that geothermal energy located just beneath our feet. With nearly half of its energy needs being met by renewable sources, the University of Utah is ranked eighth in the Green Power Partnership Top 30 College & University rankings.