The most ancient forms of life - bacteria - are exceptionally tiny organisms, yet they have contributed in big ways to our planet. Although long recognized for causing disease, microbes have had a tremendous impact on our survival, and now can help us solve some of our urgent energy problems. Unlike fossil fuels, the microbial production of biofuels represents a new source of energy that can be constantly renewed.

Speaker Bios


Dr.Michael Thelen

Michael Thelen is a biochemist at LLNL and is also on the scientific staff at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. As part of JBEI's Microbial Communities team, Michael investigates unique habitats to discover microbial functions that will aid biofuel development. Michael began his studies at Chabot College in Hayward before going on to the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his B.A. in Biochemistry. For his Ph.D. studies, he went abroad to Cambridge University in England, focusing on cellular development in plants. Now at LLNL for 18 years, Michael directs research emphasizing natural microbial activities that can lead to new technologies in bioenergy.



Dr.Rhona Stuart

Rhona Stuart is a marine microbiologist with a special interest in cyanobacteria, microbes that use sunlight to remove CO2 from the air, and in the dark generate H2 – a biofuel with great potential. For her B.S. degree, Rhona studied Ecology, Behavior and Evolution at the University of California at San Diego. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Marine Biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she did both laboratory and oceanographic research, investigating the unusual ability of cyanobacteria to cope with toxic metals. As a young scientist at LLNL, Rhona is part of a growing program that explores the promise of environmental microbes in bioenergy.



Ken Wedel

Earth Science Teacher
Tracy High School, Tracy Unified School District

Ken Wedel teaches Earth Science and Earth Science for English Language Learners at Tracy High School in Tracy, California. He developed the Earth Science program at Tracy High School, and has worked on curriculum mapping and curriculum alignment to the California State Standards for both high schools in Tracy. Ken has been involved with the Science Olympiad competition at the regional level for four years and enjoys advising the Tracy High School Team. Ken also works with Action Learning Systems creating California Earth Science Standards based benchmark tests. He has his Bachelor of Science Degree in Geology California State University, Stanislaus.



When not teaching, Ken's interests include black powder rifles, backpacking the Sierra Nevada Mountains and exploring national parks with his family (which includes convincing his 8 year old son and 11 year old daughter that rocks are cool).

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