Teen science genius is ahead of the class

(CBS News) We've found some extraordinary young people looking to change the world. Up first is a teenager from Colorado. Anyone ordering her to clean up her room might hinder the development of alternative fuels.

Like many teenagers, Sara Volz loves a piece of pie, although not the snack kind -- the math kind.

This high school senior memorized the first 80 digits of 'pi' -- a number that is endless -- back in 6th grade. Now this 17-year-old's intellect is attracting some prominent attention. Take this week for instance:

"We got Sara Volz, who is breeding new types of algae," said President Obama from the annual White House Science Fair. "Where's Sara? (Volz stands up to audience applause). There's Sara. Sara is breeding new types of algae. She stores them in a lab in her room. So Sara, you have very supportive parents."

Sara Volz working at her lab in her room.
CBS News

The president wasn't kidding. Volz has a state-of-the-art laboratory under her bed in her home in Colorado Springs. There she is trying to develop a way to convert algae into an alternative fuel source.

"For most of my growth experiments," she said, "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."

This isn't some kid playing in a room. Sarah Volz just won the Intel Science Talent Search with a $100,000 award The money should help with tuition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Volz will be a freshman there next fall.

As for what she wants to do her life, she said: "I'm thinking I want to go into academia, so do basically what I'm doing, except with better labs."

Not that the one under her bed has limited her success so far -- or her passion.

"As human beings, we are scientists," she said, "because we're curious, we question. That's what science is."

And Sarah's talents in the classroom are not limited to being a student. She's not bad as a teacher either, writing tests and preparing members of her high school's science Olympiad team.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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