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Teenage Girl Explores Algae-Powered Biofuel, Wins Intel Science Talent Search

Innovation, from improving robot navigation to advancing treatment for breast cancer, is thriving today in the nation’s capital. Honoring high school seniors with exceptional promise in math and science, Intel Corporation and Society for Science & the Public (SSP) recognized the winners of what is considered the nation’s most elite and demanding high school research competition, the Intel Science Talent Search.

Sara Volz, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colo., won the top award of $100,000 from the Intel Foundation for her research of algae biofuels. Algae produces oil that can be converted into a sustainable, renewable fuel; however, the fuel can be costly. Sara used artificial selection to establish populations of algae cells with high oil content, which are essential for an economically feasible biofuel. Sara, who built a home lab under her loft bed, sleeps on the same light cycle as her algae.

Second-place honors and $75,000 went to Jonah Kallenbach, 17, of Ambler, Pa., whose bioinformatics study breaks new ground in predicting protein binding for drug therapy. Jonah solved an open problem first posed several years ago, and his work suggests a new path to drug design by targeting a protein’s disordered regions. His research may open doors to treatment for diseases, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and tuberculosis.

Third-place honors and $50,000 went to Adam Bowman, 17, of Brentwood, Tenn., who successfully designed and built a compact and inexpensive, low-energy, pulsed plasma device. Typical plasma sources are large, complicated and expensive. Using his inexpensive technology, Adam believes plasma research can now be conducted in small-scale operations and even high school labs.

“The Intel Science Talent Search is an opportunity to reshape the dialogue around our nation’s youth,” said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation. “We believe it’s crucial to U.S. innovation to bring greater attention to math and science achievement, encourage more youth to embrace these fields, and demonstrate the impact these subjects have on our country’s future success.”

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