Springs teen named 2011 inventor by Popular Science magazine

Cheyenne Mountain High School teen Sara Volz was named a 2011 high school inventor by Popular Science magazine and is featured in the September issue.

Sara, 16, has been conducting research on alternative fuels for the past year and built her own photobioreactor. She’s been working with Colorado State University faculty and staff on finding and determining the expression level of a particular gene in algae. She found that if she starved algae for nitrogen, the algae would stop growing and make more lipids. She extracted and used RNA from algae to look at the level of transcription in the gene, helping her understand how to make more enzymes by turning the gene on and activating it.

“I’ve always been interested in alternative energy and microbiology,” she said. “I have become ever more intrigued with algae biofuels because it melds the two fields. It’s also a fairly up-and-coming topic, so it’s a very exciting area to be working in.”

Her research was recently recognized as one of the top awards in the Energy and Transportation category at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, Calif., an honor that came with a $3,000 prize.

Sara first visited CSUs Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory and Solix BioSystems Inc. while investigating the idea of using algae for biofuel. She began her research in fall 2009. Then, in the summer and fall of 2010, she began work with molecular biology techniques.

“Sara is really unique in that she just goes out and learns a lot about things she’s interested in,” said Stephen Chisholm, assistant professor of weed science. “She seems to be somewhere around 10 years ahead of her peers.”

In addition to her studies and research, Sara also participates in theater and on the speech and debate team, among many other activities. She is a junior this year and plans to continue her research on alternative fuels.

“It’s very rare that you come across someone with her degree of talent,” Chisholm said. “I would be thrilled to have a grad student come into CSU with her motivation and capability.”