Gagne’s algae biofuel project is receiving acclaim

A project started for a seventh-grade science fair might someday serve as biofuel to power everything from homes to cars.

Madeleine Gagne didn’t retire her science fair project on using algae to create biofuel after it got her an honorable mention from the American Chemical Society and third place locally.

The Coffman High School sophomore buckled down and continued working on the project for four years, hoping to find a breakthrough.

“I liked it so I kept it for a few science fairs,” she said.

Gagne kept at it with a little help from her Coffman High School science teachers.

“She did the initial work in my room with the algae,” said Danielle Collins, a Coffman chemistry teacher.

“Then she got to a point where we didn’t have the capability,” she said.

Collins suggested taking her work to the Ohio State University biochemistry department and that’s where Gagne began working with Angela Miller, a tutor for the chemistry department.

Gagne’s work — she’s named it the Collins-Miller project — isn’t easy to explain. In fact, people have been working on making a biofuel out of algae for years, she said.

“There are times we thought it wouldn’t work,” Gagne said. “But it all worked out. A lot of it was trial and error.”

The 16-year-old figured out how to use fatty acids in algae to bypass oil refinement and produce a diesel fuel.

“We were able to produce a clean-burning diesel that skips refining,” she said.

The discovery was four years in the making with a little over one year spent working at OSU.

“I did not always get to sleep at a good time,” Gagne said of balancing school and her project.

“I felt like I was living a double life.”

Gagne plans to submit her discovery to the Shell Energy Challenge and the Google Science Fair. She also plans to publish her work in a scientific journal this year.

“No. 1 it makes me want to take a long nap,” she said of finishing her project. “It also feels good because I’m making a difference.”

While she wants to make the world a better place with her green biofuel, Gagne is also hoping to be an example for other girls.

“Girls need to see they’re capable” of going into science, she said.

Although the Collins-Miller Project is wrapping up, Gagne plans to conduct a few lectures on her work at OSU. She’ll also have more time for school and other interests such as STEM Sisters, Science Olympiad, Quiz team and the piano club.

“Kids are never too young to change the world,” she said. “Telling yourself you can’t do it is only an opportunity for failure. There shouldn’t be anything that can stop you.”

 

Photo: Coffman High School sophomore, Madeleine Gagne (second from right) said her high school sciences teachers encouraged and helped her on her biofuel project that uses algae to make a clean-burning diesel fuel. Gagne posed with teachers Tessa Floehr (left), Danielle Collin and Mark Brown last week.

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