Meet a next-generation scientist making the next generation of biofuel. 17-year-old Sara Volz invented a process that increases the amount of biofuel produced by algae to win this year’s Intel Science Talent Search. The Colorado Springs student claimed the $100,000 grand prize with her project, which uses artificial selection to pinpoint which organisms are churning out the most fuel. This new method not only helps to bring down the overall cost of algae biofuel, but it was developed primarily in her bedroom under a lofted bed!

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As dedicated a scientist as her adult colleagues, Sara Volz took to sleeping with the same light cycles that her algae required to grow. In a homemade lab under her loft bed, Volz grew algae in a medium containing the pesticide sethoxydim to kill the algae that produced low levels of acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACCase), an enzyme that is important in lipid synthesis. The remaining algae could produce substantial amounts of oil that could make the biofuel commercially viable in the future. Since algae requires little land mass and comparatively few inputs to sustain, the biofuel stands as a great renewable alternative to petroleum.

The Intel Science Talent Search included seven other finalists, among them young researchers who received a combined $1.25 million by the Intel Foundation for their efforts. Society for Science & the Public has held the competition since 1942. “Society for Science & the Public is proud to join Intel in congratulating Sara Volz for her scientific accomplishments,” said Elizabeth Marincola, president of the organization. “Sara’s work demonstrates how a young person who is fascinated by science, which she has been since a kindergarten science fair, can work with few sophisticated resources and have real impact on society.”

Sarah was selected from a pool of 1,712 high school seniors. Her investigations into algae have not only earned her a major distinction, but have contributed to efforts in curbing climate change through clean energy production.

+ Intel