Across many different scientific disciplines, motivated high school students have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to learn about a particular field of science outside an organized school curriculum (e.g. computer science, engineering, environmental science). Due to the comparatively small size and nascency of the alternative protein industry, there is a limited range of such resources available. In particular, there is a deficit in opportunities that allow high school students to apply knowledge beyond a theoretical setting. As a result, students lack opportunities to develop the technical knowledge needed to extend their own learning in advance of university. The limited exposure that high school students have to the industry could hinder the growth of the field and could pose a future risk of consumer rejection to the technology as it matures.
Throughout the summer, high school students who are interested in exploring or pursuing different academic fields often participate in related summer programs. The students develop and enhance their understanding of the field, apply their knowledge to relevant applications, and collaborate with similarly motivated peers to exchange ideas. The science of alternative proteins—either as a whole or specifically focused on cultivated, fermentation-derived, or plant-based proteins—could be taught as a fully autonomous summer program or as a module in an existing biology, food science, or tissue engineering course. It would be held at a university or a community lab space that has the physical equipment required to safely conduct practical experiments in areas such as cell culture, extrusion, and flavor chemistry. Such a course would also integrate a theoretical component through lectures that cover relevant scientific principles, the current research and commercialization challenges, and the current industry landscape. Pertinent segments of these lectures could be done by guest speakers who are well versed in that field, such as research students, startup CEOs, or nonprofit members.
A summer program that provides hands-on experience in alternative protein will help foster and develop existing interest among high school students and help them to develop a practical skill set. Doing experiments with the guidance of experienced course instructors may prevent the frustration that might deter a learner when pursuing the discipline individually. If the program were integrated into an existing program with a broader scope, it could attract the interest of more students who had not previously considered a career in alternative proteins. Students might be inspired to pursue alternative proteins from a number of angles, including research, business, policy, or nonprofit work. In the interest of truly democratizing the field, we should consider factors that influence who can access the program and take proactive steps to avoid unintentionally excluding students from less privileged backgrounds. Factors such as where the program is located, the cost, and to whom the program is marketed can heavily influence the backgrounds of the students who end up participating.
The Cellular Agriculture Course developed by the The Cellular Agriculture Course developed by the Kaplan Laboratory at Tufts University is a collection of course materials offered to undergraduates studying cellular agriculture. Columbia University’s Biomedical Engineering: Physical Effects on Cells is a summer program that exposes students to the technical background behind a variety of applications within biomedical engineering (e.g. medicine, physiology). A similar, condensed version of this program is the BIOMed Summer Academy at Drexel University.
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The alternative protein industry has a significant need for workers and innovators with specialized knowledge spanning multiple traditional disciplines. However, since few universities offer alternative protein majors or dedicated subject…
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