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.

TEXT SIZE - +
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 Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid