In the not-so-distant future, when humanities majors (the unskilled laborers of academia) become so commonplace that they make Falstaff’s birthday a national holiday on which people are only allowed to talk to each other in heroic couplets, anyone who studied a hard science (i.e. not sociology) will be treated like a magician, that is, with the utmost reverence and bemusement. “How do you make that moldy old penny shiny again? With magic?” To which the scientist will haughtily answer, “No, citizen — with science!”

Sara Volz will soon become one of those magician-scientists, if this eccentric future really is nigh upon us. As a matter of fact, Volz, a 17-year-old high school student from Colorado, is probably operating on a far more advanced level than your average teenaged science nerd — she can faithfully recite the first 80 digits of pi, and she keeps a state-of-the-art laboratory under her bed because she’s working on a way to develop algae into an alternative fuel source and that, in case you haven’t ever noticed car exhaust, is a 24/7 activity. Volz can’t just pack up her book bag and run home at the end of a hard day of experimenting — she needs to keep an eye on her algae pretty much all the time:

For most of my growth experiments they have to be very closely monitored. Sometimes I'm sampling every day or more than once a day. And so for that I need something a little closer to home.

Her diligence, moreover, recently earned her a seat at the White House Science Fair (along with a complimentary shout-out from President Obama), as well as the $100,000 first-place prize in the Intel Science Talent Search, which will most likely help pay her MIT tuition next fall. Volz’s scientific acumen also earned her some patronizing coverage from CBS News, which wrote about her numerical affection, “Like many teenagers, Sara Volz loves a piece of pie, although not the snack kind — the math kind.”


Waka-waka, America. Enjoy your cool ranch flavor-blasted apple pie while the science and math people figure out a way to keep our planet from shriveling up like an old peach.

Teen science genius is ahead of the class [CBS]