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‘Algae Girl’ on Quest to Save the Planet

Did you know biofuel produced from algae, an abundant form of oceanic plant life, offers a promising solution to reduce fossil fuel dependence? Inspired to preserve the planet for future generations, Sara Volz, winner of the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), a program of Society for Science and the Public, increased the viability of algae biofuel to reduce reliance on oil and gas.

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Growing up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Sara Volz, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, developed a love of the outdoors and an interest in environmental issues at a young age. She was so driven by this passion for environmental science that, even though she didn’t have access to a school research program or a laboratory facility to conduct research, she built her own lab under her loft bed at home. There, she built shelves to house her collection of algae-filled flasks and added grow lights, microscopes, and other gadgetry to conduct experiments. Her goal: to find a sustainable energy source to break our dependence on fossil fuel. 

Algae biofuel

One potential solution has been the development of algae biofuel. Algae plants grow quickly and densely, and on non-arable land, which means the plants don’t take up space needed for food crops. The challenge has been to improve the oil production of algae to make it more viable as a biofuel source.

Over several years, Volz conducted research on algae as a potential biofuel source and presented her results in local science competitions, earning her the nickname “Algae Girl.” At these events, she had the opportunity to interact with judges who provided valuable feedback and guidance. Additionally, she had the opportunity to meet other young science enthusiasts like herself. Volz left these events inspired to return to her lab and push through challenges—an inevitable part of the scientific process—to find solutions.

Volz’s hard work paid off when she developed an artificial selection method to establish populations of algae cells with high oil content, taking us a step closer to an economically feasible biofuel. For her research, Volz was awarded first place and a $100,000 prize at the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search.

Learn more about developments in algae biofuel >

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