News / Science & Technology

Colorado Teen Wins $100,000 for Oil-Oozing Algae

Child Scientist Breeds Algae Under Bed, Wins Prizei
X
March 15, 2013 8:53 PM
Intel-sponsored science competition has provided youth an outlet for ands-on research for more than 70 years.
Sara Volz describes her efforts to increase algae oil yields for use as an economical source of biofuel.
Suzanne Presto
Sara Volz of Colorado Springs, Colorado, accepted the top prize in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search: a $100,000 scholarship for her alternative-energy research.
 
But days before the Washington awards gala, the 17-year-old high school senior, along with 39 other finalists, shared her project with the public at the Intel science exhibition at the National Geographic Society.
 
That day, Volz's eye-catching accessory wasn't a first-place medal, but dangling earrings that spelled out "N-Er-Dy" using elements from the periodic table.
 
The teen describes her efforts to increase algae oil yields for use as an economical source of biofuel.
 
"I'm trying to use guided evolution, artificial selection, focusing on a population of algae and trying to make the algae evolve to produce more oil," Volze says. "So I'm using a chemical — it's actually an herbicide — that kills the algae if they don't produce enough oil."
 
The treated algae that survives, she explains, produces more oil and passes that trait on to their offspring.
 
An unlikely laboratory
 
Volz does most of her research beneath a loft bed at home.
 
"I've got my microscope and my centrifuge and all my flasks, and I sleep on my algae's 16-8 hour light-dark cycle because it's right under me," she says. "I have to keep the hazardous chemicals downstairs."
 
Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, says the science competition has provided an outlet for precisely this kind of hands-on research for more than 70 years.
 
"It's very rare that students have the opportunity to do more in a science class than memorize formulas and do some cookie-cutter experiments," Hawkins says.
 
From dry cleaning to noise pollution
 
Another competition finalist, Alexa Dantzler of Virginia, analyzes toxins that might be in your closet.
 
"I proved that after multiple cycles of dry cleaning — consecutive dry-cleaning cycles — the amount of perchloroethylene residues actually accumulate in this dry-cleaned clothing," Dantzler says, displaying a shirt with graphs that depict her results.
 
For finalist Chris Traver, it was loud trains that prompted scientific analysis of ambient noise pollution. He relied on fellow New Yorkers, armed with smartphones, to track noise levels in the surrounding community.
 
"Basically it's called citizen science, which is basically having the general public go out and record data," Traver says, adding that the technique also can be used to study air- or light-pollution.
 
The 40 teenage finalists, selected from more than 1,700 entrants, inspired U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to bring his own children to the exhibit.
 
"They've had this amazing exposure and opportunity to find their passion and to make a real difference, not just in our country but potentially across the globe," says Duncan.
 
Scientific breakthroughs
 
For Brittany Wenger of Florida, whose passions include research and medicine, it was computer science that placed here in the competition's top 10.
 
"I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer so it could determine whether breast masses are malignant or benign," Wenger said. "The reason I did this was to try to improve the diagnostic procedure so that it could be quicker, cheaper and less invasive for the women involved."
 
Success came only after she learned from her failed attempts.
 
"I was just over the moon, shocked," she says, describing the moment she realized that the computer was diagnosing the masses correctly. "It was really late at night, so my whole family was in bed, and I was just kind of sitting there bug-eyed. It was great."
 
Future Nobel Prize winners?
 
Vincent O'Leary of West Virginia, whose display includes photos of crawfish with radio transmitters attached to their claws with dental glue, studies habits of invasive crawfish that threaten the fishing industry.
 
"Ultimately this project is going to lead to ways to predict where they're moving next and create a kind of proactive method of control," says O'Leary, who wears a navy blue tie with a red crustacean print.   
 
There is no predicting just how far these young scientists will go in their fields, but, in the history of the competition, seven finalists have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

You May Like

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

What Happens When Americans Eat What They Tweet

You are what you tweet, according to new maps that show a correlation between obesity and tweeting about high-fat foods More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yvonne Taylor from: Indiana, USA
March 20, 2013 8:11 AM
I love it that the students are thinking on better ways for humanity. I am concerned however that in the case of the algae producing oil project- that she says "So I'm using a chemical — it's actually an herbicide — that kills the algae if they don't produce enough oil." I hope algae would be grown instead of using the oceans' algae if this ever came to use. If our oceans had herbicides dumped in I fear the consequences for everything in our oceans. Also using up the algae in the oceans would spell a disaster, our world depends on algae in our oceans for all living things.

by: Gustavo from: Venezuela
March 18, 2013 9:44 PM
Great for she!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs