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

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid