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KNOXVILLE — Sam Jackson of the Southeastern Sun Grant Center is excited about the University of Tennessee’s interest in using a “weed” to transform the biofuel industry.

He plans to show how switchgrass is the forerunner of the biofuel industry at the weekly UT Science Forum on Oct. 5, in Thompson-Boling Arena Dining Room C-D from noon to 1 p.m.

While creating biofuel — specifically ethanol — from corn has become increasingly popular, Jackson said UT has been publishing research on switchgrass genetics for 25 years. More recently, they have teamed up with biofuels pioneer Mascoma Corp. to build a biorefinery to produce ethanol from switchgrass in Vonore, Tenn.

“Switchgrass is the way of the future, and UT is leading the charge,” said Jackson, who serves as a research associate in the Sun Grant Center, a federally funded bioenergy research center led by UT.

Jackson said that switchgrass is a good source of biofuel because it produces five to 10 units of useable resources for every one unit of plant product.

While it’s easier for corn to be turned into ethanol, switchgrass doesn’t threaten a human and livestock food supply, he said.

Jackson said switchgrass crops also help farmers and rural economies by producing fuel locally rather than relying on other countries for petroleum-based fuels.

“My degree is in forestry, and I wanted to do something that made a difference,” Jackson said. “This [research] is exciting.”

The UT Science Forum is a weekly discussion that is free and open to the public. Different science topics will be discussed with a question-and-answer session at the end of each 40-minute presentation. Guests are welcome to bring or purchase a lunch and eat during the talk. For more information, contact Mark Littmann, forum organizer, at or 974-8156.

Upcoming Science Forum topics include the following:

• “A New Approach to Curing Atrial Fibrillation,” Oct. 19, by Thomas Gaines, M.D., Cardiothoracic Surgeon, UT Medical Center.
• “Crossroads: The Role of Science and Engineering in Public Policy,” Oct. 26, by Jerry Paul, Distinguished Fellow on Energy Policy Howard Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy.
• “Private Rooms – A New Concept in Neonatal Intensive Care,” Nov. 2, by Kim Massey, R.N., Nurse Manager, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, UT Medical Center.
• “Making a Living in the American Southeast 10,000 Years Ago,” Nov. 9, by Kandi Hollenbach, Research Assistant Professor, Archaeological Research Laboratory.
• “Tracking the Movements of Ancient Humans by DNA,” Nov. 16, by Graciela Cabana, Assistant Professor of Anthropology.
• “A Nod to Tennessee’s Best: The Tennessee Governor’s Academy for Mathematics and Science,” Nov. 30, by Vena Long, Executive Director, Tennessee Governor’s Academy for Mathematics & Science.

Sam Jackson, research associate, Southeastern Sun Grant Center,

Jay Mayfield, media relations, (865-974-9409,

Mark Littmann, forum organizer, (865-974-8156,