Sara Volz, a 17-year-old high school student from Colorado Springs, Colorado, won the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious high school science competition, for her experiments with algae as a biofuel.
Sara Volz won the Intel Science Talent Search with her experiments in biofuels. Credit: Intel Foundation.
Volz’s research explored a cost-effective way to create algae populations with higher-than-average fuel content, a key step in improving the economic feasibility of biofuel. She won a $100,000 award for her project. In order to be chosen as the recipient of the award, Volz had to be selected from among 1,700 applicants. The pool of applicants was then narrowed to 40 finalists who appeared before judges in Washington D.C.
Algae biofuels have been the focus of several recent research projects. Volz’s is the first to present an inexpensive process of incorporation. Volz filled her home lab with flasks of experimental algae cultures and introduced an herbicide that forced the cells to produce more oil or die. She called the process “artificial selection.” Volz began working on the project in her freshman year of high school. In order to facilitate the project, she adjusted her sleep schedule to keep the specimens on a schedule of 16 hours of light and eight hours of darkness per day.
The prize money and the additional scholarships Volz has won with her research will help her cover her tuition as an incoming freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next fall.
Volz studies algae samples in her home lab in Colorado Springs. Credit: Intel Foundation.