Sara Volz’s long-term goal, she says, is to understand the universe. But in the shorter term, the 17-year-old is working on developing algae that create biofuels more efficiently. In her home lab — it’s under her loft bed — she’s been artificially selecting algae that produce higher oil content, with the idea that these will produce biofuel more cheaply and efficiently. Not only is that an awesome project to have in your bedroom, it won her the prestigious Intel Science Research Foundation Talent Search contest and the accompanying $100,000 prize.

NBC News explains why her super-oily algae have an advantage in the push to make commercially viable algae-based biofuels:

Other researchers have approached the problem by tweaking the algae genome or selecting the prime environmental conditions for algae growth. Volz’s approach, she said, is different and lower cost. It relies on an herbicide that kills algae cells with low levels of an enzyme crucial to making oil.

“The idea is, if you introduce this chemical, you kill everything with really low oil production,” she explained. “What you are left with is a population of cells with very high oil production.”

We salute anyone who decides to live with tubes of algae under their bed in service of the greater good. (And Volz is so hardcore, she’s also decided to sleep on the same light cycle as her little green charges.) But we also salute Volz for being an all-around awesome geek: She’s field captain of her high school’s Science Olympiad Team and captain of the Science Bowl team. Also, she likes improv and musical theater. She’s going to MIT next year, and, other incoming MIT freshmen, if we were you, we would totally request her as a roommate.

Very interesting to note that one of the most successful and most respected Research Funds in the world awarded their top prize to a project that demonstrates micro algae to biodiesel. If only the rest of our population were as aware of the opportunity, our nation’s economic issues, dependency on foreign petroleum (including Canada), high emissions from gasoline powered cars and even the high emissions and insane mineral requirments from EV’s and hybrids, …, would fade away in about 5-6 years.

The large scale production of biodiesel sourced from 2nd generation feedstock is the only scalable, economically viable, environmentally friendly and truly sustainable replacement for petroleum we have today. U.S. citizens have wasted over $2T by purchasing hundreds of billions of lower energy density gallons of gasoline and burning that fuel in lower efficiency gasoline engines over just the past 10 years. There is a direct 1-to-1 relationship today between the strength of a nation’s economy and the percentage of that nation’s light fleet that runs on diesel fuel with biodiesel mandates.

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