plastics

Assisstant professor Hal Alper examines equiptment being cleaned. The instruments were recently used in the process of creating biofuels from genetically modified yeast cells and sugar.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

UT scientists have developed an environmentally friendly alternative to biodiesel, using yeast and ordinary table sugar.

The oils can be used in numerous everyday products, including biodiesel, plastics and waxes, said Hal Alper, an assistant chemical engineering professor working on the research.

“[Alper’s] innovative work with undergraduate and graduate students [is] developing sustainable energy platforms through tools like metabolic engineering, synthetic biology and evolutionary strategies,” said Tom Truskett, professor and chairman of the chemical engineering department.

The team has used simple sugar to create a platform for use in petroleum-based products, Alper said. Through a fermentation process, chemically harvested yeast cells are rewired to increase oil production from 10 percent to 90 percent. This is the highest level of lipid concentration recorded so far, making the extraction of these oils an economical option for the first time.

Today, environmentally friendly biodiesel is mainly harvested from soybean oil. After nearly five years, Alper and his team of seven other researchers developed a process in which the yeast cells take on a similar composition and serve as a more viable option for fuel.

“Plant growth is much more slow and seasonal than microbial growth,” said Andrew Hill, a chemical engineering graduate student who worked for nearly two years on the project.

If found successful as a fuel source, the lipids could be produced in factories within the U.S., and maximization of the process on a large scale could potentially lessen foreign oil imports, Alper said. Despite the potential of the use of lipids in the biodiesel industry, Alper said there are many more avenues to explore.

“Our petroleum dependency is about more than just our liquid transportation fuels,” Alper said.

Alper said he hopes to discover new substitutes for table sugar in the yeast fermentation process. In the meantime, he is working to continue to beat his previous record of lipid concentration, and, since the publication of his study, already has.

While there has been no testing on the longevity or the exact economic benefit of the potential biofuel alternative, Alper and his team said they believe the environmental impact is significant.

“At the rate society is consuming these limited resources, we need a sustainable way to produce things like biofuels and plastics,” Hill said. “[This project] is just one aspect of what needs to be done.”

Cailun Booker, a senior advertising major and member of Zeta Sigma Chi sorority, leads a presentation on campus regarding the famed Matel doll and her position in a multicultural world. Booker’s talk focused on Barbie’s many cultural and ethnic identities and the consequences stemming from the toy’s evolution.

Photo Credit: Kelsey Shaw | Daily Texan Staff

Barbara Millicent Roberts, the original queen of the plastics, has only been around for 52 years. She has succeeded in more than 108 professions ranging from a surgeon, gold medal gymnast, astronaut, UNICEF diplomat and even a McDonalds employee. Roberts, more commonly known as Barbie, has definitely come a long way from her original catchphrase of “math is hard.”

Barbie to some is the ideal woman: She always has a great job, she has the perfect relationship with Ken, she has transformed into almost every ethnicity imaginable with a simple coat of skin tone-colored paint, and she is able to do all of those things while maintaining an estimated body mass index of 14.9 — pretty good for a 52 year old. Barbie has come far, but can she be considered a role model to young girls of all races?

Cailun Booker, vice president of Zeta Sigma Chi sorority hosted “Barbie and Multiculturalism” last night to a small group hoping to discuss diversity and the evolution of the Barbie franchise.

In 1980, Mattel released an around-the-world collection, showing that Barbie can not only have multiple jobs but can be multiple races. Mattel used the same facial structures, only changing skin tones and outfits to represent girls from all over the world. This practice proved to be very controversial. Mattel released minority dolls in hopes of giving minority girls a positive self-image.

“I’ve noticed the cultures they highlight have dwindled over the years and the ones they do continue to make are falling short,” Booker said. “In the future, if they are going to continue with these dolls they need to make more ethnically-distinct faces or people will start to catch on and business will fall by the wayside.”

Another thing that Booker said Mattel needs to keep in mind is Barbie’s physical features.

“Physically, Barbie is very unrealistic, if that is all girls have to look up to they will end up having body issues. Her body can affect psyche of young girls, who want to live up to her very unrealistic body type,” she said.

Over time, Barbie’s jobs have become more challenging: Rather than a nurse, she became a doctor, and rather than a flight attendant, Barbie became a pilot. The evolution of her occupations shows that women could be anything. In 2000, Mattel released President Barbie, making her the first female president.

So can Barbie be a role model? Her resume says yes, but does her failed attempts at being multicultural disqualify her?

“Physical aspect aside and just focusing on the life she has lived you can see the positive side of Barbie. She is making strides, she is doing jobs that other girls dream about having. She has done so much besides living in the dream house and being the cheerleader,” Booker said.