MAS Student Blog: Steven Ho 7-8-14

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In ninth grade I attended my first State Science Fair in Massachusetts. I met students and judges who listened to my presentation, asked questions, and provided suggestions to help me improve my project. I was inspired by other students’ projects – I wanted to learn more about how to solve some of the environmental issues we face today. By the end of the science fair, my mere interest in science escalated into a true passion that I knew would last for many years to come. – there was no holding my passion for science back now!

This experience with a science fair helped me to understand what my age group can accomplish and motivated me to find a cause of my own. I stumbled upon this cause while watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel: “Global warming, what you need to know”, narrated by Tom Brokaw. Mr. Brokaw encouraged me to ask myself if I can help to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and downgrade my reliance on oil. I worked intensely for several weeks researching the topic of fossil fuel. I decided that one possible solution was offered by microorganisms, which have been around for millions of years, in particular, algae.

Algae are just like any other plant – they employ photosynthesis to produce energy. However, if we hope to use that energy as a source of biofuel we need to speed up the process. One approach is the uses of photobioreactors, which are effectively storage containers that ensure the algae, obtain the optimum amount of food and light to grow. My first photobioreactor was made out of a soda bottle – I set up an experiment in my basement and tried to encourage the algae to grow faster, but I didn’t get the results I wanted. I wondered how I could invent a better photobioreactor. I examined the bottle, and realized the light was only hitting one side of the bottle, only allowing a few algal cells to be exposed, which is probably why it failed to increase growth rates. Next, I came up with a design in which every algal cell is exposed to the light by moving through a narrow tube horizontally. With this new design, I was able to speed photosynthesis and significantly increase of biomass. Once I had the algal biomass – it has to be transformed into a form of fuel. My scientific project has earned a gold medal, reached the finals in State competitions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received an environmental recognition award.

All these science fairs have had an impact on my life. If I had not done that first project back in ninth grade, I would not have realized how much I enjoy doing research projects and experiments. Also, by doing these yearly projects, I gained valuable experience in using the scientific method. Finally, I have realized how much I love science, the field I would like to enter as a career.

 

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