Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Winds of Change: Going Beyond Going Green

Powered by their imaginations, fueled by their desire to make the world a better place and energized by their collective talent, the winds of change are blowing through IMSA as community members do their part to make IMSA and the world a greener place for generations to come.

Students in the IMSA Energy Center learn to derive biofuels from algae, cooking oil, corn, soybeans, sugar cane and yams.
An IMSA student presents at the first IMSA Green Panel sponsored by the Student Committee for IMSA Advancement.

On any given day at IMSA, there is much evidence to prove that the community has moved from a state of green awareness to one of green activism.  And while many could point to recycling as the genesis of green activism at IMSA, it has since grown into an organic, environmentally-conscious campus with numerous, ongoing opportunities for staff and students to learn about global energy conservation and sustainability.  

‘Going Green’ at IMSA:  It’s Not Just Recycling

IMSA’s young environmentalists received such recognition when in 2008, the IMSA Lorax Environmental Club’s “IMSA Go Green” project was named one of only eight recipients of the Governor’s 2008 Green Youth Award for outstanding and innovative environmental activities.  The student members were honored for their green contributions at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

“These projects demonstrate the innovative ways young people throughout the state are working to protect Illinois’ environment,” said Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Doug Scott in a newsrelease.

The award, established by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 2002, honors youth environmental projects that will make a difference in their communities and our future.  IMSA’s award-winning projects involved implementing sustainable living in the residential halls and Academy buildings, promoting environmental awareness and increase contributions to the community.  

Examples of this included reforming and reorganizing the recycling program to better educate the IMSA community and increase recycling efficiencies, hosting a “Junkyard Wars” competition which challenged students to create a useful object or a work of art from recyclables.  Also, a “Clash of the Halls” competition showcased which residential halls at IMSA could save the most energy.

In addition to these award-winning projects, IMSA’s Lorax Club members also conducted an energy audit of IMSA and researched solar thermal energy as a way to heat water for the Academy.

IMSA English teacher and Lorax Club sponsor Audrey Wells said she is extremely proud of the students’ continued enthusiasm and outstanding contributions to making the Academy a model for other schools to follow.

“I love that these students take charge of their own community,” Wells said.  “They teach each other and build upon past efforts,” she added.  “The next step for Lorax?  They are reaching out to environmental clubs at other high schools and forming an alliance,” she said.  “Lorax definitely puts the ‘go’ in ‘IMSA Go Green.’ “

In the 2008-09 year, IMSA students were recognized nationally and internationally for their innovative solutions to real-world conservation and energy problems.

A team of IMSA students guided by IMSA faculty member Dr. Mark Carlson was one of only 16 teams nationwide and the only one from Illinois to receive a 2008-09 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant for a low-cost, durable water filtration system.  The project was recognized for its solution to the real-world problem of water sanitation in emerging countries.  For more information on the project and student team members, visit

In addition, several IMSA students received the ranking of “Regional Outstanding” in the 11th annual international High School Mathematical Contest in Modeling (HiMCM).  Their mathematical model showed the feasibility, effectiveness and costs of increasing carbon dioxide consumption in the U.S. to try to achieve national carbon “neutrality” with minimal economic and cultural impact.  For more information, visit

Energy Experts Inspire Students to Be Green

At IMSA, students have endless once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to discuss green issues with scientists, legislators, business leaders and others who have a stake in energy conservation and sustainability statewide and nationwide.

In February, five energy-conscious Illinois legislators discussed “going green’ at the first-ever IMSA Green Panel, featured in several Chicagoland newspapers.

During the event, sponsored by the Student Committee for IMSA Advancement (SCIA), students had the chance to learn firsthand from Illinois legislators who discussed their energy and environmental concerns for the state, in addition to the energy legislation they have sponsored to address these issues.

Illinois legislators who served as members of IMSA’s first Green Panel included:
State Senator Linda Holmes (Aurora); State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (Champaign); State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (Aurora); State Representative Elaine Nekritz (Des Plaines) and State Representative Dave Winters (Rockford).

IMSA President Dr. Max McGee said this first-ever event was particularly special because it provided a unique learning opportunity for students.

“IMSA’s young environmentalists are passionate about the issues of energy conservation and sustainability, but more important, they are testing solutions to these local and global issues through IMSA’s Energy Center and other initiatives on campus,” McGee said.  “By learning about the state’s environmental concerns firsthand from our legislators, they will be better able to focus on relevant issues and solutions.”

Also in February, IMSA students participated in the 9th Annual IMSA Hollister Lecture and Leadership Symposium, Ethics of Energy and the Environment, with keynote speaker Illinois EPA Director Doug Scott.  On that same day, students led  numerous breakout sessions on a number of energy-related topics including The Future of Cars, Engineering and Energy for the Future and Socioeconomic Status and Its Impact on the Environment.  

In November 2008, IMSA Board of Trustees member Dr. Luis Núñez, a consultant for BioTarget, presented Balancing Energy Demands and Environmental Concerns:  Fine Tuning Energy Diversity for an Industrialized Society.

A former chemist at Argonne National Laboratory, Dr. Núñez led research and development efforts there and also assisted the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with the development of a new nuclear reactor research and development program while on assignment as a staff scientist.

During his discussion with IMSA students, Dr. Núñez spoke about the development and current status of energy sources, technologies, consumption patterns, conservation and energy policies.   An emphasis of his discussion included the environmental effects of various choices made at each step of the energy cycle.

As future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, Núñez said it was valuable for IMSA students to learn about these issues from technological and socio-economical points of view.

“IMSA students can be responsible ambassadors and leaders in selection of the most energy efficient sources and practices, “ Núñez said.  “Furthermore, IMSA students can be the educators of local and global communities on energy and environmental issues,” he added.  

“IMSA students play a key role for the State and the nation’s wishes for a higher quality of life for its citizens,” Núñez said.  “For students pursuing the STEM fields, this will be the primary resource to impact our society and the globe.” He added.  “I guarantee that many of the key issues in the future will be based on the understanding of complex technology combined with serious global and social problems and IMSA students are ready to lead.”  

IMSA Community Embraces Green Initiatives

Whether it’s planting a rain garden, carpooling to work, or integrating energy issues in curriculum, IMSA community members serve as a role models for students.

IMSA Fine Arts teacher Clay Sewell received a $10,000 grant from BP’s A+ for Energy Program for his project, Firing Ceramic Kiln With Alternative Fuels.  His proposal was one of more than 1,400 applications submitted nationwide.  Evaluators said Clay’s project “represents an interesting integration of art, engineering and energy and provides a hands-on experience in research and development.”

This past summer, IMSA science faculty member Josie Wallmuth and Counselor Deb McGrath planted approximately 300 native plants for IMSA’s new rain garden, located in a wet, marshy area between the IMSA baseball field and the pond. The plants were generously donated by Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles.

IMSA staff members also participated in the IMSA Go Green Logo Contest and designed IMSA’s first official Go Green Logo.  In addition to being used in numerous IMSA publications, the logo is also provided as a desktop image and screensaver.

As a teaching and learning laboratory for imagination and inquiry, the passion, talent and inventiveness of students and staff will provide fertile ground to plant the seeds of a sustainable future for all for years to come.  

For more information contact