Up to 60 percent of an algae’s cell mass comes from lipid oil, which scientists isolate for use as a biofuel. Unlike most extraction methods, Josh Wolf’s technique—in which he delivers an electric shock that opens the vesicles that hold the oil—keeps the algae alive, so he can draw oil from them repeatedly. After shocking, he skims the tank that holds the organisms to collect the oil and adds methanol and lye to create biodiesel.
What’s next: Wolf plans to get a doctorate degree in biomedical research.
Using only tools from his school’s science lab, Ryota Ishizuka layered 5-by-5-centimeter solar cells onto a stretched elastic polymer. He then released the tension on the polymer, causing the cells to bunch, creating wrinkles. When the material flexes and stretches, the wrinkles smooth out without breaking the cells. Ishizuka says the solar cells could be applied to surfaces of buildings and vehicles, as well as clothing.
What’s next: Ishizuka will attend Harvard University in the fall.
Just 15 millimeters in diameter, Andrey Sushko’s motor could drive surgical robots through blood vessels. The motor has electrodes coated with fluoropolymers. When a battery charges the electrodes, the fluoropolymers change from hydrophobic to hydrophilic. That alters the curvature of the liquid’s surface within the motor. Repeated charges move the rotor in small increments and could propel a ’bot forward.
What’s next: Sushko is heading to Stanford.
The EPA has found that a house’s paints, building materials, appliances and furniture can give off potentially harmful compounds. Naomi Shah created an air filter that removes nearly half of a home’s pollutants and costs less than $25. The 8-by-10-inch device fits into any central-heating and air-conditioning system and contains living fern and palm plants. The plants host microorganisms that feed on toxins such as benzene and methylene.
What’s next: Shah is looking at environmental-health research programs.
Angela Zhang developed a two-part nanoparticle that kills cancer cells while letting doctors monitor the process with an MRI. The iron-oxide half of the particle carries a peptide that binds to cancer cells. A polymer shell coats the gold half of the particle; embedded in the polymer is an anticancer drug. When an external infrared laser heats the particle, the polymer falls apart, releasing the drug around the tumor.
What’s next: This fall Zhang is attending Harvard University.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.