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This 17-Year-Old Won A $100,000 Scholarship For Growing Algae Under Her Bed
March 20, 2013
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Photo: Intel Foundation

Coming up with an efficient, practical alternative to petroleum-based fuels is a problem that has some of the world's top scientists stumped.

But this 17-year-old just made a great contribution to the science.

Sara Volz is a high school student in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One of her hobbies, started way back in grade 7, is developing alternative fuels, and her latest experiment involves growing algae under her bed.

Volz's bedroom lab has won her recognition - and a big cash prize. She received a $100,000 scholarship from the Intel Science Talent Search.

"I was trying to use guided evolution, so artificial selection, to isolate populations of algae cells with abnormally high oil content," she told NBC News.

Photo: Intel Foundation

To achieve her "artificial selection," Volz uses a herbicide that kills all the algae that doesn't produce oil efficiently, leaving only the high oil producers alive.

She's had some success: the algae she's been cultivating produces a lot of oil, and it does so at a lower cost than the approach taken by other researchers. It's not commercially viable yet, but Volz's work could be a big step on the path to a workable biofuel.

And unlike corn-based fuels, algae doesn't run the risk of threatening the world's food supply.

In case you're wondering how a teenager can run an effective biofuel lab in the same place where she sleeps, it's not that easy.

In fact, Volz had to change her sleep schedule so she could turn the lights on and off at the right times to keep the algae growing.

Volz's love of science goes way beyond her work with biofuels. In addition to her personal project, she is the captain of her high school's Science Olympiad team and Science Bowl team.

And next year, Volz is going to MIT to study science. She says the scholarship money will cover most of her tuition fees.

Volz took home the top prize, but there were other winners at the event. In all, the winning students took home $630,000 in award money.

Check out the full list of winners. Some pretty incredible young people made the list.

Via Grist


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