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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid