Sara Volz, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colo., won the $100,000 grand prize from the Intel Foundation for her innovative work around the viability of algae biofuels. Algae oil can be converted into a sustainable and renewable, yet costly, fuel; Volz’s research used artificial selection to build populations of algae cells with high oil content, which are essential for an economically feasible biofuel. Volz, 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. Kallenbach's work suggests a new path to drug design by targeting a protein's disordered regions. His research may lead to breakthroughs in 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."
This year's finalists hail from 40 schools in 20 states. Of the 1,712 high school seniors who entered this year’s Talent Search, 300 were announced as semifinalists in January. Of those, 40 were chosen as finalists and invited to Washington, D.C. to compete for the top 10 awards. These finalists join the ranks of other notable Science Talent Search alumni who, over the past 72 years, have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, five National Medals of Science, 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and even an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, has owned and administered the Science Talent Search since its inception in 1942.
"Society for Science & the Public is proud to join Intel in congratulating Sara Volz for her scientific accomplishments," said Elizabeth Marincola, president of Society for Science & the Public. "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's research on a novel method to help make algae biofuel economically feasible has the potential to make a serious impact on a critical global challenge. Sara and the rest of the Intel Science Talent Search 2013 finalists serve as an inspiration for young researchers who are drawn to science. Their hard work and innovation will create solutions to the problems of tomorrow."
Because Intel views education as the foundation for innovation, Intel and the Intel Foundation have invested more than $1 billion in education over the past decade, and Intel employees have donated close to three million hours toward improving education in more than 60 countries.
Another company cultivating and rewarding student innovations is Dow Chemical, with its annual Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA). Last fall, UC Berkeley graduate student Caroline Delaire won for her socially sustainable solution for ending water contamination in developing communities.