The winner of this year’s Intel Science Talent Search is 17-year-old Sara Volz, who built a biofuel lab under the lofted bed in her room to explore the potential for algae to become an economically viable fuel. The demanding high school research competition, which honors students with exceptional promise in math and science, awarded Volz with $100,000.
The teenager from Colorado Springs investigated artificial selection for its potential to increase algae oil yields. She established populations of algae cells with high oil content, which are essential for an economically feasible biofuel.
In the home lab under her loft bed, she grew algae in a medium containing the herbicide sethoxydim to kill algae cells with low levels of acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACCase), an enzyme crucial to lipid synthesis.
Her analysis of the remaining artificially selected algae cells revealed significant increases in lipid accumulation, and if these cells can be sustained, this process could be used to increase microalgae oil yields and make algae oil a viable option for sustainable, renewable fuel.