Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2015 - (Page 22)
Sara Volz and the Powerful Potential of Pond Scum
it was in the space under the high bunk bed in her rOOm that sara vOlz cOnducted her research On
creating biOfuels frOm algae. there, beneath her bOx spring, On shelves she cOnstructed, in flasks she
gOt fOr christmas, and with a 24-culture phOtObiOreactOr she built herself, sara devised a lOw-cOst
way tO fOrce algae tO prOduce enOugh Oil tO pOwer a diesel engine.
the wOrk she did in her hOmemade labOratOry in cOlOradO springs-learning, as she puts it, "tO prOduce
petrOl frOm pOnd scum"-earned sara many accOlades and awards, as well as the mOniker algae girl.
her discOvery was an achievement that she says came dOwn tO persistence mOre than anything else.
The Natural Choice
Sara got serious about science in sixth grade, when she went to her
first regional science fair with a project examining the effect of certain antibiotics on bacteria. "Blown away" by the work of students
just a few years older than she, Sara knew instantly she wanted to
do that level of work, too-and that science was an interest that
would last past high school. "After that first science fair experience, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up,"
she remembers. "I said I wanted to be a science researcher. That
But her focus did. When Sara heard that a neighbor was running
his car on recycled vegetable oil, she started reading up on fuels made
from renewable biological sources. Biofuels were the perfect merging of her two growing interests, biochemistry and alternative energy.
They were also tantalizing: "I read online that with some old vegetable
oil, a few chemicals, and a bit of patience, I could make biodiesel in
my kitchen." With her parents' permission, she did.
Then, in ninth grade, Sara heard about the potential for biofuels derived from algae. Algae can produce the oil needed for biofuel
without using up farmland needed to grow crops for food, as do other
biological sources such as corn and soybeans. The problem? Harvesting enough oil from algae is difficult and expensive, making it not
economically feasible. Sara wanted to change that.
She started by reading everything she could about biofuels and
algae in science journals, in the news, and online. She visited Solix
BioSystems, an algal research facility in Colorado, where she talked
to researchers. And she started emailing people-researchers, profes-
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2015
In My Own Words Daniel Kammen, Professor of Energy, UC Berkeley
A Solar-Powered Solution to the Water Crisis Using the sun to purify water
The PolluCell Generating electricity using waste and pollution
More than a Race The Solar Car Challenge
Energy Agenda The power of teen research
Energized! A crash course in fuels of the future
Grease Is Good Helping the environment and the community with biofuel
Fueled by Algae Sara Volz and the powerful potential of pond scum
The Future of Energy Five careers in green power
My Sanskrit Yaatra Connecting with my culture through language
Devoted Awareness My internship with Until There’s a Cure
Selected Opportunities and Resources
Off the Shelf Review of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
Exploring Career Options Interview with green architect Andrew Thompson
One Step Ahead Six things incoming college students should know
Planning Ahead for College Developing your passions
Students Review: University of Pennsylvania
Creative Minds Imagine
Mark Your Calendar
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2015