How better to kick off liveblogging from Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Atlanta, Georgia than with a post on using kudzu to create biofuel? Kudzu, after all, is that terror of an invasive plant
in the Southeast. Using the 8 million acres of it all over the region would make sense -- it did to Lindsay Marie Stewart, 18, of Grove High School in Grove, Oklahoma, pictured here in front of her ISEF poster.
Stewart got the idea as an eighth grader "“ she's now a senior -- when she went to space camp in Alabama. That's where she learned just how dangerous kudzu is to other plants. She told us it produces "alleopathic chemicals." Those make it harder for other plants to grow nearby. She spent the next few years studying kudzu: freshman year, it was testing for those alleopathic chemicals; sophomore year, it was looking at whether kudzu plants were good at nitrogen fixation
, a process that changes nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that plants can use. Turns out they weren't.
For her senior year project, which she presented here at her fourth ISEF, Stewart looked at whether the leaves, stems, or roots of the kudzu plant produced the greatest amount of glucose when pretreated with acid hydrolysis and subjected to different concentrations of enzymes. She figured the roots would produce the most glucose, but actually the stems did. So like a good future scientist, she reported here that her hypothesis was rejected.
Still, her results suggest there might be some value to kudzu as a biofuel source, and that could make a lot of landowners happy. "It would give them a way of getting rid of what we have already," Stewart says.
Stewart is one of more than 1,500 high school students taking part in this year's ISEF, which is located in Atlanta's cavernous Georgia World Congress Center. This science fair bears some resemblance to the science fair you probably participated in during high school -- booths with trifold placards, lots of grainy shots of gloved hands pouring liquids into containers, and elaborate contraptions.
But then you notice the difference (as a few girls from nearby J.C. Boone school who are visiting for the day quickly point out).
For starters, guess who's sponsoring the Energy & Transportation pavilion?
There are no erupting vinegar volcanoes, and the questions asked are actually pertinent to current science questions: Is algae or switch grass a better source for energy? Which enzymes work best for producing cellulosic ethanol? And, of course, because it's high school, there's a bit of mischief. I'm typing this across from an exhibit on "Making Methane" which looks at whether horse or turkey crap produces the most biogas. (Can you guess which?)
ISEF is an annual event that seeks to show off the best of high school science. Sponsored by Intel -- which also sponsors the Science Talent Search whose past finalists we started profiling this week
-- it draws 1500 students from 51 countries to a host city to show off their work. The kids compete for $4 million in scholarships and awards.
Stay tuned "“ we'll be here today and tomorrow.
Edited by Laura Vanderkam at 05/15/2008 8:57 AM