Davidson Fellows - 2012 Laureate Sara Volz


Sara Volz

$50,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 17
Colorado Springs, CO
Category: Science
Project Title: “Enhancing Algae Biofuels: Investigation of the Environmental and Enzymatic Factors Effecting Algal Lipid Synthesis.”


Sara’s project could improve the feasibility of algae biofuels, and therefore the potential that this green fuel holds to power the world. The most essential issue facing society is that of finding a truly renewable, sustainable energy source to power the modern world—and algae could hold the key to unlock the solution. There are a plethora of benefits algae biofuels could hold for society: first of all, they could reduce or replace dependence on fossil fuels, which is vital for reasons ranging from environmental preservation to national security and economic stability. As an alternative to other biodiesel oil sources like soybean, algae is much more plausible: it can grow more densely and rapidly, it can use non-arable land for its cultivation so as not to detract from food production, and it has high carbon sequestration rates to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup and global warming. My research’s ultimate progress is towards increasing algae oil yields, making algae biofuels more sustainable.

The large body of work this project represents is critical to establish the groundwork for understanding and manipulating algal lipid synthesis. Sara’s results signify that algae biofuels have great potential as a power source; that stress-induced lipid accumulation has the ability to increase that potential; and that analysis of the regulatory factors involved in lipid synthesis, like ACCase, is key to truly availing ourselves of algae’s promise. This research overcomes significant difficulties and makes important progress that can be replicated and built upon in the quest to make algae fuel a feasible alternative to fossil fuels—a truly “green” solution to our energy dilemma.

Sara participated in MathPath and the Research Science Institute (RSI) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is a rising senior at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs. While she is not sure yet which college she will attend, she plans to apply to MIT, Harvard and Princeton, most likely majoring in biochemistry with plans to get a PhD, pursuing research, and possibly becoming a professor.

Click the links below to view hi-res photos of Sara:

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2012 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Sara's press release.

For all media inquiries, please contact DavidsonFellowsMedia@davidsongifted.org

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